Understanding Islamist Movements: Historical Roots and Current Realities

Understanding Islamist Movements: Historical Roots and Current Realities

This course asks how we should understand the various political movements that claim to act in the name of Islam. What do the Islamic State and the various affiliates of al-Qaeda in the Middle East have in common with each other, or with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, among others? What distinguishes these movements from the Taliban in Afghanistan or Boko Haram in West Africa? Why do some of these groups act or inspire others to carry out attacks in Europe and North America? To what extent can they be explained in political terms, and what exactly is the role of religion? How do they compare with non-Islamic terrorist or revolutionary movements?

This course will address these and other questions by going beyond the conventional geopolitical and Western journalistic perspectives. We will examine the historical roots of political Islam, trace the origins of the movement known as Salafism and the changing uses of the term jihad. We will also look in depth at the discussions that Islamists have amongst themselves, how they see themselves and what they stand for. We will look at the jihadist poetry and the religious debates they conduct between themselves, as well as ask how people in the affected regions, especially writers and intellectuals, view the movements. Finally, there will be sessions addressing practical questions, such as how do Islamist groups acquire their weapons, and how does the global oil market affect Islamism?

Interdisciplinary by its very nature, the course is taught by distinguished faculty in a variety of fields from Europe and the United States, as well as experts from the international community in Geneva.

The course will treat the following topics, among others:

  • The origins and nature of Salafism
  • The changing uses of the term “jihad.”
  • Arab intellectuals’ views on religion and Islamic movements
  • The Iranian Revolution and its legacy
  • The View from Moscow: Russia and Islam; Russia and the Middle East
  • The poetry of the Islamic State; How do jihadists represent themselves?
  • Arms and ammunition: How do groups get their weapons?

Equivalence of 4 ECTS credits

Subjects

  • Religious Studies
  • History

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