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Home > Courses > Postgraduate > Islamic and West Asian Studies
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Islamic and West Asian Studies MA

New for 2018 - programme under development

UCAS code
Year of entry
Course length
1 year full time
2 years part time
Politics and International Relations »
History »
Location of study
Main Campus (Egham) »

The political map of West Asia, home to more than 60 per cent of the world’s oil and gas wealth, is in flux. The on-going process of forming fundamentalist ideologies in the region, new waves of political Islamic revival, and the re-emergence of sectarian struggles in the region have heightened concerns about religio-political dynamics which are still not fully understood by scholars and policymakers. Moreover, the growing number of organised Islamic groups in the region, representing diverse political goals, are generating tensions that threaten to move beyond the borders of West Asia.

The MA in Islamic and West Asian Studies is designed for students interested in the Islamic and West Asian world, as well as those wishing to pursue either a career in international affairs or further research on Muslim and West Asian communities.

The course is taught by scholars affiliated with Royal Holloway’s Centre for Islamic and West Asian Studies (CIWAS), an inter-disciplinary centre whose mission is to promote the exchange of ideas and knowledge among scholars from East and West. You will have the opportunity to engage critically with the history and politics of West Asian societies and Muslim communities, and have access to a wide range of regional resources which CIWAS has recently acquired.

Core modules

Introduction to the Historical Study of the Modern Muslim World

In this module you will develop an understanding of Islamic history from the sixth to the twentieth century. You will look at the origins and foundations of the faith and consider debates about the future of the Muslim world. You will explore the political, social and cultural historical narratives of Muslim communities and the role Islam has played in global development. You will look at the differences and similarities among, and diversity within, Muslim societies, and analyse the key key developments in Islamic thought.

Islam and West Asia in International Relations

In this module you will develop an understanding of the modern history of West Asia, looking at countries such as Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. You will look at how the politics of these countries can be interpreted, considering events such as the Cold War, the War on Terror, Pan-Arabism, the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Arab Spring, and the rise of the Islamic State. You will also explore the specific constellation of national, societal, and individual-level factors that shape the politics of West Asian countries and sub-regions, such as the Persian Gulf Monarchies and the Levant.


The dissertation is the culmination of independent supervised research, and will be around 10,000 words in length. Your choice of dissertation topic will be made at the end of the spring term, and you will be allocated a supervisor with expertise in your chosen field. You will submit an outline of the project, with an indicative bibliography, to the Programme Director at the beginning of the third term, and your supervisor will arrange a series of progress meetings over the summer period. Your dissertation may be either a critical analysis of a theoretical problem or the result of an empirical project.

You must also take at least one from the following:

Research Development

In this module you will develop an understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of medieval studies. You will learn how to format and deploy sources according to scholary practice, and how to present your research effectively in an oral format. You will engage in critical discussion of research in an oral setting, describing, summarising, comparing and evaluating critical arguments. You will consider how to find, organise, deploy, and assess primary sources for your independent research and examine different types of evidence, such aas non-textual sources and edited texts.

History Past and Present - Definitions, Concepts and Approaches

In this module you will develop an understanding of the major intellectual traditions within the study of History as a discipline. You will look at how history is a subject that sits between the social sciences and the arts, and often avoids reflecting on its own practice. You will consider what 'writing history' actually entails and what possibilities it offers, considering how history has proliferated over the last decade, both in the growth of scholoarly monographs and articles, and in the field of public history with its television serials, trade books, and museum displays.

Introduction to Quantitative Research Methods in Politics and International Relations

This module provides an introduction to a range of quantitative methods commonly used in the study of Politics and International Relations, equipping you with the skills to successfully study and analyse a wide range of political phenomena. You will examine ways in which theoretical propositions can be tested with empirical data, and a substantial part of the module will be based in labs where you will learn how to carry out quantitative analysis on existing data sets on elections, democracy and war. The aim is to empower you so that you are confident in interpreting and handling statistical data. No prior knowledge or experience of statistics is needed, and you will develop both a conceptual understanding of the statistical techniques and practical experience in conducting statistical analysis.

Theories and Qualitative Approaches in Politics and International Relations

This module will provide you with an introduction to the core theories and qualitative approaches in politics and international relations. You will examine a number of explanatory and theoretical frameworks, their basic assumptions, strengths and weaknesses, and concrete research applications. You will consider the various qualitative techniques available for conducting search research, the range of decisions qualitative researchers face, and the trade-offs researchers must consider when designing qualitative research. You will examine qualitative methodology in political analysis, including interviews, focus groups and ethnography; analysing textual data; comparative qualitative methods; and comparative qualitative analysis of history and political change.

Fieldwork Methods

Optional modules

In addition to these mandatory course units there are a number of optional course units available during your degree studies. The following is a selection of optional course units that are likely to be available. Please note that although the College will keep changes to a minimum, new units may be offered or existing units may be withdrawn, for example, in response to a change in staff. Applicants will be informed if any significant changes need to be made.

Political Economy of the Middle East

In this module you will develop an understanding of the methodological and substantive debates and issues that shape the study of conflict. You look at the conceptual and practical issues and problems involved in conflict studies, and consider the central political issues and conflicts within and among the countries of the Middle East, and how these have historically developed. You will also examine the main international, transnational and domestic forces that affect the conduct of their internal and external affairs.

The Infidel Within? Muslims in the West

In this module you will develop an understanding of the history of  Muslims in the west. You will look at the foundation of Islam as a world religion and its various denominations and traditions in western states from the 1800s through to the 21st century. You will consider contemporary issues such as identity, divided loyalties, gender relations, and perceptions held by the majority and non-Muslim community. You will examine points of conflict between Muslims and wider society, including continuity, adjustment, and the war on terror.

Politics and Religion in the Middle East Since 1914

In this module you will develop an understanding of the history of the Middle East in the twentieth century. You will look at the outbreak of the First World War that destroyed the old Ottoman order, the impact of European colonialism, the fortunes of postcolonial states during the Cold War, and the age of American hegemony. You will examine the growth of political Islam that challenged the mainly secularist establishments, considering examples such as authoritarianism in Egypth, sectarianism in Syria and Lebanon, the politics of oil in Saudia Arabia, and the Irainian revolution. You will analyse the creation of the modern Middle Eastern state system in the aftermath of the First World War, and explore the historical roots of the current crisis in the Middle East.

Teaching and learning is delivered primarily by means of seminar discussions, informal lectures, oral presentations, guided independent research, and guided independent study.

Assessment takes the form of various formative and summative assignments, including, in the case of some modules, an unseen written exam.

The final assignment is a dissertation on a topic developed in consultation with an assigned supervisor. It is expected that the dissertation will be researched and written primarily in the summer months, although supervision and dissertation training will begin during the academic year.

Entry criteria:

UK Upper Second Class Honours degree (2:1); or equivalent

Prospective students should have a minimum 2:1 undergraduate honours degree (or overseas equivalent) in a relevant subject area such as history, politics, international relations, law, religious studies or language.

Professionals with relevant work expertise related to Islamic and West Asian communities are also encouraged to apply for this programme. 

English language requirements:

IELTS score of 6.5 with 7.0 in writing and no sub-score below 5.5 for non-native English speaking applicants.

 If you require Royal Holloway to sponsor your study in the UK, your IELTS must be a UK government-approved Secure English Language Test (SELT).

International and EU entry requirements

Please select your country from the drop-down list below

Students from overseas should visit the International pages for information on the entry requirements from their country and further information on English language requirements. Royal Holloway offers a Pre-Master’s Diploma for International Students and English language pre-sessional courses, allowing students the opportunity to develop their study skills and English language before starting their postgraduate degree.


Graduates of political degrees have much to offer potential employers having developed a range of transferable skills, both practical and theoretical, whilst studying with us. With up to 90% of our most recent graduates now working or in further study, according to the Complete University Guide 2015, it’s true to say our graduates are highly employable. 

The methodological nature of a politics degree provides graduates with valuable analytical and research skills in preparation for careers in government, political consultancy, NGOs and research organisations.

In recent years, departmental graduates have secured jobs in a wide range of professions, such as the law, the civil service, accountancy, management, journalism, broadcasting, teaching, international development and diplomacy. In fact, six-months after graduation, 90% of our most recent graduates are enhancing their skills with further study or forging careers in companies and institutions such as:

  • Amnesty International
  • Bloomberg
  • The Church of England
  • Citigroup
  • The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
  • The Conservative Party
  • Ernst & Young
  • The European Commission Global Capital
  • HM Treasury
  • The Henry Jackson Society
  • House of Commons
  • Ipsos MORI
  • The Labour Party
  • NATO Headquarters
  • Oxford Business Group
  • Proctor & Gamble
  • Quadrangle
  • Save the Children

Home and EU students tuition fee per year 2018/19*: £8,500

International students tuition fee per year 2018/19*: £14,900

Other essential costs**: TBC

How do I pay for it? Find out more about funding options, including loans, grants, scholarships and bursaries.

* These tuition fees apply to students enrolled on a full-time basis. Students studying part-time are charged a pro-rata tuition fee, usually equivalent to approximately half the full-time fee. Please email student-fees@royalholloway.ac.uk for further information on part-time fees. All postgraduate fees are subject to inflationary increases. Royal Holloway's policy is that any increases in fees will not exceed 5% for continuing students. For further information see tuition fees and our terms and conditions.

** These estimated costs relate to studying this particular degree programme at Royal Holloway. Costs, such as accommodation, food, books and other learning materials and printing, have not been included.

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