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Study information

Religious Communities of the Middle East: Culture, Endangerment and Survival

Module titleReligious Communities of the Middle East: Culture, Endangerment and Survival
Module codeARA1041
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Professor Christine Robins (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Module description

This module takes you to the heart of the struggle for survival of some unique religious communities of the Middle East, many of which have existed for many hundreds of years but which may not live beyond our lifetime.  You will not only the rich traditions of Eastern Christianity but also about the much smaller groups who challenge our received ideas of what a ‘religion’ is and what it must consist of.


An important part of the course is project work, which you will do by working in groups. Your group  will   meet and work with at least one member of one of these religious minorities  - you may be working with a member of the Syrian Christian, Yezidi (Ezidi) or Mandaean community, for example.  Your project will consist of the compiling and presentation of briefing papers concerning these little-known faiths which could be used by specific stakeholders in the wider community. Such potential stakeholders might include the Foreign Office, the Home Office, the Anglican Church or NGOs, (all of whom are in need of more knowledge about these groups). You will learn to apply the principles of religious literacy in your own appreciation of the faith groups you encounter and in your project work. Also, this project-based learning gives you the chance to practise transferable skills, such as teamworking and presentation. Because of the project work, attendance and participation are high-priority for success in this module.


The module will take you historically from Late Antiquity until the last few years, when violence displaced many minorities from their homelands. You will read academic, media and faith sources and will be invited to consider what prejudices, colonial or otherwise, might underly all these sources. Most importantly, your work with the members of the religion on which your project is based will bring you into contact with someone whose world-view may be very different from your own. This project will comprise 45% of the course; the other 45% will consist of an essay which must focus on one (or more) different groups from your project, with 10% participation. No knowledge of any of the local languages is required, nor is it necessary to have studied the ‘Introduction to Islam’ module – though if you have, you will find that the two modules complement each other.

Module aims - intentions of the module

You will develop knowledge of the cultural complexity of the Middle East and the environment in which this arose. You will develop your ability to evaluate sources, both for accuracy and for underlying prejudice and bias. You will develop your ability, not only to work within a group of students, but also to ask the right questions from someone with a different cultural outlook. You will learn to use the principle of religious literacy. You will also develop your ability to think about the target audience for your project and what their needs will be. 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate awareness of the major religious minorities now living in the Middle East
  • 2. Demonstrate understanding of the conditions under which many of the religious minorities developed and of the conditions which currently threaten the survival of some
  • 3. Demonstrate in-depth knowledge of at least one of the religions

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Evaluate sources critically, especially where the sources do not come from the religions themselves.
  • 5. Demonstrate awareness of the variety of disciplinary approaches needed to understand religions which may differ considerably in structure and expression from religions more familiar to us.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Through seminar and group work, demonstrate communication and skills, the ability to work in groups, and competency in handling different types of information that might require you to ‘think outside the box’
  • 7. Work independently, retrieve, sift and integrate primary and secondary sources, construct coherent arguments, write lucidly, and apply research and bibliographic skills.
  • 8. Demonstrate effective presentation skills

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • What is Religious Literacy?
  • Late Antiquity and the Rise of New Religions
  • Islam and After
  • Religious Conflict in the 19th and 20th Centuries
  • Christian Groups
  • Non Christian Groups (Yezidis, Yaresanis, Alevis, Druze, Mandaeans)
  • Project Workshops
  • Project Presentations

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities99 x 1 hour lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching activities99 x 1 hour seminars
Scheduled learning and teaching activities42 x project preparation workshops
Guided independent study128Private study or teamwork

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation on the ‘target audience’ for your specific project – who are they and what are their needs?5 mins6-8Verbal feedback from peers, written from teacher

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Written Essay451500 words3-4, 7Full written (verbal on request)
Project (including group presentation)45Group presentation (15 mins) and a personal reflexive methodology of 500 words in addition to text (and where applicable, images) of group Presentation. Presentation will be recorded.1-2, 5-6, 8Full written (verbal on request)
Class participation 10Attendance,engagement in discussion forum, participation in formative assessment, participation in group work (subject to any ILOs)1-2, 5Oral

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (1500 words) (45%)1-2, 4, 7August/September reassessment period
ProjectEssay (1500 words) (45%)3-4, 7August/September reassessment period
Class participationMini-project (e.g.small PowerPoint or digital output) to be agreed with teacher (only applicable where ILO/medical certification supplied)1, 4, 7August/September reassessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Buckley, J.J. The Mandaeans: Ancient Texts and Modern People. Oxford: OUP, 20012.

The Great Stem of Souls: Reconstructing Mandaean History. Piscataway: Gorgias, 2006.

Courbage, Y. and P. Fargues. Christians and Jews under Islam. London: I.B. Tauris, 1998.

Dalrymple, W. From the Holy Mountain: A Journey among the Christians of the Middle East. New York: Henry Holt & Company, Incorporated, 1999.

Drower, E.S. The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran.

Ginkel, J. J. Van, and T. M. Van Lint. Redefining Christian Identity: Cultural Interaction in the Middle East since the Rise of Islam. Leuven: Peeters Publishing, 2006.

Griffith, S. H. The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.

J. S. Guest, Survival Among the Kurds: A History of the Yezidis, 2d ed. London: Routledge, 1993.

Joseph, J. Muslim-Christian Relations and Intra-Christian Rivalries in the Middle East: The Case of the Jacobites in an Age of Transition. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983.

Karabell, Z. Peace Be Upon You: Fourteen Centuries of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence in the Middle East. New York: Knopf Publishing Group, 2007.

Kreyenbroek, P. G. Yezidism—Its Background, Observances and Textual Tradition. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1995.

Pacini, A. Christian Communities in the Arab Middle East: The Challenge of the Future. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Rowe, P.S. Routledge Handbook of Middle Eastern Minorities. London: Routledge, 2019.

Waterfield, R. E. Christians in Persia. New York: Allen & Unwin, 1973.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

The Worlds of Mandaean Priests:

The Yezidi photo archive:

Key words search

Middle East, Religious Minorities, Syrian Christians, Yezidis, Mandaeans, Druze, Yaresani

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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