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Study of World Religions MPhil Pathway

Study of World Religions MPhil Pathway

Michaelmas Term 2015

Issues in the Methodology of ‘Comparative Religion’

Course Coordinator: Mr Timothy Winter

Four seminars on alternate Fridays

The category of ‘comparative religion’ has come under sustained fire in the past three decades, partly as the result of diminishing certainties  about our ability to define religions as discrete traditions.  These seminars investigate four major approaches to the problem of interreligious engagement and definition, in the context of the current crisis in the field.  Particular attention is given to the social and political context of each methodological tradition.

All students pursuing the World Religions track of the MPhil are expected to attend these seminars; they are likely, however, to be of interest to those working in other subject areas as well.


  • ‘Comparative Religion’ from Gobineau to Robertson Smith
  • The Eranos Group and religious diversity
  • John Hick’s interpretation of religious diversity
  • Two Catholic readers of Islam: Louis Massignon and Charles de Foucauld

Lent Term 2016

Science and Religion in Medieval Islam

Course Coordinator: Dr Tony Street

This term-long, full-time research-based Masters module is intended to offer increases understanding of the principal approaches to the study of the intellectual history of medieval Islam.  Although one of its purposes is to provide training for further research at doctoral level, it also allows for consolidation of previous undergraduate learning in the study of Islam, and provides for the advancement of academic research skills more generally.  In Lent 2014, the course will be taught by Dr Tony Street.  It will comprise fortnightly seminars and one-to-one supervision.  Students are encouraged to attend the lectures for C9 of the undergraduate Tripos.

The MPhil seminars considers aspects of Islamic intellectual activity through a period which includes the Mongol conquest of Baghdad in 1258, traditionally considered to be a low point in Islamic culture.  The module will pay special attention to the scholars working at the Maragha observatory in the second half of the thirteenth century, and especially the project’s leader, Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī.  No knowledge of Arabic is required.

Seminars (and primary texts)

  • Institutions and the Individual Scholar
    • Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī, Contemplation and Action, tr. Badakchani, London, 1998
  • Logic and Science
    • Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī, Solution to the Problems of Pointers, path nine (on demonstration; translation provided).
  • Philosophy and Theology
    • Abd Allāh al-Baydāwī, The Ascending Lights, tr. Calverley and Pollock, Leiden: 2002; Book 2, section 2 (attributes of God). 
  • Astronomy and Religion
    • Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī, Memoir on Astronomy, tr. Ragep, New York: 1993 (vol. 1, 90-142) 


Students are expected to produce an original ciritical research paper of 5,000 words. The topics set below illustrate the range of questions which can be addressed.

  • What do medieval Arabic autobiographies contribute to our understanding of medieval Muslim education?
  • How did the theory of demonstration affect the presentation of the disciplines taught in the madrasa?
  • How do medieval Muslim thinkers distinguish theology from philosophy?
  • Does the model of science-and-religion-at-war fit the history of Islam and its attitude to scientific research?