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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Divinity : Divinity

Undergraduate Course: Science, Sorcery and Wonder in Islam (DIVI10108)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Divinity CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course introduces students to the world of magic in the Islamic world. Dismissed as anti-rational by European colonialism and Islamic reformism, magic and other occult pursuits often played an important role in the religious, political, and intellectual lives of Muslims. Making extensive use of both literary and visual sources, this course will examine how past and present scholars have attempted to define the occult and esoteric. It will outline several themes such as the role of sorcery in everyday life, politics, and the investigation of science. Surveyed topics include astrology, geomancy, treasure hunting, demonology, alchemy, and necromancy.
Course description Academic Description:
This course will examine key aspects of sorcery in the history of Islam, from the earliest period to the early modern. It will deal specifically with the ways in which ideas about the wondrous and magical informed the religious, intellectual, and political lives of Muslims. It will include discussions about the place of the occult and esoteric in Islamic thought, and the ever-shifting boundaries between magic, science, and nature. As in medieval and renaissance Europe, occult practices among Muslims often involved material objects such as diagrams, amulets, and other paraphernalia. As such, this course will make extensive use of visual as well as literary sources.

This course will apply historical approaches to the concept of sorcery in the Islamic world, with a strong emphasis on scholarly debates and skills for assessing evidence. Themes studied will include: scholarly debates around definitions of categories like 'magic', 'occult', and 'esoteric'; what Muslims in everyday life believed about the 'supernatural'; various discourses on magic in Islamic thought; magical themes in Islamic literature; the influence of the Islamicate occult sciences on medieval and renaissance Europe. The course begins with theories of the occult and esoteric among pre-modern Islamic thinkers and contemporary scholars, and moves onto key themes such as miracles in Islam; foundation legends surrounding arcane texts; connections between magic, cosmology, and the study of nature; jinn and fantastic beasts; divination (astrology, geomancy, and physiognomy); grimoires; talismans; alchemy; and the political uses of magic. The course will end with a discussion about the impact of modernity on magical practices in the Islamicate world. In addition to literary primary sources, students will engage with visual material via digital collections (e.g. magic squares, manuscript illuminations of jinn and marvellous beasts, astrological tables, and amuletic shirts).

Student Learning Experience:
The course comprises a one-hour lecture for both Levels 10 and 11, though each will receive separate tutorials. Prior coming to class, students are expected to have read at least one primary (written or visual) and one secondary source. Students will demonstrate their achievements in the following way: (1) Students are expected to submit a mid-course reflection on materials from previous weeks, comparing and reviewing their salient themes; (2) Students will give presentations (individually or in groups, depending on class size). They will be given a choice of presenting an analysis on either (a) a literary primary source; or (b) a visual source; (3) Students will complete a final essay on any of the topics covered in class.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  24
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 22, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 174 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 80 %, Practical Exam 20 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Practical exam (oral presentation): 20%
Mid-course review, 1,000 words: 30%
Final essay, 2,500 words: 50%
Feedback Students will have ample opportunity to see me in office hours for feedback on essay plans for their mid-course and final assessments.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Curiosity for learning and openness to different historical perspectives concerning magic, the occult, and natural causality.
  2. Finely-tuned skills of close reading and critical analysis.
  3. Ability to communicate effectively with others when discussing texts and images connected with magic in Islam.
  4. Demonstrate engagement with the prescribed reading, having discussed texts in lectures and seminars with other members of the class, attended and responded to lectures.
  5. Developing a critical appreciation of the field.
Reading List
Porter, Venetia, Liana Saif, and Emilie Savage-Smith. 'Amulets, Magic, and Talismans.' In Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture, edited by Finbar Barry Flood and Gülru Necipo, Lu. 521:57. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2017.
Saif, Liana, Leoni, Francesca Melvin-Koushki, Matthew S., and Yahya, Farouk, eds. Islamicate Occult Sciences in Theory and Practice. Leiden: Brill, 2021.
Saif, Liana. 'What Is Islamic Esotericism?' Correspondences: Journal for the Study of Esotericism 1 (2019): 1:59.
Saif, Liana. The Arabic Influences on Early Modern Occult Philosophy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
Zadeh, Travis. Wonders and Rarities: The Marvelous Book That Traveled the World and Mapped the Cosmos. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2023.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills - Students will develop critical skills by analysing primary and secondary sources.
- Course opens students up to new traditions and perspectives.
Course organiserDr Salam Rassi
Course secretaryMr Patrick McMurray
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