North-South Centre - European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity

The Aga Khan University – Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

Culture and Curriculum:
Reflections on an MA in Muslim Cultures

The Institute is part of an international non-denominational University which has campuses in Pakistan, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and the UK. The AKU-ISMC is based in London. More information about the University and Institute can be found at

The two year MA in Muslim cultures is an attempt to explore the cultures of Muslims as they have evolved over time, and also to focus on the complex social, cultural and historical processes that they are undergoing in the contemporary world. This entails studying the contexts of cultural and intellectual history within which religious ideas and practices have meaning. It requires that cultural manifestations such as art, poetry and architecture be examined alongside doctrine, law and religious practice.

We aim that at the end of their course, students will:
be interested in the worldviews and values underpinning cultural expressions;
realise the perforated nature of cultural boundaries;
avoid the tendency to define individuals by their cultural backgrounds – culturalism;
recognise the capacity of cultures to change through reflection, interaction, other experience;
recognise that human cultures are neither completely identical nor completely different but that they overlap in values – many cultures; one humanity;
engage with the scope and limits of the idea of respecting people’s cultures;
have the ability to reflect critically upon human heritages, including one’s own;
seek universalisable values and contribute to their promotion and practice;
recognise their own autonomy and agency and accompanying responsibility; and limits these are subjected to by their situatedness.

The following pedagogical principles underpin the programme:
academic rather than ideological approach; avoiding glorification as well as undermining of cultures;
letting the people/cultures speak for themselves; importance of primary texts;
drawing upon the power of the arts and literature;
learning an additional language;
bring out the situadeness and ‘less than certainty’ of human knowledge;
classroom – students – as a resource;
motivated teachers.

We have observed the following pedagogical and conceptual barriers in the learning processes:
culturalism: seeing culture as a deterministic force; individuals imprisoned in cultures;
ignorism: to judge the ‘other’ based on ignorance;
particularism: failure to move beyond identities that divide and separate.

Contact information

Dr Farid Panjwani

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