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RELS320 Representing Islam

Representations of Islam in the West from the earliest times until the present with emphasis on enduring themes in the Western perception of Islam.

What comes to mind when you hear the word "Islam", or the word "Muslim"? Why? What do you know about how you came to associate some ideas (and not others) with those words? Many of the most prominent contemporary stereotypes about Islam and Muslims have long histories in the way Europeans and Christians have responded to what they knew of Islamic religion and Muslim peoples. This paper focuses on the ways in which Islam has been represented in the West, locating them within this longer historical tradition with the goal of understanding the implications of these discourses for contemporary relationships between Muslims and others.

We begin with an examination of the earliest encounters between Islam and the West, followed by a consideration of enduring themes that have been carried through to the contemporary period. Drawing on influential scholars such as Edward Said, Michel Foucault and Stuart Hall, we examine how Islam has been constructed as the West's "Other", whether as a site of sexual decadence to be civilised or as a military threat to be overcome. We will also contextualise contemporary representations of Islam - from newspaper reports to science fiction - within the legacies of colonialism, which helped produce these discourses.

Paper title Representing Islam
Paper code RELS320
Subject Religious Studies
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period(s) Semester 1 (Distance learning)
Semester 1 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $955.05
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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One 200-level RELS paper
RELS 220
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Theology
Students who have not passed the normal prerequisite may be admitted with approval from the Head of Department.

Professor Will Sweetman:

Teaching staff

Lecturer: Professor Will Sweetman

Paper Structure
The paper is divided into five main modules to reflect the five teaching weeks. The modules weave together the historical overview of the major themes of representations of Islam in the West with some of the important theoretical issues arising from these representations, including the works of Michel Foucault, Edward Said and Stuart Hall. Throughout we will focus on enduring themes carried through from these early images into contemporary depictions in film and novels and their influence on - and reflection of - global politics.

  • Take-home tests (2) 5% each
  • Critical commentary essay 10%
  • Critical response to news article 10%
  • Essay 20%
  • Final exam (two hours) 50%
Teaching Arrangements
Five 1-hour lectures per week (for distance students, lectures will be recorded using Otago Capture).
There is no textbook. A course outline will be available in print and PDF form. All readings for the paper will be made available on eReserve, which may be accessed via Blackboard.
Course outline
View the course outline for RELS 320
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Lifelong learning, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Ethics, Information literacy, Self-motivation.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
Students who successfully complete the paper will be able to
  • Demonstrate a sound knowledge of the historical contexts in which Islam has been represented in the West
  • Identify the persistent themes in Western representations of Islam
  • Discuss the recent scholarly critique of those representations
  • Contextualise contemporary use of images of Islam in Europe within the longer history of Western representations of Islam
  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of the implications of the representations of Islam for recent debates in Islamic Studies

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Semester 1

Teaching method
This paper is taught through Distance Learning
Learning management system

Semester 1

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
L1 Tuesday 11:00-11:50 9-14, 16, 18-22
Thursday 11:00-11:50 9-14, 16-22