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EN2L7/EN3L6 England and the Islamic World, 1550-1660

Convenor: Dr Natalya Din-Kariuki (

This module examines England’s encounters with the Islamic world from 1550 to 1660. These encounters, which were both actual and imaginative, took a variety of forms: the formalisation of diplomatic and trade relationships with the Ottoman, Mughal, and Safavid Empires; collaborations between English and Ottoman pirates along the Barbary coast in joint opposition to Catholic Europe; enslavement; religious conversions, from Christianity to Islam and vice versa; representations of Islam and Muslims on the English stage; and the baptism of “strangers” in English churches. Such encounters had an important impact on the literature of the period, prompting acts of formal and stylistic experimentation, including attempts to capture Muslim (or “Turk” or “Mahometan”) voices in print, as well as interpretation, such as the publication of the first complete English translation of the Qur’an in 1649.

In the first half of the module, we will read travel writing by figures such as the ambassador Thomas Roe, the chaplain Edward Terry, and Mariam Khan, Teresa Sampsonia Sherley, and Ann Bromfield Keeling, all women associated with the East India Company. From these descriptions of “actual” encounters with the Islamic world, which nonetheless contain fictive elements, we will turn to works of the imagination, reading plays such as Robert Daborne’s A Christian Turn’d Turk (1612) and William Percy’s Mahomet and His Heaven (1601), as well as accounts of “stranger” baptisms such as those described in Imtiaz Habib’s Black Lives in the English Archives (2008). As we do so, we will consider the literary significance of these transcultural encounters, and deepen our understanding of the histories of diplomacy, religion, slavery, colonialism, empire, race, and "Englishness" itself.

This 15 CATS term 2 module can be paired with Early Modern Drama: Home and Away to make a coherent 30 CATS two-term option which deals with early modern literature in context. The works studied on this module provide contexts, sources, and analogues for some of the plays studied on Early Modern Drama.

The website of the Medieval and Early Modern Orients project ( will give you a sense of the kind of material you will encounter on this module.



Intermediate year students and visiting students here for the whole academic year: One 3800 word essay, on a title chosen from a list provided by the seminar tutor.
Final year students: One 4500 word essay on a title to be devised in consultation with your seminar tutor. Alternatively, you may choose one of the titles from the list provided by the tutor.

Reading list available hereLink opens in a new window.

Course outline:

Week 1: Introduction to Early Modern Anglo-Islamic Encounters. Selections from Edward Said, Orientalism (1978), Nabil Matar, Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery (1999), Gerald Maclean, The Rise of Oriental Travel: English Visitors to the Ottoman Empire, 1580-1720 (2004), and Hector Roddan, '"Orientalism is a partisan Book": applying Edward Said's insights to early modern travel writing' (2016).

Week 2: England and the Ottoman Empire: Thomas Dallam's travels.

Week 3: England and the Ottoman Empire: Henry Blount's Voyage into the Levant (1636).

Week 4: England and the Safavid Empire: The Sherley Brothers.

Week 5: England and the Mughal Empire: Thomas Roe's Embassy to India.

Week 6: Reading week.

Week 7: Religious conversions: Robert Daborne, A Christian Turn’d Turk (1612), based on English pirate John Ward’s conversion to Islam.

Week 8: William Percy, Mahomet and His Heaven (1601).

Week 9: On the baptism of “strangers”, as described in Thomas White, A true relation of the conversion and baptism of Isuf the Turkish chaous, named Richard Christophilus in the presence of a full congregation (1659) and in Imtiaz Habib, Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500-1677: Imprints of the Invisible (2008).

Week 10: Arab Writing on Europe.

A sketch of the English traveller Robert Sherley.
Anthony van Dyck's sketch of the English diplomat Robert Sherley, dressed in the "Persian habit". (British Museum, 1957,1214.207.62).