The study uses Habermas’ account of critical theory to investigate leadership curriculum in selected UAE business and education programmes and examine the extent to which the curriculum is derived from and linked to students’ cultural and Islamic values. The study is conducted in response to scholars’ call for developing leadership models and practices that integrate both traditional and international knowledge to mitigate the dominance of Western theories and values over the curriculum, which threatens the Islamic and cultural identity. It aims to start a dialogue between different sources of knowledge and to select the practices that work best in a certain society given its unique cultural and religious values. This research employs a mixed methods approach that takes classical pragmatism as its philosophical foundation. The purpose for mixing methods is complementarity, development and triangulation (Greene, 2007). Research methods include critical discourse analysis of course materials, class observations, student survey, and faculty interviews. The results were integrated at the interpretative level and abductive reasoning was used as the logic of justification. Results show that there are increasing efforts in the three institutions to incorporate cultural and Islamic values into the curriculum. However, the curriculum is still mainly dominated by Western theories and models of leadership, especially in the leadership courses offered by business schools, mainly because of the lack of English resources and theories on UAE and Islamic models of leadership. There was a significant difference between business and education leadership courses. Education leadership courses tended to include more materials on UAE and Islamic leadership than business courses did. Thus, education students viewed the curriculum relevant to their cultural and Islamic values more than business students did. It was also found that faculty played a significant role in adapting the curriculum to students’ cultural and Islamic values. Faculty who were either Muslim or came from a multicultural environment (e.g. Australia, Canada, New Zealand) where they taught Muslim students tended to include more materials on Islamic and UAE leadership models than those who were not exposed to similar experiences or possessed the same knowledge about Islam. Faculty attributed the limited use of Islamic and cultural materials to the lack of published work on Islamic leadership and UAE, on one hand, and to the academic standards that they have to meet to achieve international accreditation, on the other hand. Based on these findings, the study offers a model that is derived from Habermas’ theories of knowledge and human interests and communicative action to develop culturally relevant approaches to leadership teaching. This model assumes that a good leadership curriculum would contain sophisticated scientific knowledge, moral and cultural values, and opportunities for self-reflection, self-discovery, and communicative actions. It suggests that the curriculum should give participants space to contribute their own cases, articles, histories, perspectives experiences…etc. Such a curriculum will provide a balanced learning experience leading to social evolution, as indicated by Habermas.


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  • Received: 30 April 2015
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