Islamic Studies

Islamic Studies engages in the study of Islam as a textual tradition inscribed in history and particular cultural contexts. The area seeks to provide an introduction to and a specialization in Islam through a large variety of expressions (literary, poetic, social, and political) and through a variety of methods (literary criticism, hermeneutics, history, sociology, and anthropology). It offers opportunities to specialize in fields that include Qur’anic studies, Sufi literature, Islamic philosophy, and Islamic law and theology.  



Hussein Agrama, Yousef CasewitFred M. Donner, Alireza Doostdar, Ahmed El Shamsy, Franklin Lewis, Tahera QutbuddinJames T. RobinsonMichael Sells

Students without an advanced degree will apply for admission to the MA program of the Divinity School. Students applying from within the University of Chicago MA program will be expected to have completed three courses in the Islamic Studies area or the equivalent (to be established by consultation and petition) by the end of the MA. All applicants for PhD admission should have a strong preparation for the study of Islam. Such preparation should include reading knowledge of classical and Modern Standard Arabic, significant background in the study of the human or social sciences, and previous coursework in Islamic history, religion, civilization, or literature. The application letter should specify the applicant’s background in the study of Arabic. If at the time of application, the applicant has not already completed the equivalent of three years of Arabic, the candidate should indicate the program of current study (including possible summer study) that will demonstrate that at the time of matriculation, he or she will have completed the equivalent of three years of Arabic.

Students at the PhD level are expected to have completed course work in advanced Arabic, in which there is a sustained engagement with Arabic primary sources, or to have carried out significant independent study at an equivalent level, before submission of a dissertation proposal. After consultation with a faculty advisor in Islamic Studies, students may petition to replace either French or German one of the major languages of literature and scholarship within Islam.  In addition to the courses listed below, students are encouraged to consult related course offerings in other areas of the Divinity School and in other university departments such as History, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and South Asian Languages and Civilizations.

Progress Conference format

The progress (or pre-exam) conference is normally held in the spring quarter of the second year, or the fall of the third year.  In Islamic  Studies,  the progress conference is held with a panel of the area's faculty, and will normally include assessment of coursework to date, cogency of the course of study petition, readiness for qualifying examinations, and development of the dissertation project. A report from the advisor and a timeline for the qualifying examinations is submitted to the Dean of Students following the conference. 

Written Examinations

The PhD qualifying examinations consist of four written examinations and an oral examination based on a research paper submitted for the occasion, in consultation with the student’s advisor in the Islamic Studies area. At least two of the four written examinations should be taken in the Area of Islamic Studies. At least one of the four examinations should be taken in an Area outside of Islamic Studies.  Examinations in Islamic Studies include:

IS1-Qur'anic Studies
IS2-Sufi Literature
IS3-Islamic Philosophy
IS4-Islamic Moderrnities
IS5-Islamic Origins
IS6-Special Topic

Selected Islamic Studies Courses

This list is a sample of courses offered in this area and is for informational purposes only. For current and upcoming courses, visit

  • Introduction to the Qur'an. Casewit
  • Introduction to Islamic Law. El Shamsy
  • Persian Poetry: Shanameh 2. Lewis
  • Persian Poetry: Mathnavi or Rumi 1/2. Lewis
  • What is a Madrasa Education. Casewit
  • Persian Poetry: Mathnavi of Rumi 2. Lewis
  • Women Writing Persian: Survey of Poetry and Prose. Lewis
  • Early Islamic Historiography. Donner
  • Islamic History and Society 1: Rise of Islam and the Caliphate. Donner
  • Islamic Origins. Donner
  • Islamic History and Society II: The High Caliphate. Donner
  • Shi'ism: History, Memory, Politics. Doostdar
  • Readings in Qur'an, Tafsir, and Sira. Sells
  • Islamic Love Poetry. Sells
  • Islamic Thought in al-Andalus. Casewit
  • Readings in the Text of the Qur'an. Sells
  • Animal Spirituality in the Middle Ages: A Medieval Menagerie. Robinson
  • Comparative Mystical Literature. Sells
  • Muslim Perceptions of the Bible. Casewit
  • Crusade and Holy War in the Medieval World. Pick
  • The Light Verse in Islamic Exegetical Tradition. Casewit
  • Anthropological Readings of Contemporary Islam. Agrama
  • Readings in Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed. Robinson
  • Introduction to Arabic and Islamic Studies. Casewit
  • Christians, Muslims, and Jews in Late Medieval Spain. Nirenberg
  • Theorizing Secularism. Agrama
  • Religion in Modern Iran. Doostdar
  • Walter Benjamin. Doostdar and Lincoln
  • Tradition, Temporality and Authority. Agrama
  • Islam, Media, Meditation. Doostdar
  • Islamic and Jewish Neoplatonism. Robinson
  • Maimonides, Eight Chapters and Commentary on Avot. Robinson
  • Seminar in the Writing of Ibn al-'Arabi. Sells
  • Readings in Arabic Religious Texts. Sells.
  • Arabic Sufi Poetry. Sells
  • Seminar on `Afif al-Din al-Tilimsani. Casewit
  • Islamic Classics and the Printing Press. El-Shamsy
  • Readings in Al-Mizan, ‘Allama Tabataba’I’s Qur’anic Exegesis. Doostdar
  • Ethnographies of the Muslim World. Doostdar
Islamic Studies: brief overview

Islamic Studies brief overview