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).

Faculty: Mehmetcan Akpinar, Yousef Casewit, Maliha ChishtiAlireza DoostdarJames T. Robinson

Associated Faculty:  Ahmed El Shamsy

Islamic Studies offers opportunities to specialize in fields that include Qur’anic studies, Sufi literature, Islamic philosophy, and Islamic law and theology.

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 with 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

Sample Islamic Studies Courses

  • Introduction to the Qur'an
  • Introduction to Islamic Law
  • What is a Madrasa Education
  • Islam and Biomedicine
  • Shi'ism: History, Memory, Politics
  • Islamic Jurisprudence, Reason, and the State
  • A Medieval Menagerie: Animal Spirituality in the Middle Ages
  • Comparative Mystical Literature
  • Introduction to Arabic and Islamic Studies
  • Readings in Philosophical Sufism
  • Islam, Welfare, and Neoliberalism
  • Religion in Modern Iran
  • Islam, Media, Meditation
  • Readings in Islamic Theology
  • Maimonides, Eight Chapters and Commentary on Avot
  • Seminar on `Afif al-Din al-Tilimsani
  • Ethnographies of the Muslim World