Associated Faculty:

Shaun Marmon

Tehseen Thaver

Muhammad Qasim Zaman


This field is devoted to the study of Islamic beliefs, practices, and institutions within the cultural and historical context of Muslim societies. Applicants should have advanced preparation in Arabic and/or other languages relating to their proposed areas of interest. Students in this field are encouraged to make use of the resources provided by various other departments and programs, including but not limited to the Departments of Near Eastern StudiesHistoryAnthropologyComparative Literature and Classics, as well as the Programs in South Asian and Gender & Sexuality Studies.


Students normally work with all faculty in the subfield. Students are expected to choose an advisor by the end of their first year, though they remain free to change advisors after this. Although students usually take a range of courses, the only required courses prior to the generals are REL 501 and REL 502. All students are expected to acquire proficiency in reading Arabic, to be certified by a member of the subfield. Competency in the relevant research languages (to be determined in consultation with the advisor) is also required. In addition, students are also required to complete a language exam for reading proficiency in French or German.


The General Examination in the Islam subfield consists of four exams in the following categories: Two of the exams are surveys of pre-modern (7th through 16th centuries) and early modern and modern Islam (17th through the 21st centuries). The third exam will focus on a particular area within the study of Islam (e.g. Qur’an, law, theology, Sufism). This exam should normally cover a field other than the candidate’s presumed area of research (e.g. it might be concerned with Qur’anic Studies if the intended field is law or Sufism). For each of these three exams, candidates will be expected to write two essays, approximately 1500 words each, in response to a set of questions. Each exam is to be completed within a 48-hour period. The fourth exam is a research paper of approximately 5000 words (around 20 pages), that focuses on the candidate’s intended area of dissertation research. It is meant to serve as an exercise in choosing a research topic, offering a justification for it in conversation with the relevant scholarship, and writing an analytical paper, skills that would subsequently help in drafting a successful dissertation proposal.

The first three exams should be completed by around mid-October of the candidate’s third year; the fourth exam should be completed by early December of that semester. A week after submitting the research paper, the candidate will meet with the examiners to discuss the written exams. The fourth exam is normally read by the advisor.

Lists of core readings for the first three exams are available to candidates.

These lists will be supplemented as per the candidate’s interests and needs, in consultation with the examiner, and would normally consist of about 65 – 70 books, in addition to some articles.

The adviser must approve the specific topics and readers for the generals. With the adviser’s approval, a student may do one of the first three exams with a member of the faculty outside of the subfield, or outside the Department. Outside examiners will be requested to follow the Islam subfield guidelines.

Students, in consultation with their adviser, should choose their examiners by the end of the fall term of the students’ second year. They should confirm their reading lists with their examiners early in the spring term of that year, and begin reading for their exams during that term.

Dissertation Proposal:

To move forward with scheduling the dissertation proposal defense the student needs the approval of the advisor and the consent of the director of graduate studies.

Final Public Oral:

When the dissertation is submitted, the advisor must normally sign off on it and two readers deemed qualified by the DGS, not necessarily from the department, must submit positive reports for the final public oral to be held.

For additional information about the Islam subfield, download our brochure.