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Islamic Studies in Divinity School at Chicago University

Islamic Studies engages in the study of Islam as a textual tradition inscribed in history and particular cultural contexts.


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.

 Islamic Studies Courses

ISLM 51000 Writings of Ibn al-`Arabi

Michael Sells

Th, 2:00-4:50 pm, MEM SEM

This course will focus on sections from Ibn al-`Arabi’s al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya“The Meccan Openings,” including chapters 1 and 10, as well as the commentary he wrote upon his own love poems.  The important new critical edition of the Futuhat, by Abd al-`Aziz Sultan al-Mansub (Yemen, 2013), will serve as the base text.  We will also engage one of the chapters from Ibn `Arabi’s Fusus al-Hikam(Bezels of Wisdom) and will be able to take advantage of the new, fully-vocalized edition of that work.

PQ: facility in classical Arabic

Ident. NEHC 41000

ISLM 40100 Islamic Love Poetry

Michael Sells

T, 2:00-4:50 pm, MEM SEM

The focus of this course is classical Islamic love poetry, Arabic and Persian love lyric will be covered, as well as some Ottoman love lyric (at least in translation). In the past we have incorporated Urdu, Punjabi, Bangla, Bosnian, and Turkish traditions, and—for comparative and historical purposes—Hebrew poetry from medieval Andalus.   Because none of us are proficient in the all these languages, students who are proficient a given language are asked to provide a guide (including text, translation, explanation of key vocabulary, etc.) for selected poems from in that language.  Each member of the class will be asked to present one poem guide, in addition to a final assignment.   Among the poets commonly included in the course are Ibn Zaydun, Ibn al-Farid, Ibn al-`Arabi, Rumi, Hafiz, Baba Fighani, Na’ili, Mir Dard, Bulleh Shah, and Ghalib.

PQ:  facility in at least one of the following:  Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Punjabi, or another language with a classical Islamic tradition of love poetry.

Ident. RLVC 40300 / CMLT 40100 / NEHC 40600

ISLM 30200 Into. Qur’anic Arabic II

M/T/W/Th, 8:30-9:20 am, S201

This course is the second in a 3-quarter sequence Introduction to Qur’anic Arabic (IQA). Building on IQA I (offered in autumn), it continues with developing students’ philological and reading skills by covering the essentials of Qur’anic/Classical Arabic grammar. Like IQA I, this course features readings from select Qur’anic passages and works of Classical Arabic, but of greater difficulty. The core textbooks are Tasheel al-nahw, Fundamentals of Classical Arabic vol. 2, and Qasas al-nabiyyin. These will be supplemented by handouts provided by the instructor. Successful completion of IQA II will qualify students to take the Spring Capstone Course offered by Prof. Casewit. The Capstone is titled Contemporary Arabic Scholarship on the Qur’an and will be coordinated alongside IQA III to provide students the opportunity to practice reading Qur’anic Arabic at a slower pace than the one in the Capstone, while also continuing with their study of Arabic grammar. Graduate and undergraduate students from any department are welcome to register. The basic prerequisite is successful completion of IQA I. Exceptions can be made on a case by case basis.

Instructor: Aamir Bashir

ISLM 30600 Islamic History & Society-2: The Middle Period

T/Th, 12:30-1:50 pm, Stuart Hall 105

This course covers the period from ca. 1100 to 1750, including the arrival of the Steppe Peoples (Turks and Mongols), the Mongol successor states, and the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria. We also study the foundation of the great Islamic regional empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Moghuls.

Professor: John E. Woods

ISLM 30602 Islamic Thought & Literature-2

Franklin Lewis

M/W/F, 10:30-11:20 am, Stuart Hall 105

This course covers the period from ca. 950 to 1700, surveying works of literature, theology, philosophy, sufism, politics, history, etc., written in Arabic, Persian and Turkish, as well as the art, architecture and music of the Islamicate traditions. Through primary texts, secondary sources and lectures, we will trace the cultural, social, religious, political and institutional evolution through the period of the Fatimids, the Crusades, the Mongol invasions, and the “gunpowder empires” (Ottomans, Safavids, Mughals).

ISLM 48900 Maimonides, Eight Chapters and Commentary on Avot

James T. Robinson

Th, 11:00 am – 1:50 pm, S403


Hussein Agrama, Yousef Casewit, Fred M. Donner, Alireza Doostdar, Ahmed El Shamsy, Franklin Lewis, TaheraQutbuddin, James T. Robinson, Michael Sells, John E. Woods

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.

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 is just a small sample of recent courses. For current and upcoming courses, visit http://divinity.uchicago.edu/courses

  • 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
  • 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

Contact the Center

Address: The University of Chicago Divinity School
1025 East 58th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637

Main Phone: (773) 702-8200
Main Fax: (773) 702-6048

Martin Marty Center Phone: (773) 702-7049
Martin Marty Center Fax: (773) 702-4308

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