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The Yale Department of Religious Studies
Islamic Studies

The Yale Department of Religious Studies, established in its present form in 1963, provides opportunities for the scholarly study of a number of religious traditions and disciplines. At the undergraduate level, the Department offers a wide array of courses that cover the major religions of the world, with a strong emphasis on their history and their intellectual traditions. At the graduate level, the Department is organized into ten fields:
American Religious History
Ancient Christianity
Buddhist Studies
Islamic Studies
Judaic Studies
New Testament
Old Testament/ Hebrew Bible
Philosophy of Religion
Religious Ethics

Islamic Studies

The Yale University Ph. D. Program in Islamic Studies

The Yale University Ph. D. Program in Islamic Studies is devoted to comprehensive research on the religion of Islam and to training superior students for academic careers in that field. Students accepted into the program are offered full scholarships along with a multi-year stipend. Upon matriculation, they have access to the faculty ofYale University and the extensive resources of her library, including the Near Eastern Collection. Islamic Studies is one of ten fields in the Department of Religious Studies, where students and professors researching different religious traditions interact. In addition to Prof. Gerhard Bowering and Asst. Prof. Frank Griffel, students also have the benefit of professors in the Near Eastern, History, and Political Science Departments.
Students in Islamic Studies are expected to develop both a comprehensive knowledge of Islamic intellectual history and religious thought, as well as mastery of a field of specialization and the requisite tools for critical scholarship on Islam. They are expected to demonstrate competence in Islamic religious thought (focusing on Islamic philosophy and theology, including normative and heterodox developments such as Shi'ism and Sufism); Islamic religious history (focusing on the development of Islamic civilization, law, society, and institutions); and Islamic Scripture and Tradition (focusing on composition and redaction, history, and interpretation of the Qur’an).

Graduate Program

These guidelines are intended to provide information concerning the program in Islamic Studies within the Department of Religious Studies. The aim is to provide a series of norms and expectations to serve as points of reference from which a program of study can be developed. It is also to explain the requirements for the degree in this particular field and the procedures for meeting them. All students must work with their faculty advisor, the Assistant Director of Graduate Studies for Islamic Studies (Gerhard Bowering), and the Director of Graduate Studies (Harry Stout) to define their own particular program. Students are strongly encouraged to meet with the Islamic Studies faculty early in their academic program to define their needs and to design a course of study (formal as well as informal) which will best prepare them for their qualifying examinations and subsequent work.

ACADEMIC NATURE OF THE PROGRAMStudents in Islamic Studies are expected to develop both a comprehensive knowledge of Islamic intellectual history and religious thought, as well as mastery of a field of specialization and the requisite tools for critical scholarship on Islam. They are expected to demonstrate competency in Islamic religious thought (focusing on Islamic philosophy and theology, including normative and heterodox developments such as Shi'ism and Sufism); Islamic religious history (focusing on the development of Islamic civilization, law, society, and institutions in the period from the origins of Islam to 1500 A.D.) and the study of Islamic scripture and tradition (focusing on the composition, redaction and interpretation of the Qur`an as well as on the development of Hadith literature). Recent dissertation topics in Islamic Studies include: Sufi Thought and Practice in the Teachings of ‘Ala’ al-Dawla al-Simnani; The Greeks in Medieval Islamic Egypt, 640-1095; The Fabulous Gryphon: An Early Maghribine Work by Ibn al-‘Arabi; Slavery in Islamic Law: An Examination of Early Maliki Jurisprudence; Between Mysticism and Messianism: The Life and Thought of Muhammad Nurbakhsh; The Qur’an Commentary of al-Tha’labi; Mystical Language and Theory in the Sufi Writings of al-Kharraz; The Travels and Teachings of Makhdum-i Jahaniyan Jahangasht; Ahmad Ghazzali: Mystical Poet and Philosopher of Medieval Islam; ‘Abd al-Jabbar’s Critique of Christian Origins; The Doctrine of the Soul in the Thought of Rakhr al-Din al Razi; Mir Dard: Sufi Mystic and Urdu Poet in 18th century India; The Theology of al-Ash'ari.


Students admitted to the Ph.D. program in Islamic Studies are expected to possess or quickly acquire a proficiency in two scholarly languages, normally German and French. For further description of policy and procedure, see departmental brochure. Specific requirements for Islamic Studies are the following: No later than the end of the second year, each student must have passed an examination in advanced literary Arabic and must show the equivalent of two years of course work in Persian (Farsi). Under certain circumstances, a third Islamic language, such as Turkish or Urdu, may be extremely useful for research in the field as well.


Students are required to take twelve courses, and this is normally done during the first two years of study. A minimum quality requirement, set by theGraduate School, must be met. This stipulates that a student must earn a grade of Honors in two graduate courses. The purpose of course work is to prove that the student possesses a survey knowledge of Islamic Studies, and this must be shown before taking qualifying examinations. In addition to taking the regular courses offered by the Department of Religious Studies, students may remedy gaps in knowledge through directed readings or by auditing appropriate courses.


The qualifying examinations in Islamic Studies are taken after the conclusion of required course work and must be completed before admission to candidacy. Ordinarily, students take the examinations in their third year of residence. Preparation for the qualifying examinations is comprised of a combination of course work and supplementary individual readings. The scope and focus of each examination is a matter for discussion and negotiation with individual examiners. As a general rule of thumb, the student should strive for a level of knowledge and expertise such as would be required to construct and teach a course on the subject. The examinations are not meant to test the students' ability as a research scholar. Course work, research papers, and the dissertation will do that. Passage of the qualifying exams is one requirement demanded of all students seeking the Ph.D., but it is not the only requirement, nor is it the most important. The dissertation is. Therefore, the exams should be kept within their proper proportions, and the following guidelines are designed to help with this.


The qualifying examinations include three written field examinations and one oral examination in a particular field of specialization, given on the basis of a statement submitted by the student. The following examination format is intended to strike a balance between comprehensive knowledge of Islamic intellectual history and religious thought, mastery of a field of specialization, and the requisite tools for critical scholarship on Islam. The specific format of each examination will be tailored to individual student needs, interests, and background. The field examination in Islamic Religious Thought focuses on Islamic tradition, philosophy and theology, including normative and heterodox developments. It begins with the doctrinal disputes of the early schisms of Islam, leads through the major schools of Islamic religious doctrine, such as Mu'tazila, Falsafa, Isma'iliyya, Ash'ariyya, etc., and encompasses the intellectual syntheses of Islamic thought elaborated by great Muslim scholars, such as Ibn Sina, al-Ghazali, Ibn al-'Arabi, Nasiruddin al-Tusi, Ibn Taymiyya, Mulla Sadra, etc. The field examination in Islamic Religious History focuses on the development of Islamic civilization, law, society and institutions in the period from 750 A.D. to 1517 A.D. It includes questions such as the nature of Islamic leadership and authority, the definition of the Islamic state and community, the norm of shari'a and its applications, the system of social organization and education. The field examination in Islamic Scripture and Tradition focuses on the study of Qur`an and Hadith, the composition and redaction of the Qur`an, the history of the text, and the major trends of its interpretation, e.g. traditional, dogmatic, mystic, sectarian and modernist trends. It also encompasses the study of the life of Muhammad in the fatih of his community and the study of the religious tradition of Islam incorporated into Hadith literature. For each of these three field examinations, students prepare a bibliography of about 25 monographs and about 10 major articles in the field, which they submit to their advisor and eventual examiners six months before actually taking the qualifying examinations. Responsibility for formulating exam questions will rest with faculty members specializing in Islamic Studies, and others who are appropriate in individual cases. Students will submit a list of questions, issues, thinkers, etc., on which they wish especially to be examined. Faculty members will attempt to do justice to this list, and include these questions in some form, though they may also rework them substantially and add other questions. Every effort will be made to assure comprehensiveness without surprise or misunderstanding. The student may opt for either of two modes of the actual examination: a) After the questions are distributed to the student he or she will have a 15-day period to prepare answers. He or she may consult whatever books and articles are deemed most helpful. The answers finally submitted will comprisein toto no more than 60 typewritten double-spaced pages. b) Questions will be distributed to the student, one third on the first day of the 15-day period, the second third on the 6th day of the same period, and the third on the 11th day. In preparing answers, the student may, again, consult whatever books and articles are deemed most helpful. On the 5th day, the 10th day, and the 15th day, the student will appear at the departmental office and obtain paper provided on which the answers will be written. The student may write for six hours on each of these three days, and will submit his or her answers by the end of each day. During these six-hour exams the student may not consult books, articles or notes. The oral examination in the student's particular field of specialization follows within two months after the successful completion of the written field examinations. The student will provide a written statement of about 20 typewritten pages as the basis of the oral exam, with appropriate faculty members present. The oral exam will not exceed two hours and will concentrate intensively on a precise cluster of problems, or a small set of figures, or a limited body of literature. The topic will be selected because of its importance as background for the student's probable dissertation topic.


The dissertation proposal, accompanied by a working bibliography, is prepared following the completion of the qualifying exams. It is worked out in consultation with the faculty, and submitted to the teaching group in the field, who meet with the student for a two-hour colloquium to assess the scope, significance, and feasibility of the topic and the student's preparation to accomplish it in a reasonable time. After approval by the teaching group, a two-page, single-spaced summary of the proposal is submitted to the entire graduate faculty in Religious Studies and thence, if none object, to the Dean of theGraduate School. Once accepted this prospectus becomes the basis for the eventual assessment of the completed dissertation. After acceptance of the prospectus, the student is admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. Students must be admitted to candidacy by the beginning of the fourth year of study.


Students normally begin writing their dissertation in the fourth year and normally will have finished by the end of the fifth. The completed dissertation must be evaluated in writing and approved by a committee of three readers and the departmental faculty. There is no oral examination on the dissertation.


Professor Gerhard Bowering (Baccalaureate, Würzburg; Ph.L., Philosophische Hochschule,Munich; Diploma, Panjab University, Lahore; M.A., Th.L., Montreal; Ph.D., McGill University) has been Professor of Islamic Studies since 1984. He taught previously at the University of Pennsylvania and has been a visiting professor at theUniversity ofInnsbruck, Princeton University, and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. He has publishedMystical Vision of Existence in Classical Islam: The Qur'anic Hermeneutics of the Sufi Sahl at-Tustari(d. 283/896) as well as numerous articles, including those in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, the Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, and the Encyclopaedia Iranica. Work in progress includes the following books:The Idea of Time in Islam; andThe Dreams and Labors of a Central Asian Muslim Mystic. He has also produced the Arabic text edition, with introduction and notes, of As-Sulami's Minor Qur'an Commentary:Ziyadat al-haqa'iq (1st and 2nd editions). [curriculum vitae]

Assistant Professor Frank Griffel (University Göttingen, Damascus University, M.A. Free University Berlin, Dr. phil. Free University Berlin) has been Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies since July 2000. He was previously research fellow at the Orient Institute of the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft in Beirut, Lebanon. He has publishedApostasy and Tolerance in Islam: The Development that led to al-Ghazali's Condemnation of Peripatetic Philosophy (in German) as well as articles in academic journals, collective works, and encyclopedias.
    During 2003-04 Professor Griffel was on leave doing research at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Sample Courses

The Religion of IslamBowering
Introduction to Islamic TheologyGriffel
Muhammad and the Qur'anBowering
Jihad and Islamic FundamentalismGriffel
The Growth of Islam: Conquest, Culture, and Conversion Bowering
Arabic Seminar (NELC)Gutas/Gruendler
Seminar in Islamic Religious Thought (RLST)Bowering
Seminar in Sufism (RLST)Bowering
Seminar on the Qur'an and its Interpretation (RLST)Bowering
Seminar on Islamic Theology (RLST)Griffel
Seminar on Islam and Modernity (RLST)Griffel
Early Arabic Philosophy (NELC)Gutas
Religion and State in the Modern Middle East (Hst)A. Amanat
Comparative Perspective on Middle East Politics (PS)Lust-Okar
Politics in the Middle East Through Film and Literature (PS)Lust-Okar
Intermediate Persian (NELC)F. Amanat-Kowssar
Intermediate Arabic (NELC)Frangieh

Students in Islamic Studies are within the Department of Religious Studies (RLST) but also take courses with faculty members in the Departments of History (Hst), Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC), and Political Science (PS)

Contact Information

Professor Gerhard Bowering
Yale University Program in Islamic Studies
451 College Street
P.O. Box 208287
New Haven, CT 06520-8287
Phone: (203) 432-0828;
FAX: (203) 432-7844

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