Islamic Studies

Assistant Director of Graduate Studies: Frank Griffel
Teaching Group in Islamic Studies: Gerhard Böwering, Frank Griffel

Graduate Program
      Academic Nature of the Program
      Language Requirements
      Course Work
      Nature and Purpose of Qualifying Examinations
      Qualifying Examination Descriptions and Procedures
      Dissertation Proposal
      Professor Gerhard Bowering
      Professor Frank Griffel
Current Students
Program Graduates
Contact Information

Decorative sketch of the Kacba from a Beinecke manuscript

Decorative sketch of the Kacba from a Beinecke manuscript


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. 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 Assoc. Prof. Frank Griffel, students also have the benefit of professors in the Near Eastern Studies, 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. 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 history (focusing on the development of Islamic civilization, law, society and institutions in the period from the origins of Islam to 1500 CE); Islamic religious thought (focusing on Islamic philosophy, theology, Sufism and Shi’ism); Islamic scripture and tradition (focusing on the composition, redaction and interpretation of Qur’an and Hadith); and modern and contemporary Islam (focusing on 16th to 21st century developments in the Arab Middle East, the Turco-Iranian world, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa and, most recently, Europe and America). Frank Griffel is responsible for modern and contemporary Islam, Gerhard Bowering for Islamic religious history; and thought as well as Qur’an and Hadith. Arabic language and literature, as well as Persian and Turkish, are taught in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Modern Iranian history and Islamic political thought are taught respectively in the Department of History and Political Science.



Graduate students in the Program in Islamic Studies enjoy full access to the faculty of Yale University and the extensive resources of her library. Yale’s Near Eastern Collection boasts of over 150,000 volumes, with a particularly high quantity of early Arabic printed materials. Additionally, the Near Eastern manuscripts collection at Yale’s Beinecke Library consists of well over 5,000 manuscripts, while works specific to the field of Arabic and Islamic Studies form the principle strength of the collection. Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library also maintains an Arabic and Islamic Studies reading room that houses important reference works in the field.

Beyond its impressive library collections, Yale University sponsors a number of colloquiums and working groups that are pertinent to the field of Islamic Studies. These include:

Islam and the Modern Day Lunch Colloquium: A weekly lunch colloquium in the Senior Dining Room at Jonathan Edwards College. The colloquium's focus is on Islam and the modern day, addressing topics such as: 
· Religion and Politics in Iraq
· The Kurdish Question
· The Muslims of Gujarat
· The Nation of Islam, Orthodox Islam and the African-American Community
· Islam and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
· Islamic Feminism
· America and Islam after 9/11
· Emblems of Difference: American Media and the Taliban, ca. 1996
· Experiences with Muslims in Zanzibar
· Image and Idea: Art and Architecture in Post-Revolution Iran
· Sufi Orders in Senegalese Culture, Society, and Politics

The Arabic Philosophy Working Group: This working group sponsored by the Whitney Humanities Center promotes the study of Arabic philosophy at Yale. It addresses itself equally to philosophers, Arabists, and Islamicists as well as to scholars of Classics, and Medieval, Renaissance, and Judaic Studies. It meets at least monthly for the presentation of an invited paper, which center on Arabic philosophy but can include the discussion of relevant Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Persian texts that predate or continue the Arabic philosophical tradition.

The Critical Islamic Reflections Conference: Yale University’s Critical Islamic Reflections group consists of a cross-section of graduate and undergraduate students organized to pursue critical academic scholarship on topics regarding Islam and Muslim society. Since 2000, the CIR group has successfully organized five annual conferences. Past programs have featured leading and emerging scholars in the American Islamic context, many of whom possess backgrounds in both traditional Islamic learning and Anglo-American academia.

The conference is designed to provide a broad framework to pursue a sophisticated understanding and discourse of issues pertinent to Muslims in America in light of prevailing realities. While focusing discussion around specific themes each year, the group aims to examine problems against a backdrop of broader, more fundamental questions confronting Islam and other religions.

The Yale Arabic Colloquium: The NELC Department’s YAC brings together each month all students and faculty at Yale whose academic work involves Arabic – including Religious Studies, Medieval Studies, Comparative Literature, and Anthropology – to discuss their work in conversation. Presenters alternate between advanced graduate students and new or visiting faculty.

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 (Phyllis Granoff) 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 Program

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 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 Fakhr al-Din al-Razi; Mir Dard: Sufi Mystic and Urdu Poet in 18th century India; The Theology of al-Ash'ari; the legal reforms of Ubn Abu Zayd al-Qayawani; the Life and Thought of Abu Rayhan al-Biruni..


Language Requirements

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. 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.


Course Work

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 the Graduate 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.


Nature and Purpose of Qualifying Examinations

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 scholars. 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.


Qualifying Examination Descriptions and Procedures

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 faith 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 comprise in 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.


Dissertation Proposal

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 the Graduate 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.


Professor Gerhard Bowering (Baccalaureate, Deutsches Gymnasium Wurzburg; Ph.L., Philosophische Hochschule Pullach; Diploma, Panjab University; Th.L., Montreal; Ph.D., McGill University) has been Professor of Religious Studies in Islamic Studies since 1984. He taught previously at the University of Pennsylvania and has been a visiting professor at the University of Innsbruck, Princeton University, and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. He has published Mystical Vision of Existence in Classical Islam: The Qur'anic Hermeneutics of the Sufi Sahl at-Tustari (d. 283/896), The Minor Qur’an Commentay of al-Sulami (Ziyadat haqa’iq al-tafsir), Beirut 1995, 2nd ed. 1997, 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: Islam and Christianity: the Inner Dymanics of Two Cultures of Belief, Notre Dame University Press 2007; and The Dreams and Labors of a Central Asian Muslim Mystic. He was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (2005-2006) and fellowships from the Institute for the Advanced Study, Princeton (1992 and 2006). In 2004-2005 he gave the Erasmus Lectures at Notre Dame.[curriculum vitae]


Professor Frank Griffel (University Göttingen, Damascus University, M.A. Free University Berlin, Dr. phil. Free University Berlin) teaches courses on Islamic theology and focuses amongst others on developments in contemporary Muslim thought. He was previously research fellow at the Orient Institute of the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft in Beirut, Lebanon. He is author of Apostasy and Tolerance in Islam: The Development that led to al-Ghazali's Condemnation of Peripatetic Philosophy (in German) as well as of numerous articles in academic journals, collective works, and encyclopedias. In 2003–04, he was Mellon Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. His current research includes a book-length study on the influential Muslim theologian al-Ghazali (d. 1111).[curriculum vitae]



Introduction to Islam Bowering
Introduction to Islamic Theology Griffel
Muhammad and the Qur'an Bowering
Jihad and Islamic Fundamentalism Griffel
The Growth of Islam: Conquest, Culture, and Conversion Bowering
Introduction to Arabic and Islamic Studies (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
Islamic Law and Ethics (RLST) March
The Crisis of Islam (RLST) Grewal
Intermediate Persian (NELC)
F. Amanat-Kowssar
Arabic Seminar (NELC) Gruendler
The Religion of Islam Bowering
The Civilization of Medieval Islam Bowering
Mamluk Egypt (HST) Allouche

*=Arabic and instructor's permission required

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).


Current Students

Joseph Cumming Research interests Qur'anic studies and Islamic theology, particularly the Jesus narratives in the Qur'an and their interpretation.

Mahan Mirza Research interests include topics related to the Qur’an, Islamic intellectual history, and modern movements in Islam. While finishing up his dissertation work, Mahan has recently begun an assistant professor position at California State University, Chico.

Sayeed Rahman Research Interests include Maliki jurisprudence, methods of Muslim jurisprudence, and Kalam.

Mushegh Asatryan Research interests include the Qur'an and its exegesis, heterodox movements in Islam, and Sufism.

Kazuyo Murata Research interests include Islamic philosophy, Sufism and Islam in Iran.

Matthew Ingalls Research interests include Islamic law, theology, and medieval Egyptian Sufism.

Yasir Kazi (Qadhi) Research interests include Islamic theology and law, with emphasis on Ibn Taymiyya, as well as Qur’anic studies.

Matthew Warren Research interests include Sufism, Islamic thought, and Islam in Iran and Central Asia.

Samuel Noble Research interests include Muslim-Christian relations and religious polemics within Islam.

Hussein Abdsulsater Research interests include Shiism and early Sufism.

Yousef Casewit Reseach interests include Sufi tafsir, Sufism, and Sufism in the Maghrib and al-Andalus.


Program Graduates

Jamal J. Elias (1991) with his dissertation on "Sufi Thought and Practice in the Teaching of ‘Ala’ ad-Dawla as-Simnani". A revised version of his thesis is published: "The Throne Carrier of God. The Life and Thought of ‘Ala’ ad-Dawla as-Simnani", Albany: SUNY 1995. Jamal is the chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Gerald T. Elmore (1995) with his dissertation on "The Fabulous Gryphon on the Seal of Saints and the Sun Rising in the West: An Early Maghribine Work by Ibn al-Arabi" A revised version of the thesis is published: "Islamic Sainthood in the Fullness of Time. Ibn al-Arab's Book of the Fabulous Gryphon", Leiden: Brill 1999.

Jonathan E. Brockopp (1995) with his dissertation on "Slavery in Islamic Law: An Examination on Early Maliki Jurisprudence". After teaching as Assistant Professor at Bard College, he now teaches as Associate Professor at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. A revised version of his dissertation is published: "Early Maliki Law. Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam and his Major Compendium of Jurisprudence", Leiden: Brill 2000.

Shahzad Bashir (1997) with his dissertation "Between Mysticism and Messianism: The Life and Thought of Muhammad Nurbakhsh (d. 1464)". After teaching as Assistant Professor at Holy Cross College, Worcester, MA and as Associate Professor at Carleton College, Minnesota, he is now Full Professor at Stanford University, directing the newly established Abbasi program. A revised version of his dissertation is published: "Messianic Hopes and Mystical Visions", Columbia: University of South Carolina Press 2003.

Walid Saleh (2001) with his dissertation on "The Qur'an Commentary of al-Tha’labi (d. 427/1035)". After teaching as Assistant Professor at Middlebury College, Vermont, he is now teaching as Associate Professor with tenure at the University of Toronto, Canada. A revised version of his dissertation is published : "The Formation of the Classical Tafsir tradition," Leiden: Brill 2004.

Amina Steinfels (2003) with her dissertation on "The Travels and Teachings of Sayyid Jalal al-din Husayn Bukhari (1308-1384)." After teaching as Assistant Professor at Gettysburg College, PA, she is now teaching as Assistant Professor at Mount Holyoke College, MA.

Joseph Lumbard (2003) with his dissertation on "Ahmad al-Ghazali (d. 517/1123 or 520-1126) and the Metaphysics of Love." After serving as an advisor to His Majesty King Abdallah II of Jordan, he now teaches as Assistant Professor at Brandeis University.

Gabriel Said Reynolds (2003) with his dissertation on "A Muslim Theologian in the Sectarian Milieu: 'Abd al-Jabbar (d. 415/1025) and the 'Critique of Christian Origins.'" He teaches as Assistant Professor at University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN. A revised version of his dissertation is published: “’Abd al-Jabbar’s Critique of Christian Origins,” Leiden: Brill Publishers 2005.

Nada Saab (2004) with her dissertation on "Mystical Language and Theory in Sufi Writings of al-Kharraz." She teaches as Full Professor at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon and is the Director of the Arabic Studies Program.

Tariq Jaffer (2005) with his dissertation on “The Doctrine of the Soul in Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s Qur’an Commentary." He teaches as assistant professor at the University of Oregon.

Homayra Ziad (2008) with her dissertation on "Quest of the Nightingale: The Religious Thought of Khvajah Mir Dard (1720-1785)." She teaches as Assistant Professor at Trinity College.


Contact Information

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