Qualifying Examinations

Nature and Purpose

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.

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.