Histories and Cultures of Muslim Societies

Histories and Cultures of Muslim Societies

This program focuses on the histories, literatures, philosophy, religious thought, and legal institutions of Muslim societies.  Its primary strength lies in the coverage of a broad range of fields of study in pre-modern and modern periods, particularly with regard to Islamic civilizations in the Near and Middle East. As a result of a growing recognition that the study of Islam and Muslim societies must embrace wider, more inclusive study of the diverse ethnic, racial and religious groups that have been constituents of Muslim cultures in different parts of the world, the program also provides students the opportunity to engage in the comparative study of Muslim societies, particularly in South Asia and Africa and their complex connections with the Near East.

The graduate program in Histories and Cultures of Muslim Societies (HCMS) includes the following subfields:


  1. Arabic language and literature
  2. Islam in South Asia
  3. Islamic Philosophy and Theology
  4. Modern Middle East Studies
  5. Persian language and literature
  6. Quranic studies

Upon enrollment in the PhD program, a NELC student specializing in HCMS selects one of these subfields as their specialization. They should then take at least four courses listed under that subfield, and four courses spread over three of the other subfields. All NELC graduate students are encouraged to take at least one course on the Modern Middle East and at least one course whose focus is the Islamic world outside the Middle East.

All NELC PhD students specializing in HCMS must, by the end of their second year, have taken either two fourth-year level courses in Arabic OR two third-year level courses in Persian.

Current courses in the mentioned subfields are listed below. Please note that other courses may be recognized as fulfilling the requirements, though the student’s advisor should be consulted about course choices in advance.


1) Arabic language and literature

ARABIC 243C: Arabic Historical sources
ARABIC 243A: Arabic literary sources
ARABIC 150: Introduction to Arabic Literature
ARABIC 245: Classical Arabic seminar: Readings in Classical Arabic Poetry and Literary criticism
ARABIC 245X: Readings in Arabic poetry and prosody
ARABIC 251: Classical Arabic Texts


2) Islam in South Asia

ISLAMCIV 178: Muslim Societies in South Asia: Religion, Culture and Identity

ISLAMCIV 184/RELIGION 1814: Muslim Devotional Literatures of South Asia; Qawwali, Sufiana Kalam, and the Ginans

ISLAMCIV 178: Being Muslim in South Asia: Religion, Culture and Identity

ISLAMCIV 241R: Approaches to Studying Islam in South Asia


3) Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Mysticism

ISLAMCIV 145A: Introduction to Islamic Philosophy and Theology
ISLMACIV 145B: Introduction to Islamic Philosophy and Theology
ARABIC 249R: Arabic Philosophical Texts
ARABIC 250R: Islamic Theological Texts
ARABIC 243B: Introduction to the Rational Sciences

RELIGION 1802: Introduction to Islamic Mystical Traditions

RELIGION 1816/ ISLAMCIV186: Ismaili History and Thought

4) Modern Middle East
ISLAMCIV 218: Islamic Institutions in the Middle East: Modern Transformations and Debates (19th-21st centuries)
MODMDEST 100: Introduction to the Modern Middle East
MODMDEST 101: The Politics of Religion in the Modern Middle East
ISLAMCIV 145B: Introduction to Islamic Philosophy and Theology: The Modern Period


5) Persian language and literature
PERSIAN 152: Literary and Visual Narrative in the Persian Epic Tradition
PERSIAN 155: “Beginnings”: Prefaces and Exordiums in Classical Persian Literature (upper-level Persian)
PERSIAN 251: Classical Persian Poetics and Rhetoric (graduate seminar, upper-level Persian)
PERSIAN 252: Between Fiction and Science: The Form(s) of Knowledge in the Premodern Persianate World (graduate seminar, upper-level Persian)
INDO-PERS 101: Readings in Indo-Persian Literature I (upper-level Persian)
ISLAMCIV 165 / HDS 3026: Sufi Masters of Persian Poetry: ‘Attâr, Rumi, Hâfez
PERSIAN 165: Sweet and Sour: A Taste of Persian Literary and Visual Culture


6) Quranic Studies
ISLAMCIV 158X: Introduction to the Qur’an
ISLAMCIV 158Y: Qur’anic Exegesis and Prophetic tradition
ISLAMCIV 99: Introduction to the Qur’an (mainly undergraduates)
ARABIC 243D: Religious sciences (Quran, Hadith and Fiqh)




Ali S. Asani, Murray A. Alberston Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures
Khaled El-Rouayheb, James Richard Jewett Professor of Islamic Intellectual History, Chair of the Department
William E. Granara, Professor of the Practice of Arabic on the Gordon Gray Endowment
Shady Nasser, Associate Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
Malika Zeghal, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor in Contemporary Islamic Thought and Life, Director of Graduate Studies