Research in Islam

Religious Studies graduate students specializing in the study of Islam are overseen by Jamal Elias and Megan Robb. The program's special strengths in this area are in Sufism, Qur'anic Studies, and various aspects of Islamic intellectual, literary and material religious history in Western, Central and South Asia from classical to early modern times, as well as in material and visual religion.

Among Penn's impressive faculty resources for the study of Islam are Joseph Lowry in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (specializing in Islamic Law) and Cheikh Babou in History (Sufism in West Africa). Specialists working on Islamic culture in a broader sense include Paul Cobb and Heather Sharkey in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Eve Troutt Powell and Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet in History, and Renata Holod in History of Art.

Additional resources include the Middle East Center, South Asia Center, Center for African Studies, the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, the Penn Museum, as well as an exceptionally strong library collection for the study of the Islamic world. In addition, Penn offers elementary through advanced language training in the major Islamic languages (Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu), as well as instruction in other relevant languages such as Bengali, Pashto, Punjabi and Wolof. Fellowships for language study (including for summer study abroad programs) are available through the area studies centers.

Coursework and research using advanced language skills are essential beginning in the first year of study. Most students enter the program with reading facility in Arabic or Persian, but all students are required to develop reading competence in at least one other language of Islamic scholarship before they finish coursework and sit for their qualifying exams. By that time, they are also expected to have passed their modern language exams (normally French and German).

Interdisciplinary investigation is encouraged, and students typically take courses not only in Religion Studies but also in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, South Asia Studies, History of Art and History. Theoretical interests can be explored in other departments as well, ranging from Political Science to Comparative Literature. Likewise, in the second and third years, students have opportunities to gain teaching experience in religious traditions as TAs within the department and in multiple disciplines as TAs in other departments as well.

Students interested in applying to the program to work in this area are encouraged to contact Professor Elias ( or Professor Megan Robb ( for further information.