Arabic and Islamic Studies

Iranian bowl, 11th century, Yale University Art Gallery. Gift of Fred Olsen (1954.53.15).Since its establishment in 1841, the doctoral program in Arabic and Islamic studies at Yale, the oldest such program in the United States, has focused on the study of all aspects of the history and culture of Islamic societies. It emphasizes the acquisition by all students of thorough language skills in Arabic, classical and modern, and training in philology, manuscript studies, and textual and literary criticism. Arabic is the language of the Qur’an and Muslim practice; it is the universal language of medieval scholarship, philosophy, and science; in modern times, it is one of the six international languages of the United Nations and the living medium of a vibrant and constantly developing modern literature. Students may select one of two tracks of specialization offered by the department, the standard program or the interdisciplinary program.

(a) Standard Program. The goal of the program is to develop Arabists who both meet the high standards of scholarship that have traditionally characterized Arabic and Islamic studies and advance the field with innovative thought and research. In addition to introductory and methodological seminars, the department offers advanced seminars that aim to train students in all areas of the Arabic and Islamic disciplines, both traditional (such as Qur’an, hadith, fiqh, literature, literary criticism, history) and intellectual (such as philosophy, history of science, medicine).

(b) Interdisciplinary Program. Students wishing to specialize in areas and approaches that may enrich the field but have conventionally lain outside it may select an Arabic and Islamic studies interdisciplinary doctoral program with a minor concentration in one of the following departments: Comparative Literature, English, French, German Studies, Greek and Classics, History, History of Medicine and Science, Judaic Studies, Italian, Linguistics, Medieval Studies, Political Science and Sociology, Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Spanish and Portuguese. Particularly strong interdisciplinary programs are offered in the general areas of Graeco-Arabic studies and Arabic sciences and philosophy (see the description for Graeco-Arabic Studies below); comparative literature and poetics in Arabic and European languages; Arabic and Islamic religion, theology, and law; and Arabic studies and the medieval Mediterranean, in particular the study of al-Andalus.

A course of study leading to scholarly proficiency in the areas of concentration selected by each student is planned upon matriculation. This normally consists of three years of course work within the department; students in the interdisciplinary program may devote up to a third (one year) of their required course work to the minor field of their choice. Depending on their interests and intended specialization, students may include in their program of study other languages of the Islamic world, such as Persian and Turkish, or languages relevant to their area of concentration, such as Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, or Syriac.

The program also actively encourages students to spend one summer, during the first three years of their study, attending courses in an Arabic speaking country in order to perfect their language skills; at the dissertation stage, a significant amount of time (up to a year) may also be spent for research in another academic environment in the Near East or Europe.

Yale University has exceptional resources in Arabic and Islamic Studies. The Near East Collection in the University Library includes more than 150,000 volumes. Since Yale was the first American research library to collect Arabic books, the collection is particularly rich in early Arabic printed materials. The Library currently receives about 1000 periodicals on Near Eastern subjects in Western languages and about 900 in Near Eastern languages. The manuscript collection in the Beinecke Library includes more than 3000 items in Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish. A special reading room for Arabic and Islamic Studies is maintained in the University Library. For more information: