Program Description

The Islamic Studies MA Program (ISMA) is an interdisciplinary program focusing on the critical academic study of the Islamic religious and intellectual tradition and the diverse regional histories, cultures, and social formations of Muslim communities around the world. The program offers instruction in the classic areas of religion, law, literature and history and also in the inquiries of social scientists, feminist and gender research, media and film, and colonial and postcolonial studies.

After taking the core seminar that provides a rigorous foundation in key concepts, theories, and debates as well as training in comparative studies, students tailor their individual programs of study, with mentoring from the program advisor, to gain breadth in the field of Islamic studies and depth in special areas of interest. Students choose from a wide selection of both general and specialized courses to build a  coherent program of study.  Columbia’s world-class faculty teach relevant courses across a range of academic departments in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and in a number of other units such as Union Theological Seminary and the School of International and Public Affairs. Based on this  exposure to critical scholarly approaches, developing expertise in particular subjects, and training in research methodologies, students are prepared to write a thesis on a topic within their chosen area of concentration, under the supervision of a faculty advisor.

This program is flexible. It is designed both for individuals considering entering a Ph.D. program who wish first to explore different disciplines, gain a good foundation, or study particular subjects or regions and languages, and equally for those intending to pursue other careers in which graduate training in Islamic Studies would be an excellent qualification and resource.  Undergraduate students enrolled at Columbia College, SEAS, Barnard, and the School of General Studies may apply for early admission to the MA program in Islamic Studies and begin their MA coursework in their senior year while completing their undergraduate degree (see BA/MA Option).

Columbia is a leading institution in the field of Islamic Studies. This distinguished history of scholarship at the university dates to the 19th century and includes innovative faculty research and publication on  such venerable topics as Islamic law and the study of the Qur’an, alongside instruction in regional languages. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Columbia University was the academic home of Professor Edward Said, who elaborated a critique of “Orientalism” and inspired succeeding generations of scholars and students at the university and elsewhere to develop new ways of studying Islamic traditions and Muslim communities in a global context. 

Islamic Studies-related courses currently are offered in the following departments:

  • Anthropology 
  • Art History
  • Comparative Literature
  • French 
  • History 
  • Italian
  • Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies (MESAAS)
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Religion
  • Sociology
  • Spanish

Columbia faculty members specialize in one or more of the following subfields

  • History
  • Islamic law 
  • Shīʿism  
  • Sufism 
  • Philosophy
  • Literature and Textual Study
  • Media 
  • Art
  • Gender 
  • Islamic science
  • Colonial and Postcolonial Studies
  • Comparative religion
  • Contemporary Politics
  • Social Movements

They conduct research in one or more regions including:

  • The Arab world 
  • Turkey and the Ottoman Empire 
  • Iran, and the Persianate world
  • The Indian Subcontinent
  • North and Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Europe and North America