Degree Programs

The Program in Islamic Law is devoted to the academic study of Islamic law at Harvard Law School. PIL is not a degree-granting institution, and it does not admit students. To be a student at Harvard University, interested applicants must apply to the appropriate school of interest. Harvard Law School offers JD degrees to students with a bachelor’s degree who successfully meet the admission requirements. The HLS Graduate Program is the division of Harvard Law School responsible for the Master of Laws (LLM) and the Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) degrees. The History Department offers Masters (MA) and Doctor in Philosophy (PhD) degrees, as does the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. For other programs, please visit HLS Admissions or Harvard FAS Graduate Admissions.

Islamic Law Courses

Harvard Faculty of Arts & Sciences, Fall 2021
Course Number: ISLAMCIV 145A
Course Title: Introduction to Islamic Philosophy and Theology: The Classical and Medieval period
Instructor: Khaled El-Rouayheb
Islamic Civilizations 145A is an introduction to some of the key problems and figures in medieval Islamic theology and philosophy. The main topics covered will be: The rise of theological controversies in early Islam and the crystallization of theological factions; the rise of an Arabic tradition of Neo-Platonized Aristotelianism with such figures as Farabi (d. 950) and Avicenna (d.1037); the confrontation between the theological and Aristotelian traditions in such works as The Incoherence of the Philosophers by the theologian al-Ghazali (d.1111) and the response by Averroes (d.1198); the powerful influence of philosophy on later Islamic theology; the anti-Aristotelian, Platonist philosophy of “Illumination” of Suhrawardi (d.1191), and the mystical monism of Ibn Arabi (d.1240) and his followers.
Course Number: ISLAMCIV 170
Course Title: Islam, Modernity and Politics
Instructor: Ousmane Kane
The aim of this seminar is to study the evolution of Islamic thought and political practices in Muslim societies from the 19th to the early 21st centuries. Attention will be devoted to the patterns of interaction between the Muslim World and the West because it is our assumption that these patterns contribute to influence ideological formations and modes of religious/political mobilizations in the Muslim World. By the end of the eighteenth century, much of the Muslim World was in “decline” whereas European imperial powers, mainly France and Great Britain, were on the rise. The course will explore the response of Muslim societies and intellectuals to the rise of European prominence. The major 19th century reformist movements that appeared in the Muslim World will be discussed, ranging from movements advocating mild reform to those rejecting all influence of “Western civilization” and advocating a return to the Tradition of Muhammad. In the twentieth century, virtually all the Muslim World came under European colonial domination. During colonial rule and after, the Muslim world experienced major transformations which affected the nature and administration of law, politics and society. It is in this context, that the new Islamic revival that some have called “Islamism” was articulated as an alternative to Westernization. The course will address the rise of contemporary “Islamism,” as an alternative to Western domination and modernization/Westernization. The major theorists of political Islam as well as the different trajectories of “Islamism” in diverse Muslim societies will be covered. The impact of political Islam in the West will also be addressed. The final part of the course will assess the trajectories of political Islam and address the ongoing debates on post-Islamism, secularism and modernity.
Course Number: RELIGION 1807
Course Title: What is (Lived) Islam?
Instructor: Teren Sevea
What are the anthropological and historical approaches to studying Islam? How do our academic approaches help us engage the question: what is lived Islam? This course begins by considering how ‘Islam’ is an object of academic inquiry but remains primarily concerned with the most prominent elements of Islam and being Islamic that have been marginalized within Islamic studies. It acknowledges the methodological difficulties involved in pursuing research on the phenomenon and practice of Islam across social contexts of the past and the present, while discussing possible methods of studying Islam as the everyday religion lived by Muslims and even non-Muslims. Students will be introduced to academic and religious sources that encourage us to (re)approach Islam as the everyday experience of believers, the multiverse of rituals and exercises of knowledge acquisition, as well as contests over moral authority. Students will, moreover, be encouraged to consider if a focus on lived Islam encourages us to discard regnant dichotomies of ‘textual’ and ‘popular’ religion, along with imagined divisions of the Islamic world into a center and peripheries.
Course Number: RELIGION 1821
Course Title: Indian Ocean Islam
Instructor: Teren Sevea
Does thinking oceanically influence the study of Islam? Can we remember a people’s history of the Indian Ocean world? This course considers these questions and others as it focuses on religious worlds within port cities and the networks of Indian Ocean Islam. The course examines how religion in port cities and islands was centered upon a plethora of saints, missionaries, divinities and other agents of Islam, who have been marginalized in academic literature on the Indian Ocean. It simultaneously examines how oceanic religion was intimately connected to economic, political and technological developments. Students will be introduced to scholarship on oceanic Islam and monsoon Islam, before they are introduced to a variety of sources on transregional Islamic networks and agents of Islam, including biographies, hagiographies, travelogues, novels, poems and ethnographic accounts. Students will, moreover, be encouraged to consider ways in which approaches to studying Islam could be enhanced by a focus on religious economies and networks, as well as the lives of ‘subalterns’ who crossed the porous borders of the Indian Ocean world and shaped its religious worlds.
Course Number: HIST 1208
Course Title: Introduction to Islamic History: From the Rise of Islam to the Mongol Conquests, 620-1258
Instructor: Cemal Kafadar
The course will examine multiple themes in Islamic history during the period indicated. It will introduce students to early and medieval Islam in its Near Eastern setting and treat with admittedly less depth the subsequent advent of Islam in such geographies as North Africa, Spain, India, and Central Asia. Select primary sources (in translation) will be used to illuminate the students’ understanding of certain themes in the cultural, intellectual, and social history of Islamic societies, including relations between different ethnic and sectarian groups, the role(s) of women, sexuality, as well as tensions and interactions with the non-Islamic world
Course Number: HIST-LIT 90EI
Course Title: Islam in Early America
Instructor: Arianne Urus
Muslims first arrived on the shores of the Americas at the turn of the sixteenth century, yet their long history in the western hemisphere has been largely forgotten. For centuries Islam was the second-most widely practiced monotheistic religion in the Americas, after Catholicism; some Muslims came from Spain to escape persecution at the hands of the Inquisition for continuing to practice their religion, while others were taken captive and forcibly crammed into the hulls of ships on the West African coast and transported across the Atlantic, where, in 1522, they participated in the first uprising of enslaved men and women in the Americas on a sugar plantation on the island of Hispaniola (the site of present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic). From the very beginning of European imperialism in the Atlantic World, Muslims were integral to the history of what scholars call “Vast Early America.” Their stories are entwined with the larger threads of early American history including those of missionary work, European interimperial conflict, slavery, the genocide of Native peoples, and capitalism. This course unfolds in four units that will take us from the first early modern European encounters with Islam to the stories of Muslim agents of European conquest and Muslim resistance to enslavement in the Caribbean and US South, to how the Founding Fathers thought about Islam and the status of Muslims in the early Republic. We will work with sources ranging from Laila Lalami’s 2014 novel, The Moor’s Account, to Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Qur’an, as well as the autobiography of Omar Ibn Said written in Arabic from a jail cell in South Carolina and Rhiannon Gidden’s new opera based on Said’s story.
Course Number: ISLAMCIV 241R
Course Title: Approaches to Studying Indo-Muslim Culture and South Asian Islam
Instructor: Ali Asani
A seminar for graduate students focusing on current scholarship on Islamic civilization in South Asia.
Course Number: ISLAMCIV 184
Course Title: Devotional Literatures of South Asia: Qawwalis, Sufiana Kalam (Sufi Poetry) and the Ginans
Instructor: Ali Asani
This course explores traditions of devotional poetry in South Asia through the lens of three genres: the qawwali, concerts of mystical poetry; sufiana kalam, Sufi romantic epics and folk poems; and the ginans, songs of wisdom. In addition to playing a central role in traditions of worship, these genres, through the poetic knowledge they convey, have shaped the worldviews and the personal and communal norms of millions in South Asia and beyond. Frequently subverting constructions of power, knowledge and authority, they have fostered communal harmony by promoting common frameworks for moral, cultural and aesthetic understandings. Since these genres share language, music, symbols and styles of worship with other Indic traditions, we will also examine their relationships with the so-called sant and bhakti traditions. Special attention will be given to the impact of contemporary ideologies of nationalism, globalization and the revolution in media technology on the form and function of these genres and their relationship with contemporary communities of faith.
Course Number: GOV 94PY
Course Title: Revolution and Politics in Contemporary Iran
Instructor: Payam Mohseni
Iran is increasingly a significant power in the Middle East and a salient country to global affairs. Accordingly, this course examines the intricacies of Iranian politics since the 1979 revolution. It explores a broad range of topics including the causes of the Iranian revolution; the political implications of the Islamic regime’s institutional architecture; the competitive factional dynamics within the ruling elite; Iranian foreign policy, Iran-US relations, and nuclear negotiations; and Shia political ideology.
Course Number: HIST 1700
Course Title: The History of Sub-Saharan Africa to 1860
Instructor: Emmanuel Akyeampong
Survey of sub-Saharan Africa to 1860, with attention to the range of methodologies used in writing early African history, including oral history, archaeology, and anthropology. Will address themes of the impact of climate change on migration and settlement, trade and commerce, state formation, slavery, and the impact of Islam and Christianity on the continent. Will provide a methodological and historiographical framework in which more specific historical processes and events may be placed and understood.
Course Number: FRSEMR 63J
Course Title: Islam vs. Image?: Visual Representations in Islamic Art
Instructor: David Roxburgh
Is Islam against images? For reasons that are perplexing and hard to pinpoint, this notion appears to have been promoted by ideas about Islamic doctrine and an endemic hostility toward images which has only been magnified after recent years of religious extremism and terrorism. These include the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001, and the Charlie Hebdo mass shooting in Paris 2015 over the cartoons representing the Prophet Muhammad. And yet there is ample evidence of making and using images across the time and space of Islam. The stereotype of Islam’s antipathy toward paintings and drawings, etc., has fostered the understanding that calligraphy and geometry flourished because of figuration’s illicitness. These ideas and assertions are misleading and incomplete. The Seminar is an opportunity for personal reflection and to study the issues at stake in questions about the values, forms, and functions of images and examines a broad variety of images produced throughout the Islamic lands from 600–1900. Each week focuses on a selected case study that together span diverse subject matters, mediums, functions, and contexts, and invite thought about a spectrum of modes of representation. We will learn that the condition of images in Islam is as diverse and complex as the religion itself which cannot be reduced to a unified or monolithic expression, to a singular system of belief.
Harvard Divinity School, Fall 2021
Course Number: 3171
Course Title: Spiritual Cultivation in Islam Part I: The Classical Era
Instructor: Ousmane Kane
This course, as part of the new HDS Initiative on Islamic Spiritual Life and Service, is intended for students preparing for vocation in a variety of settings in which they will provide Islamically-inspired service and support. The course will acquaint students with Islamic pedagogy and practice on spiritual cultivation, highlighting the foundational importance of spiritual-ethical virtues in Islamic piety and the lifelong quest for nearness to and knowledge of God. In addition it will explore ways in which spiritual-ethical cultivation has been fostered holistically in the lived devotion of Muslim communities across time, place, and culture, including in various manifestations of the Islamic science of Sufism (taṣawwuf) and its traditional integration within educational and religious life and institutions, with attention to topics such as spiritual mentorship, spiritual training (tarbiya), spiritual companionship, oral tradition and transmission, devotional arts, and the creation of spaces for spiritual connection and service across religious, cultural, and social differences.
Course Number:HDS 3350A
Course Title: Colloquium In Islamic Studies
Instructor: Mohsen Goudarzi
This course is a forum for graduate students of Islamic Studies to 1) share and receive feedback on their works in progress (theses, paper drafts, dissertation chapters) from peers; and 2) discuss major recent publications that explore diverse aspects of Islamic history – different eras, geographies, and confessional identities – from a variety of methodological perspectives. This is a full-year course meeting on a bi-weekly basis; students need to register for both halves of the course (in Fall 2021 and Spring 2022) to earn credit. 
Harvard Kennedy School, Fall 2021
MIT, Fall 2021
Course Number: MIT 21H .261
Course Title: Modern Iran: A Century of Revolution
Instructor: Pouya Alimagham
Provides an overview of Iran’s modern history from a social, cultural, and political perspective while also considering factors as they relate to gender and race. Covers the country’s long and complicated interaction with the “West.” Situates Iran in the wider region, thereby delineating how political trends in the Middle East influenced the country and how its history of revolution has in turn impacted the region. Unpacks the Sunni-Shi’ite divide as a modern phenomenon rooted more in inter-state rivalry than in a theological dispute, Western perceptions of the Iranian and the Middle Eastern “Other,” the Iranian Diaspora, political Islam, and post-Islamism.
Course Number: MIT 4 .S65
Course Title: Special Subject: Advanced Study in Islamic Architecture
Instructor: N/A
Seminar or lecture on a topic in Islamic or non-western architecture that is not covered in the regular curriculum. Requires original research and presentation of oral and written reports, varying at the discretion of the instructor.
Tufts University – Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Fall 2021