The University of Pennsylvania offers a depth of expertise across several departments related to Islam. Religious Studies has particular strengths in the study of Islam in Western and South Asia, with a focus on material and visual culture, intellectual history, Sufism, and religious literature. In this research field, as a reflection of the department’s culture, interdisciplinary investigation is encouraged. Students typically take courses not only in Religious 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.
Cheikh Babou (History)
Paul Cobb (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations)
Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet (History)
Joseph Lowry (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations)
Ramya Sreenivasan (History)
Eve Troutt Powell (History)
Fatemeh Shams (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations)
Heather Sharkey (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
Religious Studies graduate students specializing in the study of Islam are overseen by Jamal J. Elias and Megan Eaton Robb, who share a focus on visual and material cultures as well as intellectual history across the Islamic world. Professor Elias has published widely on topics related to Sufism, Qur’anic Studies, material and visual culture, childhood studies, and the intellectual history of Islam across Western, Central, and South Asia, with research interests in both classical and modern periods. Professor Robb specializes in the history of Islam in modern South Asia (1750 to the present), with particular attention to politics and literary publics in the colonial and postcolonial periods, gendered Islam, history of the book, material texts (calligraphy and lithography in particular), and history of the emotions in South Asian Islam.
Additional resources include the Middle East Center, South Asia Center, The Center for Africana Studies, the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, and the Penn Museum. The Van Pelt Library has an exceptionally strong collection of books, journals and manuscripts for the study of the Islamic world.
Penn offers elementary through advanced language training in major Islamic languages (Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu), as well as instruction in other relevant languages such as Hindi, Kurdish, 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, and/or Persian, and/or Urdu, 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 (often French and German).