MA in Islamic Studies


A group of students outside a huge white stone building with tiled floors


The Master of Arts in Islamic Studies offers an insider’s perspective on Islamic tradition as a religion, a civilization, a culture and a political force. The GW Religion Department is the only graduate program in the country to offer a concentration in Shi’ism, in addition to Sunni Islam.

All graduate courses draw on the expertise of internationally published faculty as well as guest lecturers, including diplomats and spiritual leaders.


Curriculum Details


Historical Component

Unlike other Islam programs, GW’s MA in Islamic Studies curriculum incorporates a historical component, focusing on both classical texts and modern Islam.


Diversity of Material

Outside of core material, students are exposed to courses in history, political science and international affairs to gain insight into current politics, society and cultures of the Islamic world.


Thesis and Language Requirements

All MA students must complete a graduate thesis and a language requirement in Arabic, Hindi, Persian, Sanskrit or another language relevant to their research.


Optional Concentration in Shi’ism 

The Shi’ism concentration incorporates core coursework in Shi’i thought, philosophy and principles. Students in the regular track in Islamic studies may also take courses from the Shi’ism track as electives. Comprehensive study including both major branches of Islamic tradition provides a full understanding of current issues in the world of Islam and what its future holds.

IMAM Scholarship

A limited number of full scholarships are available to MA students in the Shi’ism track. Scholarships are funded by the Imam Mahdi Association of Marjaeya (IMAM), an organization in the Washington, D.C., area that serves the needs of Shi’ite communities throughout North America.




“The Middle East, which receives so much attention, is only a small part of the vast world of Islam. The majority of Muslims live outside that region but don’t receive nearly as much attention, which is why we developed this program using a broad perspective on the complexities and historic roots of the Islamic world.”

Mohammad Faghfoory

Director, MA in Islamic Studies Program

Course Requirements

The following requirements must be fulfilled: 18 credits in elective courses, of which no more than 9 credits may be taken in any one of the major religious traditions listed below:

REL 2601Buddhism
REL 3566Dharma in Hinduism and Buddhism
REL 3614Buddhist Philosophy
REL 2165The Gospels
REL 2169Lost Gospels
REL 2301Christianity
REL 3151The Historical Jesus
or REL 3151W The Historical Jesus
REL 3161The Life and Thought of Paul
or REL 3161W The Life and Thought of Paul
REL 3321Christian Ethics and Modern Society
REL 3341Christianity in the Ancient World
REL 3342Medieval Faith and Symbolism
REL 3343Religion in the Renaissance and Reformation
REL 3344Christianity in the Modern World
REL 3666The Book of Revelation and Other Apocalypses
REL 2562Mythologies of India
REL 3566Dharma in Hinduism and Buddhism
REL 3915Islam and Hinduism in South Asia
REL 3989The Goddess in India and Beyond
REL 2401Islam
REL 3405Shi'ite Islam
REL 3414Islamic Philosophy and Theology
REL 3425Islamic Political Thought
REL 3431Sufism/Islamic Mysticism
REL 3475Islamic Religion and Art
REL 3481Women in Islam
REL 3482Gender and Piety in Islam
REL 3915Islam and Hinduism in South Asia
REL 2201Judaism
REL 2211Rabbinic Thought and Literature
REL 3141Second Temple/Hellenistic Judaism
REL 3221Issues in Jewish Ethics
REL 3291Modern Jewish Thought
REL 3292
East Asian Religions
REL 2811Confucian Literature in East Asia
or EALL 3811 Confucian Literature in East Asia
REL 2814Religion and Philosophy in East Asia
REL 3831
or REL 3831W Introduction to Daoism
REL 3832Myth, Ritual, and Popular Religion in China
or EALL 3832 Myth, Ritual, and Popular Religion in China
REL 3841Religion and Politics in China
or CHIN 3841 Religion and Politics in China
REL 3881Women, Gender, and Religion in China
or EALL 3881 Women, Gender, and Religion in China
or WSTU 3881

REL 3901 is recommended.