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:

The general requirements stated under Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Graduate Programs.

36 credits, including 18 credits in required courses and 18 credits in pre-approved elective courses.

All students must complete at least four semesters of Arabic, which do not count toward the 36 credits required for the program. Alternatively, students may demonstrate competence in Arabic through examination. Depending on their focus of study, students may also be asked to take courses in other languages, which do not count toward the degree. In rare instances, students may substitute another language for Arabic, such as Persian, Turkish, or Urdu, if their research focuses on texts composed in one of these languages.

Islamic studies program
Required core courses
REL 6401Islamic Historiographies
REL 6402Qur'an and Hadith
REL 6441Islamic Law
REL 6460Topics in the Study of Islam
REL 6998Thesis Research
REL 6999Thesis Research
Six additional courses (18 credits) selected from a pre-approved list in consultation with the graduate program advisor(s). Most of the selected courses should focus on Islam in the contemporary world.
Concentration in Shi'ism
In addition to the required core curriculum, students pursing the concentration take the following:
REL 6412Shi'i Thought
REL 6413Philosophy and Mysticism in the Shi'i World
REL 6420Shi'i Political Thought
REL 6442Principles of Shi'i Jurisprudence
Two additional courses (6 credits) selected from a pre-approved list in consultation with the graduate program advisor(s). Selected courses should focus on Islam in the contemporary world.

Schedule of Required Courses

Year: Semester MA Islamic Studies MA Shi ‘ism Concentration (Additional Courses)
Year 1: Fall REL 6401 Islamic Historiographies REL 6442 Principles of Shi‘a Jurisprudence
REL 6402 Qur’an & Hadith
Year 1: Spring REL 6419 Islam & The West REL 6412 Shi‘a Thought
REL 6441 Islamic Law
Year 2: Fall REL 6401 Islamic Historiographies REL 6420 Shi‘a Political Thought
REL 6402 Qur’an & Hadith
REL 6998 Thesis Research
Year 2: Spring REL 6419 Islam & The West REL 6413 Philosophy & Mysticism in the Shi‘a World
REL 6441 Islamic Law
REL 6999 Thesis Research