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Master of Arts


Masters Degree in Islamic Texts

Zaytuna’s master of arts degree in Islamic texts is intended to provide students with higher-level access to the Islamic tradition through a guided course of study in Islam’s primary sources.

The MA degree is a two-year program that culminates in a summative thesis. The degree is intended for students who have completed a degree in Islamic studies or its ancillary fields (such as theology, philosophy, Arabic, Islamic law, and history) and have substantial knowledge in the Islamic tradition. In addition, the MA degree is designed for students who can read, discuss, and engage the primary Arabic texts of the Islamic tradition at an advanced level.

The course work includes studies of classical Arabic language and literature; Qur’an and Qur’anic commentaries; Islamic philosophy, theology, and mysticism; Islamic law; and the history of Islam. Furthermore, each of the concentrations has a comparative track that allows students to study texts in the European tradition that parallel the Islamic texts in their ideas and methods. For example, the study of Islamic philosophy can be augmented by the study of Latin scholasticism, or the study of Islamic mysticism can be augmented by readings in Greek Neoplatonism.

Program Outcomes

The main goals of the courses and teaching methods are to sharpen students’ ability to read and analyze the primary texts and to consider the socio-religious contexts and scholarly sources out of which the texts emerged, while continuing to engage in well-reasoned academic and scholarly discussion and research. Students are also introduced to methods and research tools in both the Western and Islamic traditions.

The goals of the Zaytuna MA in Islamic texts are to:

  • Acquire advanced skills in reading and interpreting traditional Islamic texts in the stated fields of research
  • Bring already advanced Arabic reading and speaking skills to the expert, professional level
  • Gain fluency in both the dialectical and didactic elements of traditional teaching methods
  • Acquire a broad understanding of Islamic intellectual history from its roots in Arabic language and literature, Qur’an and Qur’anic commentaries, hadith tradition and commentaries, law, philosophy, theology, and Sufism

Students will achieve these goals by:

  • Demonstrating in class discussions, oral presentations, written work, and the thesis and thesis defense a scholarly proficiency in logic, dialectics, and research skills
  • Achieving doctoral-level research skills in Arabic texts, as well as in texts in a modern language other than English and/or another ancient language (e.g., Persian or Greek)
  • Directing seminars in the primary texts that demonstrate students’ readiness to teach professionally in the areas of concentration
  • Writing publishable papers that make significant contributions to the scholarly literature
  • Expertly translating Arabic when quoting Arabic texts in scholarly papers and in the thesis
  • Writing a publishable thesis of 80 to 120 pages demonstrating scholarly methods of reasoning and inquiry


MA Graduation Requirement

Completion of coursework
Description Course Units
Primary area of concentration 8 24
Skills 5 15
Elective 1 3
Master's Thesis
Description Courses Units
Research and Writing - 6


Course offerings in the core areas of concentration may vary from time to time, depending on the scholarly demographics of the students in the program and on the discretion of the Graduate Faculty Affairs Committee. Tutorials are arranged with individual instructors and conducted as preceptorials.

Area of Concentration: Islamic Law

The Islamic law track covers both legal theory (uśūl al-fiqh) and positive law (furū¢ al-fiqh). The course of study takes students through a series of texts that embody the scholastic method and approach to concepts and problems in the two disciplines. The juridical and theological schools of legal theory are also explored. Students study, analyze, and evaluate the major hermeneutic approaches to the sources of Islamic law, as well as focus on the legal reasoning and principles employed by a jurist when interpreting and applying the law to new cases. Additionally, the program emphasizes the rich interplay between law, kalām theology, and the Arabic language when considering the various schools of legal theory, with the goal to read, interpret, and explicate advanced texts in Islamic law.

Area of Concentration: Islamic Theology and Philosophy (falsafah)

This track takes students through the foundational texts of kalām theology and falsafah. Coursework and texts range from the Ash¢arī and Māturīdī schools of theology to the Peripatetic and Illuminationist (ishrāqī) schools of falsafah. Issues of general ontology (al-umūr al-¢āmmah)—such as epistemology, existence, quiddity, oneness, multiplicity, emanation, and causality—are studied using classical texts by major philosophers and theologians of the various schools. Theological problems of the divine attributes, prophecy, infallibility, ethics, and eschatology are studied. In addition to training students in each of the disciplines, emphasis is placed on cultivating the reading, analyzing, and inquiry skills required for accessing texts in the disciplines. This allows students to conduct research on current problems in the areas of kalām theology and falsafah.

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Skills Requirements

Skills requirements for the master’s degree in Islamic texts include five three-unit courses: Arabic Grammar 1, Arabic Grammar 2, Logic, Dialectics, and Thesis Research Methods. The first four courses not only supplement those in the area concentrations by training students in advanced forms of reasoning, disputation, and grammar but also constitute in themselves foundational Islamic sciences. The Thesis Research Methods course is designed to take students through the full range of reading, composition, and research methods necessary to complete a thesis of publishable quality.

Elective Courses

The two elective courses allow students to study in an area of concentration other than the one chosen for their degree, or in another scholarly field altogether. Furthermore, many of our highly skilled undergraduate professors are available to conduct tutorials in Islamic texts not offered in the curriculum as well as in texts from traditional Jewish, Christian, and classical scholasticism and mysticism.

Thesis

Thesis units are meant to provide time for students to work on their thesis during the academic semester. Three thesis credits should amount to approximately nine hours of study, whether in preparation or in writing.

Additional Requirements

Second-year graduate students present informal lectures as part of the MA program. The topics of the lectures usually address ongoing work in the students’ special areas of research and serve as a required stage in the thesis-writing and thesis-defense process. The lectures are open to all students and faculty, and the discussion is meant to be vigorous, benevolently critical, and collegial. Second-year students must sign up for one of the available time slots—designated in the academic calendar—at the beginning of the academic year. Beyond serving to sharpen critical reasoning and research habits, these lectures habituate students to critical engagement with an audience of peers. A long-term goal of Zaytuna’s MA program is to produce students who are capable of presenting elegant, rationally balanced, and original scholarly work in a public forum.

With the usual exceptions of the “skills” courses (Arabic Grammar, Logic, and Dialectics), students are required in each course to write a research paper of a minimum of 15 pages that demonstrates their composition and research skills and their mastery of the subject matter.

In the first year of study, students must submit for approval to their advisor a research readiness paper, which is a 15- to 20-page research paper written for one of the required or elective courses and which they choose to exemplify the kind and quality of research to be pursued for their master’s thesis. The research readiness paper must be approved by the academic advisor before students write their master’s thesis proposal.

Before officially beginning the writing of the thesis, students must write a master’s thesis proposal and have it approved by their thesis advisor. Note: The thesis advisor may or may not be one’s academic advisor.

All students are required to demonstrate proficiency in one modern language (other than English) that is relevant to their field of study. This requirement can be fulfilled by submitting transcripts showing two years of academic study of the language or by taking a challenge exam. No credit toward the MA degree is given for courses taken to prepare for the modern language exam. Depending on students’ chosen field of study, an ancient language still spoken today—such as Persian or Greek—can count toward the modern language requirement.


Curriculum Overview

Year 1
Semester Milestones
Fall Regular coursework (12 units). Begin thinking about thesis topics with the help of your academic advisor.
Winter break Begin discussing thesis topics with your academic advisor.
Spring Regular coursework (12 units) and preceptorials. Choose a thesis advisor (by the end of the semester). Submit thesis proposal (by the end of the semester).
Summer break Research. Begin writing thesis. Intensive language study.
Year 2
Semester Milestones
Fall Regular coursework (9 units), thesis (3 units), and preceptorials. Deliver informal lectures. Career planning, guidance/counsel.
Winter break Continue writing thesis.
Spring Regular coursework (9 units), thesis (3 units), and preceptorials. Deliver informal lectures (see “Additional Requirements” on previous page). Submit thesis to advisor to share with readers (spring break). Edit thesis after feedback from readers. Thesis defense. Graduation.