Arabic Language and Literature

The University of Chicago taught Arabic in its very first quarter of classes in Autumn 1893, and has been teaching it continuously ever since; thus, Arabic has a long and distinguished tradition here, one of the oldest in the U.S. Moreover, the University library has been actively acquiring Arabic books and books on Arabic and Islamic subjects since that time, which is why its collection is stronger than that of almost any other university in the field. The University is also home to a major journal (Journal of Near Eastern Studies) and a weekly Arabic Circle.  The courses and programming for Arabic language and literature draw on resources, faculty and students primarily from NELC but also from across the university, including the Center for Middle Eastern Studies which regularly hosts lectures by distinguished outside scholars, as well as the Divinity School, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and Comparative Literature.

The aim of the field is to give students thorough training in Arabic literature, especially in the classical period (seventh to eighteenth centuries C.E.), and to enable them to carry out advanced research in those and related areas. This means that great emphasis is placed on course work in the original sources written mainly in Arabic in the classical period of Islamic civilization. In order to be able to take these seminar courses, students must have completed NELC’s third-year Arabic (Arab 30101-30103) or its equivalent, after which they must take and pass the Advanced Arabic Syntax sequence (Arab 40101-40102). Students must take courses which make them thoroughly familiar with their major field of Arabic language and literature, and also with the related fields of Islamic history and Islamic thought.

General Program Overview Students entering NELC with a primary focus in Arabic Language and Literature must meet all of the same requirements as other Ph.D. fields within NELC.  Student progress toward these requirements is periodically reviewed, especially at the end of year one and again at the end of year two before approval is given for continuation in the Ph.D. These requirements include the following (for details, please see the NELC Rules & Requirements and Timeline):

1)       Successful completion of at least 27 courses in Arabic language and literature and in related fields, which will normally amount to 3 years of coursework under our quarter system (Rules & Requirements §§ 2 and 6 through 12).

2)      Grade of high-pass in two European language reading examinations; normally this is French and German since having reading fluency of academic articles in these languages is necessary for proficiency in the field. If warranted by the student’s area of interest, one of the two European languages may be Spanish or another relevant language. One of the two exams should be high-passed by the end of the first year, and the other by the end of the second year of coursework (Rules & Requirements §§ 14 and 15).

3)      Completion of an acceptable M.A. thesis paper (Rules & Requirements §§ 16-20) in Spring of the second year.  Students who successfully complete the second-year review will receive an MA degree and be continued forward to the Ph.D. degree.

4)      Completion of 5 units of teaching in the university, as language assistant, course assistant and/or lecturer, from year three through year five (normally one unit in year three, and 2 units in each of years 4 and 5).

5)      Successful completion of comprehensive exams by the end of year 4 (Rules & Requirements  Â§Â§ 24-34).

6)      Preparation of a dissertation proposal by the end of year 5 (Rules & Requirements §§ 35-39).

7)      Successful defense of the dissertation within seven years of the successful dissertation proposal (Rules & Requirements §§  40-48).

Coursework Students in the Arabic Language and Literature program of NELC are expected to take 27 courses, as follows, in consultation with their adviser.  Most of these will be in NELC, but courses that suit students’ specific interests may also be taken in other units of the University (such as the Divinity School, History, Sociology, Comparative Literature, South Asia, Art History, and Anthropology).

1)       At least one course per quarter (for a total of at least 9 courses) in pre-modern or modern Arabic literature, including the two-quarter sequence Advanced Arabic Syntax.

2)      The year-long sequence (3 courses) in Islamic Thought and Literature, or in Islamic History and Society. This will help in preparation for the oral Islamic Civilization exam component of the comprehensive exams.

3)      At least 4 courses in medieval or modern history of the Islamic world, Islamic philosophy or political thought, Islamic theology or Sufism, etc., which involve use of Arabic-language sources. 

4)      At least 6 courses in a second Near Eastern language, normally Persian, with grades of B or better, to establish, beyond the basic language requirements, a degree of proficiency in using primary and secondary sources in that language. If warranted by the student’s area of interest, another second Near Eastern language -- such as Turkish, Hebrew, Latin, Greek, or Syriac -- may be substituted.

5)      5 additional elective courses may be chosen, with the consent of the adviser, for a total of 27. 

Students should constantly enhance their ability to read and comprehend primary Arabic texts in varying genres and, simultaneously, to broaden their knowledge of Arabic literature and related fields by reading as much secondary literature as possible beyond what is required by their course work.

Comprehensive Examinations The comprehensive examinations in Arabic Language and Literature consist of the four following subjects:

1) Major Field:  a written exam of four hours in Pre-Modern Arabic Literature.

2) Minor Field:  a written exam of four hours in a subject chosen from the list below(the student’s coursework should be tailored accordingly to focus on one of these minor fields, in addition to the major):

Modern Arabic Literature -- Pre-Modern Persian Literature -- Early Islamic History (ca. 500-1200 C.E.) -- Middle Period Islamic History (ca. 1000-1700 C.E.) -- Modern Middle Eastern History (ca. 1500-Present) -- Islamic Art -- Islamic Archaeology -- Pre-Modern Turkish/Ottoman Literature -- Pre-Modern Hebrew Literature -- Arabic Philology -- Arabic Linguistics -- Islamic Philosophy -- Islamic Theology -- Islamic Law -- Qur'anic Studies – Hadith -- Islamic Political Thought -- Sufism

With the approval of his/her advisor and the Graduate Counselor, a student may alternatively choose a minor field in the Ancient section of NELC, or outside the Department, if relevant to his or her research interests; for example, Art History; Syriac Literature, Byzantine History; Comparative Literature;  Coptic Literature; History of Religions Methodology; Linguistics; Medieval European History; Sociology of Religion; Urdu Language and Literature -- generally, any relevant Humanities or Social Sciences fields.

3) Methodology:  a written exam of eight hours which assesses the student's ability to work with primary materials in Arabic and the secondary Near Eastern Language (usually a text or texts of a kind familiar to the student) and to utilize those materials in the production of scholarship--e.g., by being asked to prepare a translation or summary of the text, a commentary on it, and/or to write an essay on an assigned topic or topics using the text as part of the evidence. Students may consult any working aids (dictionaries, encyclopedias, notes, etc.) that may be deemed useful.

4) Islamic History and Civilization: an oral exam of up to two hours conducted by three NELC faculty, to ensure that the student has a broad, general grasp of the history and civilization of the Near East from the rise of Islam until the present. The faculty of the Islamic/Modern fields will prepare a basic reading list to guide students in preparing for this examination; students should receive this list at matriculation and should expect to be familiar with the works on this reading list. It will be the responsibility of the Graduate Counselor, working in consultation with the student's advisor, to select the three faculty members who will administer the oral exam.

Dissertation Proposal After passing the Comprehensive Examinations, the student will select a dissertation advisor, and will -- in consultation with the Graduate Counselor, the Chairman of the Department, and the advisor -- set up a faculty committee of three or more members to supervise the dissertation. The advisor, who is the chairman of this committee, must be a faculty member of NELC. The proposal must be submitted within one year after completing the Comprehensive Examination. Once the proposal has been approved by the Department's faculty, the student shall be formally admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree (see the Department's Rules & Requirements § 33).

The Dissertation and Final Oral Examination After approval of the dissertation proposal, the student will conduct dissertation research, keeping in close touch with his or her advisor and the members of his or her dissertation committee.  The finished dissertation must meet all University and Departmental requirements (see Rules & Requirements §§ 39-41) and should be submitted within seven years of the dissertation proposal and admission to candidacy for the Ph.D.