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Global Islam

The Field

As one of the world’s largest and fastest growing religions, Islam exerts significant influence in politics, culture, and society across the world. Inherently global in nature, Islam is also represented by a rich diversity of Muslim peoples, cultures, and societies. The specialization in Global Islam aims at deepening our understanding of such diversity with an emphasis on contemporary aspects of Islam and Muslim cultures and societies. It approaches Islam as a lived religion and views it as deeply intertwined with broader social, cultural, political and economic processes. The specialization also pays attention to historical dynamics in Islam and offers students tools for understanding patterns of continuity and change. While situated within the discipline of religion, the specialization in Global Islam is interdisciplinary by design. It has particular strengths in the area of Islam in Africa and draws upon the Center for African Studies, one of the most recognized centers in the US. It is also affiliated with the Center for Global Islamic Studies as well as the Sahel Research Group and benefits from resources in the departments of Political Science, Anthropology, Sociology, Languages, Literatures & Cultures, History, Linguistics, and the Center for European Studies.

Through its focus on contemporary aspects of Islam, the specialization in Global Islam will prepare students for careers in academia, as well as in public service, non-governmental organizations, and advocacy.


Terje Østebø teaches in the Department of Religion and in the Center for African Studies. He is a leading scholar on contemporary Islam in Ethiopia/Horn of Africa and has written extensively on Salafism, Islamic reformism, and religious change in Africa. Ostebo has also done research on Islam, ethnicity, and identity, as well as state-religion relations in the Horn of Africa. In addition, he has conducted applied policy research and been engaged in policy advising on Islam in Africa for various government agencies. Ostebo is the author of Localising Salafism: Religious Change among Muslim Oromo in Ethiopia (2012), the co-editor of Muslim Ethiopia: The Christian Legacy, Identity Politics, and Islamic Reformism (2013), and has published extensively in leading international journals.

Ali Altaf Mian received his B.A. in Philosophy and M.A. in English from the University of Louisville, and his Ph.D. from the Graduate Program in Religion at Duke University. His research  areas include Islam in South Asia, the history of classical Islamic theology, mysticism, and legalism (especially the Hanafi Law School), Qur’anic studies, Hadith studies, gender and sexuality in contemporary Islam, religion and modernity (with particular emphasis on how religious traditions changed in and through European colonialism), as well as method and theory in the study of religion (particularly the invocation of psychoanalytical theory for interpreting religious ideas, rituals, and institutions).

Benjamin Soares is a scholar of Islam and Muslim societies in Africa whose research focuses on religious life from the early 20th century to the present. In recent work, he has looked at the connections between changing modalities of religious expression, different modes of belonging, and emergent social imaginaries in West Africa. In addition to ongoing interests in religious encounters and religion, media, and the public sphere, he is studying contemporary Muslim public intellectuals in Africa. His publications include Islam and the Prayer Economy (2005) and a series of interrelated edited volumes, Muslim-Christian Encounters in Africa (2006), Islam and Muslim Politics in Africa (2007), Islam, Politics, Anthropology (2010), New Media and Religious Transformations in Africa (2015), and Muslim Youth and the 9/11 Generation (2016).

Graduate Students

The specialization on Global Islam accommodates a variety of methodological approaches with many students carrying out ethnographic research on the myriad expressions of Islam in different settings. Current graduate students and recent graduates in Global Islam work on diverse topics, including Muslims in Puerto Rico, identity and militancy in Iraq, Muslim interpretations of environmentalism in Senegal, Islam and inter-religious relations in Ethiopia, and Muslim youth in Florida, among other topics.

Recommended courses (beyond Method & Theory I and II and the Interdisciplinary  Seminar):

1) Muslim Thought and Practice: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives I & II

(Students will first take part I, which deals with the early/classical period, and then part II, which focuses on contemporary Muslim thought and practice)

2) RLG 5365: Global Islam

3) RLG 5937: Islam and Muslim Societies after Orientalism

Students are strongly encouraged to take a course in research methods, which could include RLG 5937: Religion, Ethnography, and Fieldwork; ANG 5485: Research Design in Anthropology; LAS 6239: Design/Methods of Research; SYA 6305: Methods in Social Research I; SYA 6315: Qualitative Research Methods; or POS 6707: Qualitative Research Methods for Political Science.

Elective courses: Students also have the opportunity to take a range of other courses relevant for their area of research. These courses are offered both by the department of religion and other departments, and include: RLG 5365: Women & Islam; RLG 5365: Islam in America; RLG 5365/AFS 6905: Religion and Reform in Africa; RLG 5365/AFS 6905: Islam in Africa; POS 6933 Global Islam and Politics; AFS Islam and popular culture in Africa; AFS 6905 Islam and African literature; POS 6933: Modern Middle East Politics; ANG 6930: Islam in the West; SYA 7933/POS 6933: Ethnic Conflicts in Comparative Perspective; ANG6930/AFS6905 Global Connections; AFH 6269/AFS 6905 Religion in Modern Africa

Language requirement: Students must demonstrate competence in at least one language (other than English) relevant for their research. In some cases this might mean Arabic, but it could also be an African, Asian or European language.

Qualifying examinations: 

Ph.D. students in Global Islam must take four written and one oral qualifying exam, as follows: 1. Muslim Thought and Practice – historical and contemporary perspectives; 2. Academic approaches to the study of Global Islam; 3. An exam in an area, defined as a teaching field, such as a thematic area (e.g. Gender & Islam, Islam and Media, Reformism, or Sufism) or geographic area (e.g. Islam in Africa, Asia, the Americas, or Europe); and 4. The student’s area of specialization.