M.Phil. in Medieval Arabic Thought

This course is no longer accepting new applications.

Originally this course was solely devoted to the history of Greek philosophy in the medieval Arabic tradition. In 1977 its scope was broadened to cover the rise of other major branches of learning and of Arabic as the common language of scholarship in the world of Islam. Candidates are expected to become familiar with the technical idiom of at least one major branch of learning in jurisprudence, theology, philosophy, or science.

The course caters both for candidates with a first degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies and for candidates with a training in other areas of intellectual history (such as ancient Greek, medieval Latin, or medieval Hebrew thought). Newcomers to Islamic Studies will have to attend classes on the Formation of Islam in their first year. Unless dispensed by the faculty board, candidates will have to pass a Qualifying Examination (usually a three-hour paper of prepared translation) before the end of their first year. Beginners in Arabic are not, in principle, excluded from admission but will find it hard to gain sufficient fluency in the short time available. In practice, it is advisable to come equipped with at least a basic knowledge of Arabic script, grammar and vocabulary.

The course-work proper consists of the preparation of a short dissertation on a topic of the candidate's choice and in the study of four topics for written examination at the end of the second year (ninth week of Trinity Term). In each paper candidates will be required to answer, within three hours, three questions out of a choice of about ten.

Paper (1), called Greek into Arabic, will be about the continuities and discontinuities between Greek and Arabic thought. Candidates with a knowledge of Greek may opt for questions on the history of Graeco-Arabic translation based on a translation of their choice. Others will be examined on an Arabic text of their choice from a number of bio-bibliographical or doxographical sources.

Papers (2),(3) and (4) will be on the history of a subject (such as ethics), an author, and a text of the candidate's choice. Candidates with prior experience of Islamic Studies may replace any one of those three topics with the intellectual history of a whole period and region (such as ninth-century Iraq), an option unsuitable for candidates with less than advanced fluency in Arabic. Candidates not exempted from the first-year qualifying examination will in any case be expected to offer a text of moderate length as the topic of paper (4).

Each paper will contain a question offering a choice of Arabic passages for translation and comment. That question will be compulsory in paper (1), in paper (4) if the topic is a text, and in all four papers for candidates not exempted from the qualifying examination. Such candidates will also be expected to produce an annotated translation of a suitable Arabic text in their dissertation.

Candidates will be supervised, in the first instance, by the University Lecturer in Islamic Philosophy, Dr F.W. Zimmermann, whose special interest is in the Graeco-Arabic tradition. This and other core options will be taught by him. Other members of the Faculty may provide further options in subjects such as grammar, Koranic studies, historiography, or Persian thought. Candidates will have individual sessions with their teacher in each subject, and there will be at least one reading class a week each term for them to attend. The aim is to provide each candidate with a course of classes on texts relevant to each of his or her chosen topics.