Islamic Studies and History MPhil

Dome of the Rock, Facade. Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia

The MPhil in Islamic Studies and History is a two-year course intended primarily for students who desire an intensive introduction to Islamic history and thought in the pre-modern period. The course is an excellent preparation for subsequent doctoral study.

The course focuses on the political, social, and intellectual history of the central Islamic lands (Egypt, the Fertile Crescent, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Central Asia and Anatolia) up until c. 1800, and differs from analogous MPhil courses at other universities in the significance it places on language instruction in classical Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, and the study of      primary sources.

If you are already capable of carrying out research in one of these languages, you will be strongly encouraged to take up a second. Instruction and supervision are carried out by several members of the faculty’s teaching staff.

The first year of the course is devoted to intensive language instruction, six to eight hours per week. During the first year, students also attend weekly lectures on pre-modern Islamic history and on the main genres of Islamic religious writing. These lectures are accompanied by a weekly graduate seminar devoted to discussing important research literature and student essays. An induction meeting is normally scheduled for new students during noughth week of Michaelmas Term, i.e., the week before the beginning of full term.

The second year is devoted to continuing language instruction, more focused work on two elective papers, and a thesis. Available elective papers may vary from year to year, but topics that are frequently taught include the Qur’an and Qur’anic exegesis, hadith, Islamic law, Sufism, Islamic theology, Arabic philosophy, conversion to Islam in the Middle Ages, and Islamic art and architecture. Past students have also taken options in Arabic and Persian literature.

Elective papers normally involve a weekly meeting of 2 hours devoted to the reading and primary sources, student presentations, informal lecturing, and the discussion of student essays. Students spend a significant amount of time preparing for these meetings by working through primary texts, reading secondary literature, and writing essays.

Oriental studies graduates have found employment in many and diverse fields including business, finance, law, civil service, journalism, government and industry.

Many graduates have also undertaken further research into subjects linked with Oriental studies and have pursued successful careers in the academic world, education and in museums.

At the end of the first year, you will sit a qualifying examination in the language you have been studying. Throughout the second year, candidates will take a set of six examinations: a written language examination and a written examination in Islamic History, both taken at the end of the academic year; a take-home essay on Islamic Studies, taken at the end of Hilary Term (i.e., over the Easter vacation); two examinations on a candidate’s elective papers (which tend to be take-home papers, though some electives may be examined in written examinations at the end of the academic year); and a thesis of no more than 25,000 words. All these six examination components are weighted equally. You will normally spend the summer between years one and two in the Middle East for language study and/or research connected with thesis work.

Further information on the course, and the examination process, can be found in the course handbook here (information is current for the academic year of publication).


You will have access to the Nizami Ganjavi Library at the Oriental Institute. The library, comprising approximately 80,000 volumes of books, periodicals and pamphlets, housed both on and off-site, supports students of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, Hebrew and Jewish Studies, Eastern Christianity, South and Inner Asian Studies and Korean. The library’s Middle Eastern and Islamic collections have a strong focus on language, literature, and pre-1800 history, religion, philosophy and culture which is complemented by the modern Middle East collections of St Antony’s Middle East Centre Library. The Nizami Ganjavi Library provides access to publications in both vernacular languages (i.e. Arabic, Persian, Turkish and others) as well as European languages.

Adjacent to the Oriental Institute is the Ashmolean Museum, which houses superb collections.

In addition to this, there are a number of other specialist library collections in Oxford that focus on Oriental studies, such as:

The Sackler Library includes the principal library for Egyptology and ancient Near Eastern Studies. The Khalili Research Centre is the University of Oxford's centre for research and teaching in the art and material culture of the Islamic societies of the Middle East and of non-Muslim members and neighbours

You will also have access to the University's centrally provided electronic resources, the department's IT Officer and other bibliographic, archive or material sources as appropriate to the research topic. There is a computing room for the use of graduate students in the Oriental Institute, as well as a common room where tea and coffee are available and staff and students can meet.

Sources of funding

Applications recieved for this course by the January deadline will also be considered for funding if applications fulfill the eligibility criteria. Please use the University's fees, funding and scholarship search tool to find what funding you may be eligible for.

The Faculty has a number of scholarships and funding opportunities across a wide range of subjects. Please see here for a list of these opportunities.