The study of Islam, its law, systems of thought, arts and literature, and people and cultures emerged at Harvard University in the late nineteenth century and gradually developed into a formal discipline over the next hundred years. Today, the field of Islamic Studies at Harvard is vibrantly interdisciplinary, historical and contemporary, featuring wide regional, cultural, and intellectual representation. In addition to myriad departments, centers and initiatives on Islam and the Muslim world, Harvard University established The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program (AISP), which serves to coordinate and promote scholarship, activities and events in Islamic Studies throughout the university and the wider community.
Harvard has offered courses in the history of the Ottoman Empire and Arabic language since the nineteenth century. An endowed chair in Arabic has existed for nearly a century. Chairs in Islamic art and architecture, as well as staff and resources in these fields, were created in the 1960s. In 2005, a generous gift from Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud provided funding for four new endowed chairs, graduate fellowships, and research facilities, such as a library portal that provides rare Islamic textual sources and maps online.
The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program enhances Harvard’s ability to keep pace with increasing demands for knowledge and understanding of the Islamic tradition. By bringing together faculty, students, and researchers from across the University and coordinating their activities through one Program housed within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences–and in close cooperation with the Divinity School and other faculties–the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program demonstrates Harvard’s strong commitment to the study of the religious traditions of the world.