Course Syllabus

Islamic Theology

RELS 3563 section 001 (CRN 45751)
Spring 2024, University of Oklahoma
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3:00-4:15 in Bizzell Library 104 (100% in-person)

Syllabus and up-to-date schedule at


David Vishanoff
vishanoff at ou dot edu
Robertson 119

Office hours by appointment


This seminar is an attempt to enter into a theological conversation with Muslims through close reading of several different types of Islamic theological writing such as the Qur'an, classical theology, philosophical theology, mystical theology, Islamist thought, and postmodern thought. Our primary goal will be to learn how to converse with each author by seeking to discover his assumptions, methods, and theological concerns. As we move from one author to the next, we will also develop our own ongoing conversation about some of the theological topics they address such as salvation, predestination, God's attributes, prophecy, revelation, the nature and sources of theological knowledge, and religious pluralism.

We will work very deliberately on the skill of reading primary texts attentively, and on the equally difficult art of contributing to a class discussion. I will provide feedback to help you improve whatever skills you already have (or feel you don’t have) in these areas. Some texts will be short, but will require very careful reading. You will write a midterm essay analyzing how one or two Muslim theologians approach a specific theological topic of your choice, and then expand that study into a term paper showing how that topic was addressed by a number of different Muslim writers over the course of Islamic history. The final exam will consist of an essay about your own intellectual development over the course of the term.

This course satisfies the General Education IV-WDC requirement (World Culture). It is a fully in-person class.


The following textbooks are all required and must be brought to class when assigned. I strongly recommend purchasing print copies rather than e-books, as you will need to mark them up and refer to them constantly in class, jumping quickly to page numbers that may not be visible in e-books. You may order them through the OU online bookstore at I have several extra copies of most of these books that former students have donated so that you can borrow them for the semester if your budget is tight; if you would like to borrow a set, please email me before the term begins or talk with me after our first class.

  • The Qur'an, translated by Muhammad A. S. Abdel Haleem. Oxford World's Classics, Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199535958. $12.95 (paperback; hardcover and English/Arabic also available).
    • We will use this immediately, so please order it before the term begins. Please use this specific translation, which is much more readable than most others.
  • Al-Ghazali's Moderation in Belief, translated by Aladdin M. Yaqub. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226060873. $50 hardcover, $22.99 Kindle; $10 limited time ebook (45 days) from publisher.
  • Avicenna on Theology, translated by Arthur J. Arberry. Reprint by Kazi Publications. ISBN 978-1930637412. $9.95.
    • There are several reprints of this floating around, and any one of them should do, as they all seem to have the same page numbers.
  • The Faith and Practice of al-Ghazali, translated by William Montgomery Watt. Oneworld. ISBN 978-1851680627. $23.99.
  • Milestones, by Sayyid Qutb. Dar al-Ilm. 978-0934905145. $14.95.
    • Please use this specific edition, which is available along with all the other books through; other editions have different page numbers, which makes class discussion very confusing.
  • Qur’an, Liberation, and Pluralism, by Farid Esack. Oneworld. ISBN 978-1851681211. $34.99.

Course Goals

  1. To develop the desire and ability to learn through close reading of primary texts and attentive listening to Muslim authors.
  2. To develop the skills and ethics of constructing knowledge collectively through discussion.
  3. To develop a basic conceptual and historical mental map of major currents in Islamic thought, as a framework for further learning.
  4. To identify tacit assumptions and stated principles that are shared or debated in Islamic discourse, and understand these findings both in the Muslim authors’ terms and in terms of our own categories.
  5. To develop listening knowledge--that is, to train and equip ourselves for the difficult art of listening to, conversing with, and getting to know religious people who do not share our assumptions, convictions, or ways of thinking.


Preparation and contribution (40% of the course grade):

There are two ways to demonstrate your preparation and contribute to this class:

  1. By speaking up in class. Oral contributions in class are often the most helpful for the rest of us–but only if what you say is clear, concise, relevant to where we are or where we need to go in our conversation, and well grounded in the assigned readings. Don’t talk just to fill silence! If you tend to speak up often, make a special effort to defer to those who speak less often, and please help me to notice students who have their hands up if I don’t see them.
  2. By posting written comments in Canvas, in the Reply box beneath the day's assignment, at least one hour before class, in response to my questions about the assigned readings. These comments should be concise, should refer to specific parts of the readings, and should present just one idea in response to just one of the questions raised in the assignment. You can mention ideas that others have already raised in their posts, but be sure to credit them, and add your own substantive contribution based on your own reading in your own words.

If you are shy, or have trouble formulating ideas quickly enough to speak up, I suggest you start out with written comments; then, when you have found your voice in writing, start looking for opportunities to bring up your ideas in class.

How much should you contribute? Aim to make a substantial contribution about once a week, whether orally in class, in writing online, or any combination of the two.

Your grade for “preparation and contribution” will be based not only on whether you have contributed regularly but also on the depth, insightfulness, clarity, and conciseness of your contributions, and especially on how well they reflect careful reading of the assigned texts. Your grade will not depend on having “the right interpretation” of the readings--we will often disagree, and we will all make plenty of mistakes trying to understand our texts, and that’s fine. Your grade will also be affected by little indications of preparation and engagement such as bringing the assigned texts to class, and by how well you help us to maintain a focused intellectual atmosphere in the classroom by doing things like staying alert and engaged, respecting others, and avoiding anything that might disrupt, distract, or discourage others from staying focused.

Major paper, in two stages (15% and 30%)

The first stage (15%) will be a 1500-2000 word midterm essay in which you analyze what one or two primary texts have to say about a theological topic of your choice (see the Midterm Essay Guidelines). The second stage (30%), a 3000-4000 word term paper, should expand your midterm essay into a multidimensional study of your chosen topic (see the Term Paper Guidelines). Your term paper may incorporate material from your midterm essay, improved and reframed to fit the argument of the new paper.

Final exam (15%)

An open-book and open-notes essay exam describing your own intellectual process and development over the course of this term.

Attendance (crucial)

The work of this course consists in thinking and reaching conclusions together in class, not learning information on your own. This is only possible with your consistent preparation, attendance, and participation. There is therefore a severe grade penalty for excessive absences. If you anticipate that you may not be able to attend regularly, please drop the course right away. After the deadline for adding classes, you will be allowed to miss only four classes without penalty, regardless of the reason. Every absence beyond your first four will result in a reduction of your final course grade by one half of a letter grade. For example, if your course grade would have been a B, but you missed six classes (two more than allowed), you would be down to a C. Please note that there is no limit to this penalty, so if you miss enough classes you will quickly drop down to an F in the course, regardless of your grades on assignments. I fully expect that you will occasionally (up to four times) be unable to attend class for one reason or another, so it is not necessary to apologize or provide any excuse for your absences. On the other hand, if you discover that a serious ongoing personal or health situation will result in more than four absences during the term, please do talk to me about it as soon as possible, and I will be as supportive as I can. Absences that result from religious observances will be not be counted, and exams or work falling on religious holidays may be rescheduled without penalty; please let me know in advance, as soon as you are able to determine that a holiday may conflict with class.

I will usually record attendance silently just before class begins, so if you arrive after class has begun you will be irrevocably recorded as absent unless you check in with me after class, in which case I will record you as merely late. Please don’t be embarrassed about doing so; I’m not offended by your lateness. Nevertheless, since arriving late can undermine your learning and can be distracting to other students, I may decide to count each lateness as a fraction of an absence if lateness becomes a recurring problem.

Academic honesty (all or nothing)

In my estimation, any form of deceit, however “mild,” warrants a final course grade of F (zero). Individual instances of suspected academic dishonesty will be referred to the appropriate University authorities, who will investigate and determine appropriate penalties (which may include grade penalties, extra classes, suspension, expulsion, and/or other penalties). In my estimation, academic dishonesty includes (but is not limited to):

  • turning in writing not created solely by yourself solely for this class on the basis of your own understanding of the subject (assistance from the OU Writing Center is allowed, but not from Artificial Intelligence [AI] or other writing aids)
  • plagiarism (reproducing or paraphrasing someone else’s words or ideas without citing them)
  • failing to document sources as required in an assignment
  • using or submitting text (even in modified form) that was generated in whole or in part by AI-driven text generators such as ChatGPT
    • Here is the relevant policy from OU's Office of Academic Integrity Programs and Integrity Council: "No resource should ever be used to replace original thought or effort. Therefore, all academic work submitted by a student should be the product of the student's own understanding and effort. Unless specifically permitted by the professor, and clearly indicated by the student through proper attribution, it is cheating to submit any academic work that originates from another source."
  • helping other students to avoid doing their own reading or thinking or writing
  • selling a paper or exam essay or sharing it with someone who might use it instead of doing his or her own work
  • using the ideas or wording in others' online posts without citing them
  • submitting answers or comments online without having studied the relevant materials for yourself
  • false excuses for absences or late or missed assignments

If you have questions about academic integrity or plagiarism, please ask; my aim is to foster an environment of trust in which you can learn, grow, and try out ideas while being transparent about your thinking and learning. See for information on student rights and responsibilities with regards to academic misconduct.

General course policies

  • Assignments may or may not be accepted late, at the instructor’s discretion. Unless arranged in advance, any such lateness will be penalized one letter grade for each interval between class periods (or any fraction thereof) that elapses after the scheduled date.
  • No extra-credit work will be assigned or accepted; please do not ask. To benefit from this class, you need to do the work as it is assigned, not do other work later.
  • In order to help alleviate the stress of "dead week" or "pre-finals week," I have designed the schedule so that the papers and readings are completed before the last week of classes. For specific provisions of OU's official pre-finals week policy see
  • Exams or work falling on religious holidays may be rescheduled without penalty; please let me know in advance, as soon as you are able to determine that a holiday may conflict with class or an assignment.
  • On all writing assignments the instructor reserves the right, before assigning a grade, to request an individual meeting with any student to ask for explanation of any aspect(s) of their writing, and then assign a grade based on the total evidence of the written paper and the student's explanations. This could improve the grade somewhat if the instructor feels the student had excellent ideas that were not fully communicated in writing despite a good effort, or it could dramatically reduce the grade, and possibly lead to sanctions for breach of academic integrity, if the student's explanations cast doubt on whether the student actually wrote the paper themselves from scratch. This policy is needed in order to safeguard against students using recent advances in artificial intelligence to obtain essays that they did not write themselves but whose actual provenance might be difficult to establish. If academic dishonesty is suspected, the case will be referred to the Integrity Council (see Academic Honesty above), but even if the Council is not able to establish that academic misconduct has occurred this policy will enable the instructor to assign a low or failing grade on the assignment if the student is unable to explain to the instructor's satisfaction how the paper resulted from their own thinking. In other words, being ready and able to explain your writing orally if asked is part of what is expected in all writing assignments in this class. If you cannot explain how each aspect of your writing resulted from your own thinking, you have missed the point of the assignment, and if the instructor discovers this you will be graded accordingly.

University resources and policies

  • If you are experiencing any mental health issues that are impacting your academic performance, counseling is available at the University Counseling Center (UCC). The Center is located on the second floor of the Goddard Health Center, at 620 Elm Rm. 201, Norman, OK 73019. To schedule an appointment call (405) 325-2911. For more information please visit
  • Any student who has a disability that may prevent him or her from fully demonstrating his or her abilities should contact me personally as soon as possible; I will be very glad to make accommodations to help you participate and learn more effectively. If you are unsure whether you should request some kind of accommodation, or what kind of accommodation might be most helpful for you, consult the staff at the Accessibility and Disability Resource Center (, 730 College Avenue, 325-3852, TDD 325-4173, who will be able to help figure out what is best and whether you should formally register with the Center. The ADRC is committed to supporting students with disabilities to ensure that they are able to enjoy equal access to all components of their education. This includes your academics, housing, and community events. If you are experiencing a disability, a mental/medical health condition that has a significant impact on one or more life functions, you can receive accommodations to provide equal access. Possible disabilities include, but are not limited to, learning disabilities, AD(H)D, mental health, and chronic health. Additionally, the ADRC supports students with temporary medical conditions (broken wrist, shoulder surgery, etc.) and pregnancy.
  • Title IX Resources and Reporting Requirement: Anyone who has been impacted by gender-based violence, including dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, harassment, and sexual assault, deserves access to resources so that they are supported personally and academically. The University of Oklahoma is committed to offering resources to those impacted, including: speaking with someone confidentially about your options, medical attention, counseling, reporting, academic support, and safety plans. If you would like to speak with someone confidentially, please contact OU Advocates (, available 24/7 at 405-615-0013) or another confidential resource (see “Can I make an anonymous report?” at You may also choose to report gender-based violence and discrimination through other means, including by contacting the Institutional Equity Office (,, 405-325-3546) or police (911). Because the University of Oklahoma is committed to your safety and that of other students, all faculty are mandatory reporters. This means that I am obligated to report gender-based violence that has been disclosed to me to the Institutional Equity Office. This includes disclosures that occur in: class discussion, writing assignments, discussion boards, emails and during Student/Office Hours. For more information, please visit the Institutional Equity Office (
  • Adjustments for Pregnancy/Childbirth Related Issues: Should you need modifications or adjustments to your course requirements because of documented pregnancy-related or childbirth-related issues, please contact me or the Accessibility and Disability Resource Center at 405/325-3852 as soon as possible.
  • OU also has a detailed non-discrimination policy which is available at
  • For OU's official "dead week" or pre-finals week policy see
  • Emergency Protocol: During an emergency, there are official university procedures that will maximize your safety.
    • Severe Weather: If you receive an OU Alert to seek refuge or hear a tornado siren that signals severe weather.
      1. Look for severe weather refuge location maps located inside most OU buildings near the entrances
      2. Seek refuge inside a building. Do not leave one building to seek shelter in another building that you deem safer. If outside, get into the nearest building.
      3. Go to the building’s severe weather refuge location. If you do not know where that is, go to the lowest level possible and seek refuge in an innermost room. Avoid outside doors and windows.
      4. Get in, Get Down, Cover Up
      5. Wait for official notice to resume normal activities.
    • Additional Weather Safety Information is available through the Department of Campus Safety.
    • Armed Subject/Campus Intruder: If you receive an OU Alert to shelter-in-place due to an active shooter or armed intruder situation or you hear what you perceive to be gunshots: 1. Avoid: If you believe you can get out of the area WITHOUT encountering the armed individual, move quickly towards the nearest building exit, move away from the building, and call 911. 2. Deny: If you cannot flee, move to an area that can be locked or barricaded, turn off lights, silence devices, spread out, and formulate a plan of attack if the shooter enters the room. 3. Defend: As a last resort fight to defend yourself. For more information, visit OU’s Emergency Preparedness site ( Shots Fired on Campus Procedure – Video (
    • Fire Alarm/General Emergency: If you receive an OU Alert that there is danger inside or near the building, or the fire alarm inside the building activates: 1. LEAVE the building. Do not use the elevators. 2. KNOW at least two building exits 3. ASSIST those that may need help 4. PROCEED to the emergency assembly area 5. Once safely outside, NOTIFY first responders of anyone that may still be inside building due to mobility issues. 6. WAIT for official notice before attempting to re-enter the building. OU Fire Safety on Campus (