I am a cultural historian of the Middle East. My work broadly investigates the emergence of Islamic civilization from Late Antiquity. I work with whatever material I can find, including chronicles, legal texts, literature, letters, hagiography, and scripture. My historical comfort zone ranges from the 1st/7th century to the 7th/13th, but I do not see my work as chronologically limited if telling a good story takes me beyond the Middle Ages. I have a background in Koine and Medieval Greek, and rudimentary knowledge of Syriac, but I primarily work with Arabic texts from Muslim and Christian communities in the Middle East.
My dissertation “Challenging received Wisdom: the fate of the Judeo-Christian heritage in the formation of Islam” examines how Muslim authors negotiated difficult cultural artifacts, namely traditions known as ‘isrāʾīliyyāt’. Isrāʾīliyyāt, broadly defined as narratives originating from Jews and Christians, appear in nearly every genre of Islamic writing and were widespread in popular culture. They were crucial to Islamic self understanding, but they also acted as reminders of the influence of Jewish and Christian thought on the nascent Islamic tradition. Muslim scholars who looked back on their own tradition often had to deal with question of whether isrāʾīliyyāt should be considered Islamic, and if not, whether there was any way to remove their wide-ranging influence. The sorting out of these issues helped Muslims parse out the relationship Islam was to have with Christianity and Judaism, and tangentially, the relationship Muslims should have with their Jewish and Christian neighbors. How Muslim authors accommodated, rejected, or in some cases forgot isrāʾīliyyāt helps tell the story of the emergence of an Islamic civilizational identity.
I expect to defend in the summer of 2020.
Education and Background
In the past I have worked on disease and environmental history and wrote one thesis on the topic as an undergraduate. I also wrote another thesis about a Christian Arabic text concerning the infancy of Jesus Christ. I still hold an interest in the relationship between apocryphal Christian traditions and early Islam, though I treat this more as a hobby than as a serious research project. In the future I expect my interests to turn towards the intersection of race and religion in early Islamic society.
At the University of Oklahoma I studied Religion and History, minoring in Arabic, and received honors. There I worked on an initiative to transform a course taught at OU into an online open platform course (i.e. a MOOC) by helping to draft a digital textbook and editing lecture videos. At Princeton I have taught for Jack Tannous (the World of Late Antiquity), and I currently serve as a Part-time Lecturer at Rutgers University where I teach the Roman World in Late Antiquity. My teaching interests include courses on pre-modern Middle Eastern history, including surveys of Islamic civilization and the history of minorities in the Middle East.
I love to cook, and if I ever have the good fortune of becoming an emeritus professor I aspire to write a completely non-professional book on food and food culture, through which I hope someone will pay for me to travel and conduct “research” on this topic in the Middle East. I have already thought up titles for this book.