Position: Graduate Student
Office: Jones Hall
My abiding intellectual interests lie in the history of the Middle East as an incubator of diverse yet interconnected religious traditions that continue to shape many human societies down to the present day. I’ve cultivated this fascination since I first paged through translations of medieval Arabic and Hebrew poetry in high school, and at its core has been a critical concern for how interactions between Muslims, Christians, and Jews—at both the levels of intellectual discourse and social practice—have molded successive centuries of Middle Eastern societies.
These interests have guided my academic career from the time I first set foot in an Arabic course as an undergraduate at New York University. They have since taken me on to further Arabic study in two of the major centers of the Arab world, Damascus and Cairo, and a year spent in the latter honing my linguistic skills and studying Islamic law as a Hyde Fellow. At Princeton I’ve devoted myself as well to the study of Syriac, the literary language of many Middle Eastern Christian communities since before the emergence of Islam.
My facility with Arabic and Syriac has allowed me to bring together source material from the traditions of both Islam and Middle Eastern Christianity in my dissertation, The Medieval Islamic World and Syriac Christians: Family, Law, and Society. Its focus is the role played by the social practices and legal traditions of medieval Islamic society in shaping the emergence of Syriac Christian traditions of family law. The dissertation demonstrates that against the backdrop of the rising predominance of Islamic law and judicial institutions, Christian bishops sought to instantiate Christian distinctiveness in the practices of marital life common to the many religious communities of medieval Syria, Iraq, and Iran. But in doing so, these bishops both took part in discourses on religious law current in wider Middle Eastern society and, at times, adopted legal and ethical norms from their Muslim contemporaries. An intellectual and religious project aimed at distinguishing the rhythms of Christians’ social life from that of their Muslim and Jewish neighbors thus shaped a Christian tradition in a distinctively Islamic framework. In the broad view of the historiography of the pre-modern Middle East, my work demonstrates non-Muslims’ critical role in producing the idealized conception of a social order composed of discrete religious communities—and how they did so by both mustering the resources of their own intellectual traditions and reshaping them in response to the institutional developments of Islamic polities.
I have carried out research for my dissertation in Arabic and Syriac manuscript collections at the British Library, Cambridge University, the Vatican Library, the Library of Congress, and Cairo’s Dar al-Kutub. Samples of my research and its results can be found in forthcoming articles in the Journal of the American Oriental Society and Minorities in the Mediterranean World, CE 500–1000, the proceedings of an Oxford University colloquium on minorities in the late antique and early Islamic Middle East.
While at Princeton, I have also brought my interest in religious legal traditions to the classroom by co-instructing “Introduction to Islamic Law” with Professor Hossein Modarressi. I spent the academic year 2011–12 as a Dodds Honorific Fellow and Graduate Fellow of Princeton’s Center for the Study of Religion. I hold a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship for 2012–13.