Ahmed El Shamsy

Assistant Professor

PhD, History and Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, June 2009

Ahmed El Shamsy studies the intellectual history of Islam, focusing on Islamic law and theology, cultures of orality and literacy, and classical Islamic education. He is particularly interested in the changing ways that religious authority has been constructed and interpreted in the Muslim tradition. His first book, The Canonization of Islamic Law: A Social and Intellectual History, traces the transformation of Islamic law from a primarily oral tradition to a systematic written discipline. He is now at work on his second book, a study of the reinvention of the Islamic scholarly tradition and its textual canon via the printing press in the early twentieth century. Other ongoing research projects investigate the influence of the Greek sage Galen on Islamic thought and the construction of self-identity among early Muslims. He teaches courses on all aspects of Islamic thought and the classical Muslim disciplines, and he is an associated faculty member at the Divinity School.

“Office Hours with Ahmed El Shamsy,” The Core: The College Magazine, Winter 2014.

“Ancient and Modern Innovators,” Tableau: The Magazine of the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago, Spring 2011.


The Canonization of Islamic Law: A Social and Intellectual History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. [Interview podcast at New Books in Islamic Studies] [Interview at Jadaliyya]

“The āshiya in Islamic Law: A Sketch of the Shāfiʿī Literature.” Oriens 41, no. 3–4 (2013): 289–315.

“Sisi, Nasser, and the Great Egyptian Novel.”Muftah, October 15, 2013.

“Al-Shāfiʿī’s Written Corpus: A Source-Critical Study.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 132, no. 2 (2012): 199–220.

“Al-Buwayṭī’s Abridgment of al-Shāfiʿī’s Risāla: Edition and Translation,” with Aron Zysow. Islamic Law and Society 19, no. 4 (2012): 327–55.

“Rethinking Taqlīin the Early Shāfiʿī School.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 128, no. 1 (2008): 1–24.

“The First Shāfiʿī: The Traditionalist Legal Thought of Abū Yaʿqūb al-Buwayṭī (d. 231/846).” Islamic Law and Society 14, no. 3 (2007): 301–41.

“Al-Ghazālī’s Teleology and the Galenic Tradition.” In Al-Ghazālī’s Rationalism and Its Influence: Papers on the Occasion of the 900th Anniversary of His Death in 1111, vol. 2, edited by Frank Griffel. Leiden: Brill, forthcoming.

“Shame, Sin, and Virtue: Islamic Notions of Privacy.” In Public and Private in Ancient Mediterranean Law and Religion: Historical and Comparative Inquiries, edited by Clifford Ando and Jörg Rüpke. Forthcoming.

“Returning to God through His Names: Cosmology and Dhikr in a Fourteenth-Century Sufi Treatise.” In Oceanus Paedagogicis: A Festschrift in Celebration and Honor of Professor Ahmad Mahdavi Damghani’s 90th Birthday, edited by Alireza Korangy, Roy P. Mottahedeh, and William Granara. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, forthcoming.

“The Wisdom of God’s Law: Two Theories.” In Islamic Law in Theory: Studies in Jurisprudence in Honor of Bernard Weiss, edited by Robert Gleave and Kevin Reinhart, 19–37. Leiden: Brill, 2014.

“The Social Construction of Orthodoxy.” In The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, edited by Timothy J. Winter, 97–117. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Reprinted in Orthodoxy and Heresy in Islam, edited by Maribel Fierro, vol. 1, 257–74. London: Routledge, 2013.


Volkswagen Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship (2014–2015)

American Council of Learned Societies/Mellon Recent Doctoral Recipient Fellowship (2010-2011)

Middle East Studies Association Malcolm H. Kerr Dissertation Award (2009)

American Council of Learned Societies/Mellon Dissertation Completion Fellowship (2008-2009)

Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School Visiting Fellowship (2007-2008, 2008-2009)

Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship (2006-2007)


Reason and Revelation in Islamic Thought

Islamic Classics and the Printing Press

Sciences of the Qur’an

Readings in Islamic Law

The Medieval Muslim Curriculum

Introduction to Islamic Law

Readings in Islamic Theology and Hermeneutics