Ahmed El Shamsy

Assistant Professor

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

I study the intellectual history of Islam, focusing on the evolution of the classical Islamic disciplines and scholarly culture within their broader historical context. My research addresses themes such as orality and literacy, the history of the book, and the theory and practice of Islamic law. My 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 in the eighth and ninth centuries. I am now at work on my 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. My other ongoing research projects investigate the interplay of Islam with other religious and philosophical traditions, for example by exploring the influence of the Greek sage Galen on Islamic thought and the construction of a distinct self-identity among early Muslims. I teach courses on all aspects of classical Islamic thought, and I am 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]

“Islamic Book Culture through the Lens of Two Private Libraries, 1850–1940.” Intellectual History of the Islamicate World 4 (2016): 61–81.

“Returning to God through His Names: Cosmology and Dhikr in a Fourteenth-Century Sufi Treatise.” In Essays in Islamic Philology, History, and Philosophy, edited by Alireza Korangy, Wheeler M. Thackston, Roy P. Mottahedeh, and William Granara. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016.

“Al-Ghazālī’s Teleology and the Galenic Tradition.” In Islam and Rationality: The Impact of al-Ghazālī, vol. 2, edited by Frank Griffel, 90–112. Leiden: Brill, 2015.

“Shame, Sin, and Virtue: Islamic Notions of Privacy.” In Public and Private in Ancient Mediterranean Law and Religion, edited by Clifford Ando and Jörg Rüpke, 237–49. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015.

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

“The Ḥāshiya 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.

“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.

“Rethinking Taqlīd in 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.



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)



The Medieval Muslim Curriculum

Critical Arabic Philology

Reason and Revelation in Islamic Thought

Islamic Classics and the Printing Press

Sciences of the Qur’an

Readings in Islamic Law

Introduction to Islamic Law

Readings in Islamic Theology and Hermeneutics

Study Abroad courses in Morocco, Egypt, and Turkey