Ahmed El Shamsy studies the intellectual history of Islam, focusing on the evolution of the classical Islamic disciplines and scholarly culture within their broader historical context. His research addresses themes such as orality and literacy, the history of the book, and the theory and practice of Islamic law.
El Shamsy’s 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. In his second book, Rediscovering the Islamic Classics: How Editors and Print Culture Transformed an Intellectual Tradition, he shows how Arab editors and intellectuals in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries used the newly adopted medium of printing to rescue classical Arabic texts from oblivion and to popularize them as the classics of Islamic thought. Other recent 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.
El Shamsy teaches courses and supervises student research on all aspects of classical Islamic thought. He is an associated (non-supervising) faculty member at the Divinity School.
Recent & Regularly Taught Courses
- NEHC 20603/30603 Islamic Thought & Literature-3
- NEHC 30612 Critical Arabic Philology
- NEHC 40002 Reason and Revelation in Islamic Thought
- NEHC 30800 Sciences of the Qur'an
- NEHC 40925, Readings in Islamic Law