Tobias Scheunchen

Advisor(s): Ahmed El Shamsy
Islamic History and Civilization

Academic Bio

Tobias is a final year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He was a visiting researcher at Princeton during the 2021–2022 academic year and at the Austrian National Library in 2022-2024. His current book project—a social history of justice and the formation of Islamic law in Egypt—is entitled “Dispensing Justice in Byzantine and Early Islamic Egypt (600–800): Judges, Ordinary People, and the Transition to the Islamic State.” Tobias is interested in understanding how non-Muslim ideas of justice endured into the Umayyad period and how ordinary Muslims, Christians, and Jews, as well as legal professionals, navigated the pluralistic legal infrastructure of post-conquest Egypt. His book project examines how late antique legal ideas and practices were integrated into the growing body of Islamic laws and how the availability of a multi-tiered system of dispute resolution in late antique Egypt informed the individual calculations that people had to make vis-à-vis changing personal circumstances, local conditions, and political structures. Based on a joint reading of narrative sources and documentary papyri, Tobias’s project posits that in the post-conquest period, Egypt’s expansion and consolidation of an Islamic legal infrastructure were contingent on Muslim professionals and administrators’ yielding to the legal expectations of its rural population whose ideas of justice had been largely shaped by Roman and Christian legal practices.

His next book project has grown out of archival research he undertook at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, Egypt. The project focuses on the wealth of unstudied Fatimid, Ayyubid, and Mamluk administrative documents sent to the monastery by the Arab state administration in Cairo, monastic settlements, account books, and monastic internal documents to tell the long history of the monastery's role as a social, political, and judicial powerbroker in the Sinai across more than a millennium of Muslim and non-Muslim polities ruling over Egypt.

Tobias is more broadly interested in the formation and consolidation of Islamic legal institutions, ritual law, Arabic papyrology, manuscript studies, and the endurance of Islamic legal ideas into the early modern and modern period. He previously earned a Master of Legal Studies from the University of Chicago Law School and a Master of Arts in Islamic Studies from the American University of Beirut. He has extensively studied Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and Syriac, as well as Attic Greek. Tobias’s work has appeared, among others, in the Harvard Journal of Islamic Law, the Journal of Islamic Manuscripts, the Journal of Religion, and Gorgias Press.