In a former life, I studied Economics in Cairo and upon graduating, worked as an economist for an oil company for a couple of years there. Then, upon reading a historical novel set in medieval Cairo, I saw the light and discovered a deep passion for medieval history. That conversion led me back to graduate school in Cairo, Cambridge (UK), and Princeton (US). My research explores the social history of religion—how religious identity structured people’s lived experience, but also how their social practices challenge and complicate the picture of inter-religious relations as represented in normative sources (theological, legal, and polemical).
My book, Converting Cultures in Medieval Cairo (forthcoming) examines the late-medieval mass conversions from Coptic Christianity to Islam—most likely the moment when Egypt became a majority Muslim region. This pivotal process was unique in that it occurred almost seven centuries after the Arab-Muslim conquests. It involved many converts who changed their religious identity—but, perhaps more importantly, it also had deep and long-term effects on the religious traditions of Coptic Christianity and Islam. This transformation—slow to emerge but thorough once complete—continues to cast a long shadow on sectarian relations/tensions in modern Egypt, as well as on both communities’ imagined ethnicities.
Since arriving at NYU, I have been fortunate to teach various courses on medieval history. My undergraduate courses include a lecture survey The Making of the Muslim Middle East, 600- 1100 A.D. (part of the MAP program) and thematic seminars, like Conversion & Apostasy in the Middle Ages and Christians of the Nile: Coptic History.
My graduate courses include textual and reading skills colloquia e.g. (a) Everyday Life in Medieval Cairo, which introduces students to medieval Arabic documents, including hands-on training in paleography; and (b) The World of the Geniza, where students learn Judeo-Arabic and explore material from the Cairo Geniza, a trove of documents from Egypt’s medieval Jewish community, including unusual genres like personal/merchant letters; charity petitions; marriage contracts and trousseau lists. Other seminars I have taught include Children & Childhood in the Middle Ages; Medieval Violence: Martyrdom, Communal Violence & State Punishment, and 'Aja'ib: Marvels & Wonder in Medieval Islam.