After studying philosophy, Arabic literature, and Islamic studies at universities in Göttingen (Germany), Damascus, Berlin, and London, I received my PhD in 1999 from the Free University in Berlin. In my thesis I wrote about the development of the judgment of apostasy in classical Islam. After that I worked as a research fellow at the Orient Institute of the German Oriental Society in Beirut, Lebanon. In 2000 I came to Yale where I teach courses on the intellectual history of Islam, its theology (both classical and modern), and the way Islamic thinkers react to Western modernity.
In my research I deal with very similar issues. Much of my published work up to 2009 covers the contribution that al-Ghazali made to the development of Islamic theology and the history of philosophy, be it written in Arabic, Latin, or Hebrew. Al-Ghazali lived at the turn of the 12th century in what is now Iran and Iraq. He marks one of the turning points of Islamic thought, when the role of major intellectual movements such as the Arabic tradition of Aristotelianism (falasfa) and Islamic mysticism (Sufism) was reassessed. In 2009, I published Al-Ghazali’s Philosophical Theology, where I study his life and the way he made philosophical metaphysics and cosmology compatible with Muslim theology.
Since 2009, I added the period right after al-Ghazali to my research interests. In 2010, I published a German translation of a work by Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1098) where he responds to some points, al-Ghazali had made earlier. I regard Ibn Rushd very much as a follower of al-Ghazali, who disagrees with him on some key issues of epistemology, but who overall applies the strategies that al-Ghazali had developed to make reason and religion compatible.
Currently, I focus on Islamic theologians and philosophers of the 12th to the 14th centuries who worked in the Islamic East (Iraq, Iran etc.). I am working on a survey of philosophy and theology during this period that will cover authors such as Abu l-Barakat al-Baghdadi (d. c. 1160), Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1210), Athir al-Din al-Abhari (d. c. 1264), Nasir al-Din Tusi (d. 1274) and others up to the formation of the canonical books of madrasa-education during the Il-Khanid period by al-Baydawi (d. c. 1316) and Adud al-Din al-Iji (d. 1355). I believe this particular period to be very important for our understanding of the intellectual developments in post-classical Islam, yet at the same time, it is one that we know very little about. Most authors of this period are, like al-Ghazali, fascinated and drawn towards Ibn Sina’s (Avicenna, d. 1038) project of a philosophical interpretation of Islam.
I am also working on a comprehensive history of theology in Islam that can be used as a textbook in college courses. Readable and accessible yet still reliable and detailed, it will cover Islamic theology from the early disputes triggered by the killing of Caliph ‘Uthman in 656 to the latest discussions about Islam and democracy.
In my earlier books I studied the development of the judgment of apostasy in Islam (Apostasie und Toleranz in Islam), and I translated a work by al-Ghazali (the Faysal al-tafriqa) into German. Together with Abbas Amanat I edited a volume on the role of Shari’a (Islamic law) in contemporary debates within Islam. I am currently editing a book of collected essays on al-Ghazali, written by some of the most learned and most talented colleagues in the field.
University Göttingen; Damascus University; M.A. Free University Berlin; Dr. phil. Free University Berlin