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Professor of Near Eastern Studies. Director, Institute for Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

I am particularly concerned with the political and social tensions that arise from the question of religious identity. I was educated at the University of Oxford where I received my doctorate in 1998 in Islamic studies. My research and teaching interests lie at the juncture of the intellectual, political, and social history of the Middle East with particular emphasis on the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. I also have a side interest in how energy resources—namely the large fossil fuel reserves of the Middle East—have an effect on politics and society. An essential part of my work concerns the reception of reformist ideas at present and analysis of the Salafi heritage in contemporary debate among Sunnis as well as the Zaydi heritage among Shi`is.

My present research and writing project relates to the history of the Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia from the 1950s to the present. The book I am completing focuses on a network of scholars in Saudi Arabia and other countries where Salafis have established a strong foothold. I show how and why the Salafis under Saudi Arabia’s patronage have become one of the most influential intellectual and political groups across the Muslim world in the last half century. Salafism’s reformist and strict constructionist interpretation has found wide appeal beyond the borders of the Saudi Kingdom, and the Salafi network, operated primarily by graduates who have studied in the Kingdom’s Islamic universities, has now spread globally. Today, important Salafi scholars and activists are found in Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, India, and the UK, and their teachings are ubiquitous on the Internet, on audio and video media, and in journals and books. The activities and teachings of these scholars, the nature and functioning of their domestic and international networks, their relationship to the state, and the intra-Salafi divisions and polemics have yet to be studied adequately. In addition, the compelling nature of their religious message for modern Muslims has not been properly understood or explained—it is not simply about Saudi funding. In my book, I argue that the present appeal of Salafism has to do with the anti-hierarchical and individually empowering hermeneutics of this religious tradition, two facets that correspond well with specifically modern sensibilities.

I consider myself to be an historian who is not restricted by disciplinary boundaries or historical time frame. Although my focus is on the modern period, I am at home with pre-modern Islamic literary sources and concepts and see these as a crucial foundation for the study of the modern Arab and Muslim worlds. The region I have studied, Arabia, is of fundamental importance for understanding the history and politics of the modern Middle East and yet it remains the least studied and understood. One of my aims at Princeton is to remedy this situation.

In my work I have drawn inspiration from anthropology, politics, history, and philology. I bring this background to the undergraduate classroom when teaching courses on the history of the Middle East and on Islamist politics. On the graduate level, I enjoy teaching courses that revolve around my particular research interests (Arabian history and Islamism at the moment), but I am also happy to accommodate the needs of NES students, especially if this involves reading primary texts in areas I know little about. Thus far, I have supervised or co-supervised eight completed PhD dissertations. In addition to my teaching, I direct the Transregional Institute as well as the Oil, Energy and the Middle East Project. In these latter capacities, I organize lectures and conferences around topics related to the politics and culture as well as energy issues in the contemporary Middle East.

Representative publications:

“The Value of Oil: Al-Qaeda on the Management of Oil Wealth”, in Complexity and Change in Saudi Arabia, ed. Bernard Haykel, Thomas Hegghammer, and Stéphane Lacroix (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

“What Makes a Madhhab a Madhhab: Zaydi Debates on the Structure of Legal Authority,” in Arabica 59 (2012).

“Al-Qa`ida and Shiism,” in Fault Lines in Global Jihad, ed. Assaf Moghadam and Brian Fishman (New York: Routledge, 2011).

“Western Arabia and Yemen during the Ottoman Period,” in The New Cambridge History of Islam, vol. 2, ed. Maribel Fierro (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

“On the Nature of Salafi Thought and Action,” in Global Salafism: Islam’s New Religious Movement, ed. Roel Meijer (London: Hurst, 2009).

Revival and Reform in Islam: The Legacy of Muhammad al-Shawkani (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

"Dissembling Dissent, or how the Barber Lost his Turban: Identity and evidence in Zaydi Yemen," in Islamic Law and Society 9.2 (2002).

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