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Department of History

Contact Information

phone: 615-322-6134
119 Benson Hall

Office Hours

On leave 2015-2016


PhD, Harvard University, 2002

Curriculum Vitae

Leor Halevi

Associate Professor of History
Associate Professor of Law

As a historian of Islam, Leor Halevi explores the interrelationship between religious laws and social practices in various contexts. He is the author of Muhammad’s Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society (Columbia University Press: New York, 2007), for which he won four awards: The Ralph Waldo Emerson Award, given by Phi Beta Kappa for a notable scholarly contribution to our understanding of the cultural and intellectual condition of humanity; the Albert Hourani Award given by the Middle East Studies Association for year’s best book in the field; the Medieval Academy of America’s John Nicholas Brown Prize; and the American Academy of Religion’s Award for Excellence in the Category of Analytical-Descriptive Studies.

The book examines the role that funerary rituals and beliefs about the afterlife played in shaping the earliest Islamic societies. Playing prescriptive texts against material culture, Muhammad’s Grave advances new ways of interpreting the origins of Islam. It shows how religious scholars produced codes of funerary law to create new social patterns in the cities of Arabia, Mesopotamia, and the eastern Mediterranean. These scholars distinguished Islamic from Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian rites; and they changed the way men and women interacted publicly and privately. Each chapter explores a different layer of human interaction, following the movement of the corpse from the deathbed to the grave. Highlighting economic and political factors, as well as key religious and sexual divisions, the book forges a link between the development of death rites and the efforts of an emerging religion to carve its own distinct identity. It is through this prism a history of the rise of Islam that also uncovers the roots of contemporary Muslim attitudes toward the body and society. {Selection of Reviews}

Currently Leor Halevi is at work on a new book project, tentatively entitled "Commerce with Infidels: Forbidden Goods and Cross-Cultural Trade in the History of Islam." This book will examine Muslim attitudes to foreign goods and world trade, focusing on the tension in Islamic law between an economic interest in trade and a religious interest in social exclusivity. In connection with this project he published an article in Speculum on a medieval fatwa concerning a new European product, paper with watermarks of the cross. Turning to the topic of religious restrictions on trade in the modern period, he has also written an article titled “The Consumer Jihad,” published by The International Journal of Middle East Studies, which analyzes boycott fatwas that circulated on the World Wide Web around September 11, 2001. He began researching the medieval dimension of this new project in 2005, funded by a John. W. Kluge fellowship at Library of Congress. An NEH fellowship and the ACLS Charles Ryskamp fellowship supported his initial research on its modern dimensions. A senior fellowship at the Institut d'études avancées de Paris, as well as an SSRC grant under the New Directions in the Study of Prayer initiative, will fund the next stage of research and writing.

Halevi received his Ph.D. in History and Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University. He began his professional career at Texas A&M University, where he taught courses on Early Islamic, Modern Middle Eastern, and World History. At Vanderbilt he teaches a variety of seminars and lectures courses, including “Muhammad and Early Islam,” “Religion, Culture and Commerce: The World Economy in Historical Perspective,” and “The Shari'a: A History of Islamic Law.”