Skip to main content

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}

Halevi is also the co-editor of a collection of essays, Religion and Trade: Cross-Cultural Exchanges in World History, 1000-1900, (Oxford University Press, 2014). He has published articles in Past & Present, The Journal of the History of Ideas, Speculum, The International Journal of Middle East Studies, History of Religions, and other journals. His op-eds have appeared in The International Herald Tribune, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

Leor Halevi is currently at work on a pair of books dealing with the tension in Islamic law between an economic interest in trade and a religious interest in social exclusivity. Both books will focus on Salafi fatwas (originalist juridical opinions) in relation to modern commodities and technological innovations, which cross cultural boundaries as a consequence of world trade. But experts on Islamic law related to material objects in very different ways in different historical contexts. One book will delve into the rise of a Salafi economic ethos in Egypt under the British Occupation; the second will delve into everyday Salafi economics in Saudi Arabia and the world. Halevi began researching this new project in 2005-06, funded by a John. W. Kluge fellowship at Library of Congress and by an American Philosophical Society grant. His research has also been supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, an ACLS Charles Ryskamp fellowship, a Social Science Research Council Grant, and a fellowship at the Institut d'études avancées de Paris. In 2015-2016, he will be a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin.

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

Leor Halevi's Curriculum Vitae