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Richard McGregor

Professor McGregor's area of expertise is Islam, particularly the medieval intellectual and mystical traditions. He explores religion at the intersections of philosophy, theology, aesthetics, and embodiment. His work has received support from the Fulbright Program, the American Academy of Religion, the American Research Center in Egypt, the Getty Foundation, the National German Research Foundation, the French Ministry of National Education, and the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada. He received his PhD from McGill University in 2001, and at Vanderbilt teaches courses on Qur'an and Interpretation, Sufism, and Method and theory in the Study of Religion. He came to Nashville after a two-year postdoc in Cairo, at the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale.


Representative publications

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Appearing in 2020 with Cambridge University Press, Islam and the Devotional Object: Seeing Religion in Egypt and Syria reconstructs a rich material culture that until recently flourished in the Islamic heartlands. Taking materiality as  inextricable from metaphysics, this study traces the turbulent lives of key religious objects. Elaborate parades in Cairo and Damascus displayed decorated objects of great value, destined for Mecca and Medina. These included the precious yearly dress sewn for the Ka’ba, and large colorful sedans mounted on camels, which mysteriously would complete the Hajj without carrying a single passenger. Along with the brisk trade in Islamic relics, these objects and the variety of contested meanings attached to them, constituted a material practice of religion that persisted until the colonial interventions of the nineteenth century. The rising tide of political Islam that engulfed the region in the twentieth century, for its own ideological reasons, continued the colonial suppression of this religious culture.

The Case of the Animals versus Man before the King of Jinn

In collaboration with Lenn Goodman, McGregor has published a critical Arabic edition and English translation of The Case of the Animals versus Man before the King of the Jinn (Oxford, 2009). Part of a tenth-century Iraqi encyclopedia, this philosophical text explores ethics, religion, and science, in the form of a fabled court case at which the animals of the world argue against humanity's claim of superiority over all creation. In this rich allegorical fable the exploited and oppressed animals pursue a case against humanity. They are granted the gift of speech and presented as subjects with views and interests of their own. Over the course of the hearing they rebuke and criticize human weakness, deny humanity's superiority, and make powerful demands for greater justice and respect for animals. This sophisticated moral allegory combines elements of satire with a thought-provoking thesis on animal welfare.

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The Case of the Animals also appeared in paperback, English translation only, with Oxford in 2012.

Sanctity and Mysticism in Medieval Egypt

In 2004 McGregor published Sanctity and Mysticism in Medieval Egypt: the Wafa’ Sufi Order and the Legacy of Ibn ‘Arabi. Using the original writings of two Egyptian Sufis, Muhammad Wafa' and his son 'Ali, this book shows how the Islamic idea of sainthood developed in the medieval period. Although without a church to canonize its "saints," the Islamic tradition nevertheless debated and developed a variety of ideas concerning miracles, sanctity, saintly intermediaries, and pious role models. In the writings of the Wafa's, a complete mystical worldview unfolds, one with a distinct doctrine of sainthood and a novel understanding of the apocalypse.

The Development of Sufism in Mamluk Egypt

Sufism in the Ottoman Era (16th-18th C.)

 In 2006 and 2010, McGregor co-edited The Development of Sufism in the Mamluk Period, and Sufism in the Ottoman Era. These papers in English, French, and Arabic, explore the diversity of Sufism with special attention to Egypt, Syria, and the Maghreb in the medieval and pre-modern periods.


Professor McGregor's current projects include a new translation of Ibn Ishaq's Sira, entitled Selections from the Life of Muhammad, and an edited volume on Islamic ritual.

Recent Articles

“Religions and the Religion of Animals; Ethics, Self, and Language in Tenth-Century Iraq” in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (2015) 35(2) pp. 222-231


“Networks, Processions, and the Disruptive Display of Religion” in Everything is on the Move: 'Mamluk Empire' as Node in (trans-)regional networks S. Conermann ed. (Bonn University Press, 2014) pp. 311-324


“Intertext and Artworks – Reading Islamic Hagiography” Studies in Religion / Sciences Religieuses 43.3 (2014) pp. 425-438


“Notes on the Literature of Sufi Prayer Commentaries” Mamluk Studies Review 17 (2013) pp. 199-211


“Sufi Iconoclasm and the Problem of Comparative Religion” in Les mystiques juives, chrétiennes et musulmanes dans l’Égypte médiévale G. Cecere, M. Loubet, S. Pagani eds. (IFAO, 2013) pp. 173-187