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 Freie Universität in Berlin. In my thesis I wrote about the development of the judgment of apostasy in classical Islam. Afterwards 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 and philosophy (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 (d. 1111) 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) were 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.
I also work on contemporary Muslim thought and have penned a few articles in this field, most importantly “What Do We Mean by Salafi?” (2015). In 2010, I published a German translations of works by al-Ghazali (“Faysal al-tafriqa”) and Ibn Rushd/Averroes (d. 1198), namely his “Fasl al-maqal.” In one book, also in German, I study the development of the judgment of apostasy in Islam (Apostasie und Toleranz in Islam, 2000). Together with my Yale colleague Abbas Amanat I edited a volume on the role of Shari’a (Islamic law) in contemporary debates within Islam (2007). I also edited a book of collected essays on al-Ghazali (2016).
In 2021 I published The Formation of Post-Classical Philosophy in Islam, which deals with the profound changes the Islamic discourse on philosophy underwent as a result of al-Ghazali’s “Tahafut al-falasifa.” This study covers the century after al-Ghazali (roughly 1110 to 1210) and explains how in the Islamic east (Iraq, Iran, and Central Asia) a new kind of philosophical discourse formed that would dominate the education at madrasas. The book tries to explain the development of post-classical philosophy and its novel methods. While it covers most philosophers in the Islamic east during the 12th century, it has a focus on Abu l-Barakat al-Baghdadi (d. c. 1165) and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1210).
Another, more long-term project is 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 murder of Caliph ‘Uthman in 656 to the latest discussions about Islam and politics.