Dr Christian Sahner

Dr Christian Sahner

Associate Professor of Islamic History


Christian Sahner is a historian of the Middle East. He is principally interested in the transition from Late Antiquity to the Islamic Middle Ages, relations between Muslims and Christians, and the history of Syria and Iran.

He is the author of two books: Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present (Hurst - Oxford, 2014), a blend of history, memoir, and reportage from his time in the Levant before and after the Syrian Civil War; and Christian Martyrs under Islam: Religious Violence and the Making of the Muslim World (Princeton, 2018, forthcoming) a study of how the medieval Middle East slowly transformed from a majority-Christian region to a majority-Muslim one and the role that violence played in the process. An earlier version of this research was awarded the Malcolm H. Kerr Prize for Best Dissertation in the Humanities from the Middle East Studies Association.

Born in New York City, he earned an A.B. from Princeton, an M.Phil from Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and a Ph.D. also from Princeton. Prior to joining the Oriental Institute, he was a research fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge. He writes about the history, art, and culture of the Middle East for The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.

Current Research:

Rise of Islam in Iran and Central Asia; Middle Persian sources from the Abbasid period; comparative Islamization, especially of Zoroastrians and Christians

Courses Taught:

  • Islamic History and Culture (Undergraduate, Year 1)
  • Islamic History (Undergraduate, Year 3, FHS)
  • Introduction to Islamic History (M.Phil, Year 1)
  • Various undergraduate and graduate options on early Islam, conversion, Middle Eastern Christianity, Syria, Iran, and Late Antiquity

Select Publications:

Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present (Hurst - Oxford University Press, 2014)

‘The Monasticism of my Community is Jihad: A Debate on Asceticism, Sex, and Warfare in Early Islam.’ Arabica 64 (2017), 149-83

‘The First Iconoclasm in Islam: A New History of the Edict of Yazīd II (AH 104/AD724).’ Der Islam 94 (2017), 5-56

‘Swimming Against the Current: Muslim Conversion to Christianity in the Early Islamic Period.’ Journal of the American Oriental Society 136 (2016), 265-84

‘Islamic Legends about the Birth of Monasticism: A Case Study on the Late Antique Milieu of the   Qurʾān and Tafsīr.’ The Late Antique World of Early Islam: Muslims among Christians and Jews in the East Mediterranean. Robert Hoyland, ed. Princeton: Darwin Press, 2015, 393-435

‘Old Martyrs, New Martyrs, and the Coming of Islam: Writing Hagiography after the Conquests.’ Cultures in Motion: Studies in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods. Adam Izdebski and Damian Jasiński, eds. Cracow: Jagiellonian University Press, 2014, 89-112

‘From Augustine to Islam: Translation and History in the Arabic Orosius.’ Speculum 88 (2013), 905-31