Department ofHistory

Nina Safran

Nina Safran

Director of the Middle Eastern Studies Minor
Associate Professor of History

208 Weaver Building

University Park, PA 16802

Curriculum Vitae:


PhD, History and Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University
MA, Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University
BA, Social Studies, Harvard University
Nina Safran Headshot


My field is Islamic history (c. 600-1250) and my area of research is al-Andalus (Islamic Iberia) and the Maghrib (North Africa). My first book, The Second Umayyad Caliphate: The Articulation of Caliphal Legitimacy in al-Andalus, grew out of an initial comparative interest in the expression and enactment of the right to rule among Islamic dynasties claiming caliphal authority. The study of political ideology and culture in al-Andalus gave me a foundation to explore another dimension of the politics of the period: governance over a religiously and ethnically diverse population in a period of social change and cultural transformation. My second book, Defining Boundaries in al-Andalus: Muslims, Christians and Jews in Islamic Iberia, brings the development of Islamic law (specifically, of the Maliki “school” of law) and legal sources into the political narrative and develops a particular focus on intercommunal relations. Treating law as a form of boundary-making in a specific historical context, the book demonstrates the flexibility of Islamic legal concepts and categories and shows how this flexibility accommodated intercommunal interaction and integration into the Muslim community. The book won the Premio del Rey from the American Historical Association.

My work on the Umayyad period provided me with a particular orientation to the later Almoravid period (c. 1050-1150) when a Berber regime ruled over the far Maghrib and al-Andalus from Marrakesh, and I have written articles discussing Almoravid era legal and political culture from a variety of perspectives, such as the “Politics of Book Burning” and cultural memory and biographical writing. My interest in Almoravid era jurists now leads me to investigate fourteenth and fifteenth century Maghribi fatwa collections incorporating Andalusi and Maghribi fatwas and commentaries from the first half of the twelfth century. I am interested in Maliki legal thinking and strategies in specific historical contexts, and in the clues to social life the legal literature offers.

I teach a variety of undergraduate courses including World History, Introduction to the Middle East, Modern Middle Eastern History, and Islamic Civilization, and have taught undergraduate seminars on specialized topics such as the history of medieval Iberia, women and gender in Islamic societies, and Americans in the Middle East in the nineteenth century; I also teach an occasional graduate seminar.

Recent Publications:

“A House of Worship for Every Religious Community: The History of a Mālikī Fatwā.” Islamic Law and Society 30 (2023): 179-218.

“A Tunisian Jurist’s Perspective on Jihād in the Age of the Fondaco,” Interfaith Relationships and Perceptions of the Other in the Medieval Mediterranean: Essays in Memory of Olivia Remie Constable, eds. Sarah C. Davis-Secord, Belén Vicéns, and Robin J. E. Vose (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021), 283-304.

“Cultural Memories of the Conquest of al-Andalus between the Ninth and Twelfth Centuries” Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies, 11 (2019): 359-377.

“Comments on ‘Romanization in the Middle of Nowhere: The Case of Segobriga’ from a Historian of Islamic Iberia,” Fragments: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Ancient and Medieval Pasts 8 (2019) (on-line publication)

“The Politics of Book Burning in al-Andalus,” Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies 6 (2014): 148-168.

Awards and Service:

The American Historical Association Premio del Rey 2015
National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, July 2014- December 2014
Institute for the Arts and Humanities (Penn State, College of the Liberal Arts and College of Art and Architecture) January 2014-July 2014

Recent Courses:

HIST 083 – First Year Seminar

HIST181 – Introduction to the Middle East

HIST165 – Islamic Civilization

HIST 302Y – History Seminar

Areas of Specialization:

Medieval and Ancient History

Middle East and the Muslim World


Areas of Specialization: