Jamal J. Elias

Walter H. Annenberg Professor of the HumanitiesProfessor of Religious Studies



Jamal J. Elias specializes in Islamic thought, literature and history in Western, Central and South Asia, with a focus on Sufism and Visual Culture. He regularly teaches courses in his areas of specialization, on Islam and modernity and on comparative religion, as well as advanced graduate courses in Qur'anic Studies as well as Persian and Turkish religious literature. A recipient of many grants and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Social Science Research Council (among others), he has lectured and published broadly on history, religion, literature and material and visual culture in the medieval and modern Islamic world. His most recent books are On Wings of Diesel: Trucks, Identity and Culture in Pakistan (Oxford 2011), Aisha's Cushion: Religious Art, Perception and Practice in Islam (Cambridge, MA, 2012), and Alef is for Allah: Childhood, Emotion and Visual Culture in Islamic Societies (Berkeley, 2018). He serves as Director of the Penn Forum for Global Islamic Studies. At present he is writing a book on the history of the Mevlevi order (Rumi's followers) from shortly after Rumi's death until the advent of modernity, focusing on the role of interpersonal relationships and the impact of social changes on the use of language.


Ph.D., Religious Studies, Yale University

M.A., Religious Studies, Yale University

M.A., Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania

B.A., Religious Studies, Stanford University

Research Interests
  • Islamic thought and metaphysics
  • Religion and Visual Culture
  • Popular Culture in Western and South Asia
  • Sufi literature
  • Qur'anic Studies
Research Areas
Islamic Studies
Western, Central & South Asian Islamic history
Material and Visual Culture
Courses Taught
  • Islam and Modernity
  • Love, Sex and Death
  • Sufism
  • Qur'anic Studies
  • Islam and the Religious Image
  • Religion and Visual Culture
  • Islamic Metaphysics
  • The Perisan Intellectual Tradition
  • Sufism in the Ottoman Empire
CV (file)
Elias_cv.pdf282.62 KB