Christian C. Sahner


Associate Professor of Islamic History; Fellow of New College

Faculty / College Address:

Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies / New College



I study the history of North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia during the transition from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages. I am especially interested in relations between Muslims and non-Muslims (including Christians and Zoroastrians), religious conversion, Islamic sectarianism, and the intertwined histories of the Umayyad, ʿAbbasid, and Byzantine empires.

I am the author or editor of four books. The first is Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present (Hurst - Oxford, 2014), a blend of history, memoir, and reportage from my time in the Levant before and after the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War. The second is Christian Martyrs under Islam: Religious Violence and the Making of the Muslim World (Princeton, 2018), which explores the little-known Christian martyrs of the early Islamic period and the role that violence did (or did not) play in the gradual Islamisation of the region. The third is Conversion to Islam in the Premodern Age: A Sourcebook (California, 2020, co-edited with N. Hurvitz, U. Simonsohn, and L. Yarbrough), a collection of historical texts that describe conversion in a wide array of geographic settings, from Spain and Egypt to India and China. The fourth is The Definitive Zoroastrian Critique of Islam (Liverpool University Press, 2023), a study of the most important Zoroastrian polemical treatise of the medieval period as well as a new translation of its chapters on Islam.

I am currently at work on a new book, which has received support from the Leverhulme Trust and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, which explores the history of religious change in three mountainous areas between Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages; these include North Africa, Syria-Lebanon, and the Caspian region of northern Iran. It examines the relationship between conversion, imperial power, and geography, highlighting the role of neglected non-Muslim and Muslim “minority” communities in rugged, highland areas.

Born in New York City, I earned an A.B. from Princeton, an M.Phil from Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and a Ph.D. also from Princeton, where I studied under Peter Brown and Michael Cook. Prior to joining the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (formerly Oriental Studies), I was a research fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. From 2017-2023, I was a fellow of St Cross College, Oxford, but in 2023, I joined New College to spearhead the launch of a new undergraduate programme in Arabic.

I am active in scholarship selection in Oxford, serving as the national secretary of the Rhodes Scholarships for Saudi Arabia and the chair of the academic committee of the Barry Scholarships. Along with my academic work, I write about the history, art, and culture of the Middle East from time to time for the popular press, including for The Wall Street JournalThe Times Literary Supplement, and The Washington Post, among others.

Follow me on Twitter @ccsahner.

Courses Taught:

  • Islamic History and Culture (Undergraduate, Year 1)
  • Islamic History FHS (Undergraduate, Year 3)
  • Mountains, Religion, and Revolution (Undergraduate, Year 3)
  • Islamic History (M.Phil, Year 1)
  • Conversion to Islam in the Middle Ages (M.Phil, Year 2)
  • Topics in Medieval Middle Eastern and Islamic History (M.Phil, Year 2)

Major Publications:

The Definitive Zoroastrian Critique of Islam: Chapters 11-12 of the Škand Gumānīg-Wizār by Mardānfarrox son of Ohrmazddād (Liverpool University Press, Translated Texts for Historians, 2023)

Conversion to Islam in the Premodern Age: A Sourcebook (University of California Press, 2020, co-edited with N. Hurvitz, U. Simonsohn, and L. Yarbrough),

Christian Martyrs under Islam: Religious Violence and the Making of the Muslim World (Princeton University Press, 2018)

(Finalist for the British-Kuwait Friendship Society Prize for the best scholarly work on the Middle East; finalist for the Award for Excellence in the Historical Study of Religion from the American Academy of Religion; The Spectator’s books of the year for 2018; an earlier version was winner of the Malcolm H. Kerr Award for best dissertation of the year from the Middle East Studies Association)

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

‘What is Islamic History? Muslims, Non-Muslims and the History of Everyone Else,’ The English Historical Review (2023, forthcoming)

‘A Christian Insurgency in Islamic Syria: The Jarājima (Mardaites) between Byzantium and the Caliphate,’ in The Islamic-Byzantine Border in History, D.G. Tor and Alexander D. Beihammer, eds., Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2023, 125-65

‘The Passion of the Sixty Martyrs of Jerusalem (d. ca. 724) [BHG 1217]: Study and Translation,’ in Mélanges James Howard-Johnston (Travaux et Mémoires 26), Phil Booth and Mary Whitby, eds., Paris: Association des Amis du Centre d’Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance, 2022, 385-406

‘Zoroastrian Law and the Spread of Islam in Iranian Society (9th-10th c.),’ Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 84 (2021)

‘A Zoroastrian Dispute in the Caliph’s Court: The Gizistag Abāliš in its Early Islamic Context.’ Iranian Studies 52 (2019), 61-83

‘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

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

For a complete list of my work, see my page on


Photograph of Dr Christian C. Sahner