Christian C. Sahner


Associate Professor of Islamic History; Fellow of St Cross College

Faculty / College Address:

Oriental Institute / St Cross College



I am an historian of the Middle East. My work deals mainly with the transition from Late Antiquity to the Islamic Middle Ages, relations between Muslims and Christians, and the history of Syria and Iran.

I am the author of two 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 Syrian Civil War. The second is Christian Martyrs under Islam: Religious Violence and the Making of the Muslim World (Princeton, 2018), 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 this process. It was named one of the books of the year by The Spectator; a finalist for the Award for Excellence in the Historical Study of Religion by the American Academy of Religion; a finalist for the British-Kuwait Friendship Prize; and an earlier version received the Malcolm H. Kerr Prize from the Middle East Studies Association.

I am currently working on two projects. The first concerns Zoroastrianism and the spread of Islam in Iranian society. The second concerns the mountains of the medieval Middle East, their often turbulent relationship with lowland empires, and the religious movements which took root in them.

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. Prior to joining the Oriental Institute, I was a research fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. Along with my academic work, I write frequently about the history, art, and culture of the Middle East for popular publications including The Wall Street Journal, The 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 (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)

Major Publications:

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

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

‘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

‘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

Photograph of Dr Christian C. Sahner