Islam Scholar Malika Zeghal To Join NELC Department


Malika Zeghal, an expert in religion who focuses on Islam, has been named the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor in Contemporary Islamic Thought and Life, the University announced yesterday.

Leaving her post at the University of Chicago's Divinity School as an associate professor of the anthropology and sociology of religion, Zeghal will join Harvard's department of Near Eastern languages and civilizations and the committee on the study of religion beginning on July 1.

Inspired by her firsthand experience witnessing the Islamic resurgence in Tunisia as an adolescent, Zeghal focuses her research on Islamist movements and the institutionalization of Islam in the Muslim world.

"Since then, I have always been intrigued by the processes at play behind such a revival: how does it occur, what does it mean for individual Muslims to be part of it, and how does it play out at the political level, particularly for governments?" Zeghal wrote in an e-mail. "These questions have sparked my broader interest in the study of the relationship between Islam and politics, not only in the Middle East but also in the West."


Zeghal is expert on the postcolonial period of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as on Muslim Diasporas in North America and Western Europe.

She is the author of two books, one on the religious institution of al-Azhar University in Egypt and another on the interactions of the Morocan monarchy with Islam. She is currently at work on a third book called "Sacred Politics: Political Islam and the State in the Middle East," which will expand upon her previous studies to include a comparison with Tunisia and Jordan and a discussion of the meaning of secularism.

"I am looking forward to learning from and contributing to the rigorous academic life at Harvard and to collaborating with some of the leading scholars of Islam and religion," Zeghal wrote. "I am eager to work with the students interested in Islam and politics and to use the extraordinary resources offered by Harvard."

Having earned her Ph.D. in political science and Middle Eastern studies from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Paris in 1994, Zeghal was a research fellow at France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique before joining the faculty at Chicago in 2005.

"Professor Zeghal's scholarship is grounded in her remarkable ability to win the trust and confidence of the Islamic religious actors about whom she writes," said Diana Sorensen, dean of arts and humanities in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, in the press release. "Her ethnographic approach, based on her interviews, fieldwork, and reconstruction of the biographies of key players in the Arab world, gives her work remarkable power."

"An excellent and versatile teacher at Chicago, she will no doubt become a fine colleague and a great asset to us here at Harvard," she added.

—Staff writer Xi Yu can be reached at

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: June 5, 2010

An earlier version of the June 4 news article "Islam Scholar Malika Zeghal To Join NELC Dept." incorrectly stated that incoming Harvard professor Malika Zeghal's first book focused on the colonization of Egypt. In fact, the book focuses on the religious institution of al-Azhar University in Egypt, according to Zeghal.