Rula Jurdi Abisaab is Professor of Islamic History at the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University. With an emphasis on the intellectual and socio-political history of late medieval and modern Shiʿa societies, her research and publications reflect two significant trajectories. The first is marked by a focus on the nature and historical context of Shiʿa doctrinal, legal, and juristic developments in Safavid Iran. In her book Converting Persia: Religion and Power in Safavid Iran, 1501-1736 (2004), she explores questions of imperial sovereignty, social-economic divisions, heterodoxy, legal authority, and conformity to urban shari`a-based practices. In her work, Kitāb Dānishnāmah-yi Shāhī bā Muqaddimah wa Ḥayāt-i ʿIlmī az Mulla Muḥammad Amīn Astarabādī (Tehran, 2022), co-authored with Reza Mokhtari, she brings a critical corrective to prevalent views about the origins of the traditionist (akhbārī) movement in Iran, and the biography of Astarabādī. She has numerous articles, book chapters, and encyclopedic entries, which cover questions dealing with relations of jurists to sovereigns; Iranian notables’ approaches to Safavid rule; peasant uprisings; the role of shari`a and `urf in shaping the legal system; and engagements with and refutations of Sufism. Her forthcoming monograph, “Silence of the Law and the Sanctified Traditions: Muḥammad Amīn Astarabādī (d. 1036/1626-7) against the Mujtahids,” offers a new and comprehensive account of early traditionist thought in Safavid Iran.
The second trajectory is marked by a focus on postcolonial Marxist Shiʿa Islamic thought, and public religion and militancy. This scholarship is reflected in her book co-authored with Malek Abisaab titled, The Shi`ites of Lebanon: Modernism, Communism and Hizbullah’s Islamists, and in articles such as, “Deconstructing the Modular and the Authentic: Husayn Muroeh’s Early Islamic History,” (2008); “Lebanese Shi`ites and the Marja’iyya: Polemic in the late 20th Century,” (2009); “Sayyid Musa al-Sadr, the Lebanese State, and the Left,” (2015). Rula has also published articles and essays in Arabic and English dealing with modern Arabic literature, poetry and art.
In addition to her academic works, Rula is a poet and novelist. Her poems have appeared in international magazines, and her poem, “Oral” was shortlisted for the Magpie Poetry Award in 2018. She has three poetry collections, namely, The Heart’s Peel (ghilaf al-qalb), Like Layla or the Five Cities (ka-layla aw ka’l-mudun al-khams), and After the Rose (ma ba`da al-warda). She has three novels, Thick Air (2007; al-kathafa), Camera Obscura (2018; fi `ulbat al-daw’), which won the Khayrallah Prize, and also One Hundred Flutters (2020; mi’atu ra`sha).