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Elizabeth Urban, the Madeleine Haas Russell Visiting Assistant Professor in the Islamic and Middle East Studies Program, received her PhD from the University of Chicago in 2012. She focuses on early Islamic social history, including such topics as slavery and manumission, conversion, motherhood and family structures, and expressions of social and political identity. She is also generally interested in the origins of Islam, Islamic political thought, and classical Arabic literature. In addition to Chicago, she has studied Arabic in Cairo, Egypt and Damascus, Syria. There she learned that if you speak Classical Arabic on the street, it will sound something like: “Good morrow, honest neighbor! Prithee, direct me to the nearest apothecary posthaste,” and that it’s best to learn some colloquial Arabic.
She has published articles titled “The Foundations of Islamic Society as Expressed by the Qur’anic Term Mawlā,” and “The Identity Crisis of Abū Bakra: Mawlā of the Prophet or Polemical Tool?” She has also recently completed translations of The Epistle on Companionship and The Major Ethical Work by the early Arabic prose master Ibn al-Muqaffa‘, to be included with Jennifer A. London’s monograph Autocracy and the Foreigner (under review). She is currently working on an article about slave mothers in early Islamic society, as well as revising her dissertation for publication as a book.
At Brandeis, she will teach courses on Slavery and Concubinage in Islamic History; Classical Islamic Political Thought; and Early Islamic History from the Rise of Islam to the Fall of the Abbasid Caliphate. Through her teaching, Elizabeth hopes not only to convey the fascinating content of classical Islamic history, but also to train students to think like historians and to consider how history sheds light on modern problems and moral dilemmas.
Elizabeth was born and raised in Amarillo, TX, where she learned the fine arts of cow tipping and tumbleweed hunting; she can still occasionally be heard to say “y’all,” “fixin’ to,” and “dang it.”