Michael Penn is the Teresa Hihn Moore Professor of Religious Studies and, by courtesy, Classics and the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Religious Studies. A specialist in the history of early Christianity, Professor Penn's research focuses on middle eastern Christians who wrote in the Aramaic dialect of Syriac.
Professor Penn’s first book, Kissing Christians: Ritual and Community in the Late Ancient Church, was published in 2005 by the University of Pennsylvania Press. In 2015 he published two books on Christian-Muslim relations: Envisioning Islam: Syriac Christians in the Early Muslim World (University of Pennsylvania Press) and When Christians First Met Muslims: A Source Book of the Earliest Syriac Writings on Islam (University of California Press). For these projects Professor Penn has received awards from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council for Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center, the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, the British Academy, the American Philosophical Association, the American Academy of Religion, and the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning.
Professor Penn is currently working on an Andrew Mellon Foundation funded collaboration that uses recent advances in the computerized analysis of handwriting to help analyze ancient Aramaic manuscripts. In addition to this work in the digital humanities, Professor Penn has begun several related projects that focus on the history of Syriac Christianity and the manuscripts they produced.
Before joining Stanford, Professor Penn was on the faculty of Mount Holyoke College. He has also taught at Brandeis University, Haverford College, Bryn Mawr College, and Duke University. He has additional experience as a secondary school teacher, including six years as the director of forensics at Durham Academy High School, where he ran a nationally competitive policy debate team. Professor Penn has also held research positions at Apple Computers, the Weizmann Institute (Israel), the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital, and Ames Research Center, NASA.
Professor Penn is currently accepting new Ph.D. students. Applicants interested in Syriac Christianity, ancient systems of gender & sexuality, manuscript culture, or digital approaches to pre-modernity have the clearest fit with his current research. But given the breadth of intra- and interdepartmental resources at Stanford, candidates with other research foci in early Christianity are also encouraged to apply. Professor Penn is committed to those who wish to move the field in innovative and new directions and especially to students, topics, and approaches that would increase the diversity of late ancient studies. Please feel free to contact him directly for additional information.
Ph.D. (Religion) Duke University (1999)
A.B. (Molecular Biology) Princeton University (1993)
(Photo credits: Dominican Friars of Mosul, MS 13, fol. 57v (1723 CE). Courtesy of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, Collegeville, MN)