Rushain Abbasi

Rushain Abbasi

Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

My family and I hail from the alluvial plains of Hyderabad, Sindh, which is where I spent several summers and winters as a child, although my home will forever remain the sleepy town of Annapolis, Maryland (aptly nicknamed "Naptown"), which sits peacefully alongside the long, sprawling estuary of the Chesapeake Bay. It was there, in the latter years of high school, that my intellectual interests in religion, politics, and philosophy were first peaked, having been the co-founder of a philosophical club by the name of the Sapere Aude Society, which is a source of great irony for anyone familiar with my current philosophical positions (especially in relation to Kant). I then went on to study history and politics at the University of Maryland, College Park with the intention of becoming a lawyer or working in local government, until I was diverted back towards my original love for learning while in Amman, Jordan, where I began my study of Arabic and the ʿulūm and was introduced to the exciting prospect of studying Islam academically. I then did my post-graduate training at Harvard University, with some brief stints at Princeton University and Yale Law School, until I hesitantly relocated to the West Coast in 2021 (being the loyal East Coaster that I was) as a Mellon Fellow of Scholars in the Humanities at the Stanford Humanities Center and the Department of Religious Studies, only to then find myself falling in love with the Bay Area and having the great fortune of being hired as an assistant professor in this wonderful department. 

I now teach a wide range of courses which revolve around two disciplinary axes: critical theory and Islamic studies, which are also the two traditions which most directly situate my research. With regards to the former, I engage primarily with questions of legal and political theory, although my general interest in exposing the paradoxes of the secular order has also led me down the path of literary theory and psychoanalysis. As for the "study of Islam," my interest is in developing creative and critical interpretations of Islamic history and thought through the slow, meticulous reading of a wide range of Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish texts, which touch on subjects as diverse (or perhaps not so diverse) as history, politics, law, aesthetics, and philosophy. To give a sense of my thinking on these and other topics, some of the writers who have captivated my imagination in recent years are Jacques Derrida, Walter Benjamin, Sylvia Wynter, al-Ghazali, al-Taftazani, and al-Shafi'i (to say nothing of the countless poets who have more profoundly shaped my view of reality, Rilke being the most notable among them).

I am now in the process of completing two books which should be out within the next few years, inshallah. The first is a shorter treatise called The Opening of Mecca and the Closure of Violence, which studies the event of the Prophet Muhammad’s so-called conquest of Mecca and his general granting of amnesty to the “conquered” (placed in quotation marks because they are literally referred to as the “released”) as a way of reflecting more broadly on the unique relationship between law and violence in Islam and the politics of "submission" (and not "sovereignty") which made it possible. The subsequent book, entitled Din and Dunya: Religion and the Way of Life, will propose a new theory for thinking about this thing we call "life" by illustrating how Muslims historically conceived of the relationship between the so-called religious and worldly.

I look forward to receiving applications from potential doctoral students. The kind of advisee for whom my advising would be most valuable would be someone interested in devoting much of their time to closely studying Classical Arabic (and potentially Persian and Ottoman) texts in addition to the writings of major contemporary theorists like the aforementioned. However, given that we are home to a diverse array of faculty, I also welcome inquiries and applications from students interested in the anthropology of Islam (in tandem with Anna Bigelow), religion, ethics, and philosophy (with Brent Sockness, Ariel Evan Mayse, and Barbara Pitkin), or the study of Late Antique religion (with Charlotte Fonrobert and Michael Penn), which in one way or another may relate to the study of the Islamic tradition or critical theory. Needless to say, these are only general guidelines and aspiring students should feel free to reach out to me to explore the possibility of working together. 

Aside from my larger book projects, I am also currently in the process of finishing a two-part article on the covenantal-oath structure of the shahāda in the Quran and its biblical precedents (in collaboration with a scholar of the Talmud), an interpretive piece on “political theology” in light of Kafka’s profound parables, a historical study of the notion of “order” in early modern Ottoman political thought, and a short philosophical essay on the evil of abstraction. 

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