Medieval Studies

Denise A. Spellberg

ProfessorPh.D., 1989, Columbia University

Professor of History and Middle Eastern Studies



Research Interests

My research in intellectual, religious, and gender history focuses on the medieval Islamic world, from Iran to North Africa, and also on Islam and Muslims in early modern and contemporary Europe and the United States. Although my home department at UT is History, I am affiliated with our Programs in Islamic Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, Medieval Studies, American Studies, and Religious Studies. My work is interdisciplinary and comparative, supporting a global approach to Islamic Studies, rather than an area-specific one.

My most recent book, Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders (Knopf, 2013) is being translated into Indonesian, Turkish, and Arabic.

My first book, Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past (Columbia, 1994), will be re-issued with a new introduction by Columbia Press.

I am currently revising a third book,  ‘A’isha and the Islamic Historical Tradition: A Life, a biography of ‘A’isha bint Abi Bakr, accepted after 2 positive outside reviews by Columbia University Press, about the importance, past and present, of the life of the most controversial wife of the Prophet Muhammad. It is designed for students and reading citizens.

Courses Taught

I teach the first half of the introductory, required course sequence for Middle Eastern Studies undergraduate majors, “Introduction to the Middle East, Religious, Cultural, Historical Foundations, 570-1453” cross-listed with History and Religious Studies. Other courses taught include Islamic Spain and North Africa, Iran to 1800, undergraduate seminars on women of the Prophet’s family, Islam in the History of the U.S., as well as the historiography seminar for the History Honors Program, which I direct. Graduate courses taught include those focused on gender and sacred biography, Islamic historiography, Islam in Europe and America, as well as Islam, narrative, and slavery. I have team-taught courses for Medieval Studies designed to foster approaches to the Global Middle Ages with my colleague in English. Invited by UT’s vice-provost, I served as one of four core faculty for “Difficult Dialogues,” a Ford Foundation (2006-08) grant initiative designed to teach undergraduates how to navigate “hot-button” topics as dialog not debate, with an emphasis on the importance of Academic Freedom. I initiated a course on Islam in America for that program. From 1995-2003, I helped design and teach as core faculty in the Tracking Cultures study abroad program, which traced Islamic and Hispanic cultural precedents from Spain and North Africa to Mexico and the American southwest.


            Carnegie Foundation Scholarship (2009-10) awarded in support of my research on Islam and the Founders. Foreign Research Lectureship, École des Hautes Études (EHESS), Centre de Recherches Historiques, Paris, France, (January 2004); NEH (1992-93).

            Grand Prize winner of the 2014 University Co-op Robert W. Hamilton Book Award for Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an, chosen by an interdisciplinary committee of faculty from among the 51 books published at UT Austin from all colleges and fields in the year 2013. “The Hamilton Awards are among the highest honors of literary achievement given for UT Austin authors.” October 15, 2014.

            Writers’ League of Texas Book Awards, Nonfiction Finalist 2013/2014, September 30, 2014.


I-CAIR Faith in Freedom Award from the Council American-Islamic Relations, Cleveland, Ohio Chapter, “For promoting a better understanding of the history of religious freedom in America and for writing Muslims back into our nation’s founding narrative through the extraordinary and illuminating scholarly work, Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders,” May 11, 2014.

Dost (“Friend”) Book Prize awarded by the Turkish Women’s Cultural Association, Istanbul, for  Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past (1994), for “universal contribution to Islamic Studies,” January 2009.

            I have been nominated for 7 teaching awards (1991-2013) at UT and won three others: The Harry Ransom Teaching Award (2006), the Dad’s Centennial Teaching Fellowship (2003), and the President’s Associates Teaching Award for Excellence in History (1996-97).


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