About

Before joining the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, I held research and teaching positions at the University of Oxford, American University of Beirut (AUB), and the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML). I am an intellectual and social historian specialising in Christian-Muslim interactions and teach courses on Christian-Muslim relations; Islamic law and theology; Syriac language and literature; and Arab Christianity.

I primarily research the religious, intellectual, and social history of medieval Christian communities in Muslim-ruled lands. My interests cover a broad range of topics within the study of Christian-Muslim relations. These include historical theology, philosophy, history of science, and literature. I also work extensively with Arabic and Syriac manuscripts as important sources of social and intellectual history, but also because many of the works I study have yet to receive modern editions and translations.

My first book, Christian Thought in the Medieval Islamic World, is a study of ʿAbdīshōʿ of Nisibis (d. 1318) and his Christian apologetics against Islam. My book also covers a 600-year period of history—from the advent of Islam to ʿAbdīshōʿ’s lifetime—which saw the emergence of a distinct genre of Syriac and Christian Arabic apologetic literature. This genre, I argue, was central to how Christianity under Islam maintained theological continuity in the face of repeated challenges to its core teachings.  In addition to theology, I am also interested in philosophy and science as fertile sites of Christian-Muslim exchange. I have published an article on the ways in which Syriac Christian philosophy was transformed by its encounter with Muslim thinkers, namely Avicenna and Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī. I also have a series of articles in preparation on the Syriac reception of post-Avicennan thought in Gregory Barhebraeus (d. 1286).

The occult sciences are another area where Christian and Muslim cultures came together in exciting (and unexpected) ways. In 2021, I published a detailed study on a little-known alchemical treatise by ʿAbdīshōʿ of Nisibis and his use of both Christian and Islamic sources. Despite my training as a medievalist, I occasionally foray into more modern periods of Christian-Muslim encounter, having written an article on Arab Christian scribal practices at the dawn of print.

Other Publications

Book

Christian Thought in the Medieval Islamicate World: ʿAbdīshōʿ of Nisibis and the Apologetic Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022.

Peer-Reviewed Articles

‘Scribal and Commentary Traditions at the Dawn of Print: The Manuscripts of the Near Eastern School of Theology as an Archive of the Early Nahḍa.’ Philological Encounters, 6 (2021) 402–437 (open access).

‘Alchemy in an Age of Disclosure: The Case of an Arabic Pseudo-Aristotelian Treatise and its Syriac Christian “Translator”.’ Asiatische Studien 75, no. 2 (2021): 545–609.

Book Chapters

‘From Greco-Syrian to Syro-Arabic Thought: The Philosophical Writings of Dionysius bar Ṣalībī and Jacob bar Šakkō.’  In La philosophie en syriaque. Edited by Emiliano Fiori and Henri Hugonnard-Roche. 329-379. Études syriaques 16; Paris: Paul Geuthner, 2019.

‘Between Ecumenism and ʿaṣabiyya: ʿAbdīshōʿ bar Brīkhā’s Attitudes to Other Christians.’ In Syriac in its Multi-Cultural Context. Edited by H. Teule, E. Keser-Kayaalp, K. Akalın, N. Doru, and M.S.  Toprak. Leuven: Peeters, 2017.

‘‘What Does the Clapper Say?’ An Interfaith Discourse on the Christian Call to Prayer by ʿAbdīshōʿ bar Brīkhā.’ In The Reception of Islam in Anatolia and its Neighbours. Edited by Andrew Peacock, Sar Nur Yildiz, and Bruno De Nicola, 263-284. Farnham: Ashgate, 2015.

Book Reviews

The Syriac Writers of Qatar in the Seventh Century (ed. Mario Kozah). Al-Abḥāth 64 (2016): 164-167.

Book review: ‘Religious Origins of Nations? The Christian Communities of the Middle East (ed. Bas ter Haar Romeny).’ The Journal of Theological Studies 63, no. 2 (2012): 744-747.

Blog Posts

    Projects

    I am currently collaborating with colleagues on two major book projects. The first is an annotated translation of the historical section of the Book of the Tower (Kitāb al-Majdal) by ʿAmr ibn Mattā, an 11th-century chronicler of the patriarchs of the Church of the East. Our translation has been accepted for publication at Liverpool University Press’s Translated Texts for Historians (TTH) and will be a resource for students and non-specialists interested in the history of Christianity in Late Antiquity and the early Islamic period. I am also beginning a collaborative project to edit a handbook on the Syro-Arabic tradition. Among other things, it will examine historical interactions between the Arabic and Syriac languages and the emergence of a distinct Arabic-speaking culture and literature among Syriac-rite Christians in the Middle East.

    Salam Rassi

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