Originally from Thessaloniki (even more originally from Chicago), I have lived in the UK, with some geographical interludes, since 1996. After studying Arabic and Islamic Studies at SOAS and Cambridge (where I took my PhD in 2006), I spent a peripatetic few years on a number of research fellowships. I've held research fellowships at Gonville & Caius College in Cambridge, Orient Institut Beirut, Oxford Brookes University, and New York University Abu Dhabi. For two years I was also a teaching fellow at the much-missed European College of Liberal Arts in Berlin (now Bard College Berlin). At present, I'm based at the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham as a Senior Lecturer in philosophical theology.
One of my aspirations for the next few years is to delve into the theories of virtue developed by philosophers and theologians in the classical period of Islam, looking for ways to place these theories in conversation with the broader history of the virtues outside the Muslim world, and with current philosophical thinking about character. As part of this ambition, I recently led a project investigating the intellectual history of one of the most distinctive but also contested virtues in the ancient philosophical tradition, magnanimity or greatness of soul. The fruit of this effort appeared between the covers of a collective volume titled The Measure of Greatness: Philosophers on Magnanimity. For my own part, one of my questions was how this unusual virtue was received in the Islamic world. I've put my answer to that question, and to a few others besides, in a short book, Virtues of Greatness in the Arabic Tradition.
Currently, one of my main projects centres on the ethics of virtue articulated by the great Muslim intellectual Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī. Following this track, I recently wrote a long essay/short book exploring al-Ghazālī'sunderstanding of moral beauty. The connection between ethics and aesthetics (implicit in talk of "moral beauty") claims our attention especially strongly when we think about moral exemplars—persons of outstanding character or conduct. This is another theme I've recently found myself tracking, particularly in the theological form it assumes in some parts of Islamic ethical literature, where God is taken as the ultimate exemplar of morality. To become virtuous, in this head-turning conception, is to become like God.
At the same time, I'm picking new routes through philosophical topics (in the throat-clearing sense of "philosophical") I've already been thinking about for a while, including the experience of wonder and the moral significance of admiration. If you think you're noticing a pattern—what do wonder, heroic virtue, and admiration have in common?—you're probably not mistaken. I'm an "all things great" junkie in all but name.
Like my current work, and perhaps even more, my past work has been a wild garden, but it has been streaked by a number of clear pathways. One of my enduring interests has been in Islamic theological ethics, where I've been particularly attracted to ethical thinkers developing their ideas on rational foundations. Mu'tazilite theologians were the foremost exemplars of this type of thinking in the classical Islamic context. They were the subject of my first book, Moral Agents and their Deserts: The Character of Mu'tazilite Ethics (generously granted the Albert Hourani Book Award in 2009), which explored Mu'tazilite ethics with special reference to the concept of moral desert. This book found a kind of sequel in my next book, Ibn Taymiyya's Theological Ethics, which set out to explore the ethical thought of the controversial (and in some respects surprisingly understudied) Hanbalite thinker Ibn Taymiyya. The book tries to do a number of things, but its main goal is to unpack Ibn Taymiyya's understanding of the nature of ethical norms and ethical knowledge, focusing especially on the status of reason and the linchpin concept of human nature (fiṭra) in his scheme.
Following a different pathway, another set of interests has taken me outside Islamic studies to span a number of more philosophical themes. A topic that has formed a particular centre of gravity for me over the last years is the experience of wonder in its multiple dimensions—philosophical, ethical, aesthetic. Wonder is the topic of a collective volume I edited under the title Practices of Wonder: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives. It is a key theme in my engagement of Schopenhauer, which appeared as Schopenhauer and the Aesthetic Standpoint: Philosophy as a Practice of the Sublime, and offers a new route into Schopenhauer’s philosophy (and into our experience ofhis philosophy) by approaching it through the prism of the experience of the sublime. I have drawn together some of my main reflections on the topic in my book Wonder: A Grammar.
Other themes have included the notions of personal identity, character and virtue. What runs through this seemingly disparate work (see Books & Essays) is a preoccupation with the boundary between the practical and the philosophical, and a concern—sometimes more and sometimes less successfully carried out, I would be the first to own—with engaging problems of experience in philosophical form.
Alongside my other activities, I've recently worked on a couple of translation projects. One is a translation of the literary-cum-philosophical work al-Hawāmil wa’l-shawāmil, jointly written (in some sense of "jointly") by the 10th/11th-century thinkers Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī and Miskawayh. This project forms part of the ambitious series of translations spearheaded by the Library of Arabic Literature. The other is a translation of a warm-hearted little novelby the Kuwaiti writer Ismail Fahd Ismail, The Old Woman and the River. For more details on this book and some of my other work as a translator of modern Arabic fiction see Translations, and for a little more on my future projects see News & Updates.