Nerina Rustomji

Associate ProfessorChair
Ph.D., 2003, Columbia University, HistoryM.Phil., 1998, Columbia University, HistoryM.A., 1997, Columbia University, HistoryB.A., 1995, University of Texas, Austin, History and Middle Eastern Studies

Nerina Rustomji specializes in the intellectual and cultural formation of Islamic societies and the Middle East. Since joining St. John's University in 2006, she has offered both undergraduate and graduate courses in medieval Islamic, modern Middle East, and Iranian history. Additionally, she is interested in America's relationship with the Muslim World, prophetic biography as a historical genre, gendered configurations in Islamic societies, and the history of secularism.

While trained as a medievalist, Rustomji's research seeks to collapse medieval and modern disciplinary categories. Her first book The Garden and the Fire: Heaven and Hell in Islamic Culture (Columbia University Press, 2009) narrates a history of heaven and hell in Islamic texts, material cultures, and book arts from the seventh century C.E. The book demonstrates that even otherworldly realms have histories that are shaped by Muslims’ ethical formulations, aesthetic sensibilities, religious reform, and unending impulse to contemplate the everlasting future.

She is currently completing her second book, The Beauty of the Houri; Heavenly Virgins, Earthly Jihad, and the Feminine Models of Islam, which examines how contemporary Muslims, American media, and European intellectuals represent one of the most sensational tropes about Islam: pure female companions or houris in Islamic Paradise. The project, which has received fellowship support from the American Council of Learned Societies (2007-2008) and the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman, Jordan (2008), seeks to show how varying religious and political interpretations use medieval tropes and reconfigure them for battles about Islamic religion and society in the twenty-first century.

"Byron's Houris in America: Visual Depictions of Muslim Heroines in Les Dames de Byron and The Gallery of Byron Beauties" America and the Muslim Worlds, ca. 1500-1900. McNeil Center for Early American Studies, University of Pennsylvania. March 2017.

"Visions of the Houri: Pure Female Companions of Paradise in Muslim Imaginations" Franklin and Marshall College, Islam, Gender, and Sexuality Series. October 2016.

"The Sense of the Garden," University of Oklahoma's Center for Middle Eastern Architecture and Culture Symposium on Isfahan and the Notion of Paradise. March 2016.

"Digital Afterworlds: The Heavenly Virgins of Islam in Online Tours of Paradise" Columbia University's Faculty Seminar on Religion and Writing. December 2015.

"Otherworldly Beings in Islam," Near Eastern Languages and Cultures Symposium on Otherworldly Beings, University of Washington, Seattle. May 2015.

"The Houri Code" City University of New York's Graduate Center Symposium on Politics of Eschatology and Religious Movements. May 2015.

“Teaching Islamic History Roundtable” International Congress of Medieval Studies. May 2014.

“The Atlantic Houri” Organization of American Historians. April 2014.

"'Marriage with the Houris': Metaphor, Jihad, and the Digital Age," Comparative Muslim Societies Program. Cornell University. October 2013.


The Garden and the Fire: Heaven and Hell in Islamic Culture, Columbia University Press, 2009. Paperback Edition, 2013. Awarded Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2009.

Beauty of the Houri: Heavenly Virgins, Earthly Jihad, and Feminine Models of Islam (in contract)


"Are Houris Heavenly Concubines?" in Songs and Sons: Women, Slavery and Social Mobility in the Medieval Islamic World. Eds. Matthew Gordon and Kathryn Hain, Oxford University Press. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017, 266-277.

"Beauty in the Garden: Aesthetics and the WildanGhilman, and HurRoads to Paradise. Eds. Sebastian Guenther and Todd Lewis. Leiden: Brill., 2017, 295-310.

"Teaching Middle East History after 9/11" Recovering 9/11 in New York. Eds. Robert Fanuzzi and Michael Wolfe, et al. New York: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014.

"Early Views of Paradise in Islam" Religion Compass. Blackwell Compass. March 2010. V. 4. Issue 3: 166-175.

"American Visions of the Houri" Muslim World Vol. 97. No. 1. Jan. 2007: 79-92.

Undergraduate Classes

Modern Middle East (in class and hybrid)

History of Islamic Society

America and the Muslim World

9/11: A History

History of Iran

Gender in Islamic History

Graduate Seminars

Contemporary Middle East

Muhammad and Biography

Secularism: A Comparative Approach

Authority in Islamic Society

Terrorism (online)

Core Courses

Introduction to History (in class and hybrid)

Emergence of Global Society (in class and online)

World History I