Nerina Rustomji

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, cultural, and social 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 and modern Middle East history. Additionally, she is interested in aesthetics, gendered configurations, biological and commercial exchanges, secularism, and America's relationship with Muslim worlds.

While trained as a medievalist, Rustomji's research seeks to collapse disciplinary categories structured by time, space, and genre. The Garden and the Fire: Heaven and Hell in Islamic Culture (Columbia University Press, 2009) narrates a history of heaven and hell from the seventh century C.E. through the lens of material culture. The Garden and the Fire 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.

The Beauty of the Houri: Heavenly Virgins, Feminine Ideals (Oxford University Press, 2021) examines the houri, the pure female of Islamic paradise, from the seventh century to the present. The Beauty of the Houri narrates how theological ambiguity about the houri as a pure companion in earlier Islamic texts was reinterpreted as a critique of Islam and a model of universal feminine beauty in later French, English, and American writings. These multiple interpretations of the houri are supported and challenged after September 11th when the houri has come to symbolize a reward for violence and the possibility of gender parity.

“Punishment and Exhortation in Islamic Hell,” Asia Society New York, April 2023.

 “Reflections on Sex in Paradise,” Sexual Knowledge in the Islamic World, Swedish Institute Istanbul. October 2022.

“The Beauty of the Houri: Images and Interpretations of the Heavenly Virgins,” The University of Texas. March 2022.

“Images of Afterlives and Afterworlds in the Islamic Garden,” Society for Asian Art, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. February 2021.

“9/11: Making a History,” Gilder Lehrman Workshop for Secondary School Teachers. November 2019.

“Images of the Afterlife in Islamic Gardens,” Lahore Literary Festival at Asia Society, New York, May 2019.




The Beauty of the Houri: Heavenly Virgins, Feminine Ideals, Oxford University Press, 2021.

The Garden and the Fire: Heaven and Hell in Islamic Culture, Columbia University Press, 2009. Paperback Edition, 2013. Awarded Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2009. Arabic translation by The Academic Center for Research in Iraq (forthcoming).


Select Articles

“Visual Depictions of Muslim Heroines: Byron's Beauties and American Houris,” in Islamic Ecumene: Comparing Muslim Societies. Ed. Eric Tagliacozzo and David Stephan Powers. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2023, 191-199.

"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 Wildan, Ghilman, and Hur" Roads 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.

Undergraduate Classes

Modern Middle East

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


Core Courses

Introduction to History

Emergence of Global Society

World History I