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 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 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 caretaker, pure companion, and entertainment 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

"Images of Afterlives and Afterworlds in the Islamic Garden," Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (virtual). February 2021.

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

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

"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.

Symposium on Otherworldly Beings, University of Washington, Seattle. May 2015.

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

"The Atlantic Houri," Organization of American Historians. April 2014.









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.


"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, 2017.

"Beauty in the Garden: Aesthetics and the Wildan, Ghilman, and Hur" in Roads to Paradise. Eds. Sebastian Guenther and Todd Lewis. Brill, 2017.

"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

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