Arjun Nair

Assistant Professor of Religion
Arjun Nair
Email Office Phone (213) 821-3043

Research & Practice Areas

Islamic Intellectual History (Sufism and philosophy), History of Quranic Exegesis, Mystical Literature (Arabic and Persian), Commentaries


  • M.T.S. Theology, Harvard Divinity School
  • Ph.D. Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University
  • M.Eng Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Summary Statement of Research Interests

    I am a historian of religion and scholar of post-classical (after 1200 CE) Sufi-philosophical texts and traditions. My research deals primarily with commentaries and other theoretical works that discuss the interpretation of literary works (lyrical poetry in Arabic and Persian) and scripture (Quran) as well as the knowledge practices that theorists/commentators envisioned around these works. My aim in this research has been two-fold: (1) to trace the emergence of (more) sophisticated approaches to commentary (allegoresis, the study of correspondences) among Sufi-philosophers in the Islamic middle period, and investigate how they sought to manage the growing archive of literary and scriptural “meanings” that these approaches enabled; and (2) to redirect the findings of this textual/philological work toward theoretical issues in the contemporary study of religion and Sufism/Sufi literature. My first book, Transcending Mysticism, shows how the writings of Sufi theorists can assist scholars of religion and Sufism move past many of the well-known and lesser-known limits that “mysticism” and its correlatives continue to exert on scholarship. While valuable as a term of art, the findings of textual scholarship force analysts to make caveats and qualifications, whereas the study of “native” frameworks holds out the promise of paradigm shift. I have begun to apply the insights of this work toward my second project, which takes cues from Sufi theorists to advance discussions around “scripture” in the study of religion. My research has been published in the Journal of Islamic Studies, the Journal of Sufi Studies, the Journal of Quranic Studies, and the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society.