Ali S. Asani

Ali S. Asani

Murray A. Albertson Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures
Ali S. Asani

Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Ali Asani is Murray A. Albertson Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures. He directed Harvard’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program from 2010 to 2016. After completing his high school education in Kenya, he attended Harvard College, with a concentration in the Comparative Study of Religion, graduating summa cum laude in 1977. He continued his graduate work at Harvard in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC), receiving his Ph.D. in 1984. Professor Asani holds a joint appointment between the Committee on the Study of Religion and NELC. He also serves on the faculty of the Departments of South Asian Studies and African and African-American Studies. He has taught at Harvard since 1983, offering instruction in a variety of South Asian and African languages and literatures  as well as courses on various aspects of the Islamic tradition including Understanding Islam and Contemporary Muslim Societies;  Religion, Literature and the Arts in Muslim Cultures; Muslim Voices in Contemporary World Literatures; Introduction to Islamic Mysticism (Sufism); Ismaili History and Thought; and Muslim Societies in South Asia: Religion, Culture and Identity.

A specialist of Islam in South Asia, Professor Asani's research focuses on Shia and Sufi devotional traditions in the region. In addition, he studies popular or folk forms of Muslim devotional life, and Muslim communities in the West.  His books include The Bujh Niranjan: An Ismaili Mystical PoemThe Harvard Collection of Ismaili Literature in Indic Literatures: A Descriptive Catalog and Finding AidCelebrating Muhammad: Images of the Prophet in Muslim Devotional Poetry (co-author); Al-Ummah: A Handbook for an Identity Development Program for North American Muslim YouthEcstasy and Enlightenment: The Ismaili Devotional Literatures of South Asia; and Let's Study Urdu: An Introduction to the Urdu Script and Let's Study Urdu: An Introductory Course. In addition, he has published numerous articles in journals and encyclopedias including The Encyclopedia of ReligionThe Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic WorldEncyclopedia of South Asian Folklore, and the Muslim Almanac. He also served on the editorial advisory board of the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World and the Encyclopedia of Islam in the United States.

He was a member of Harvard’s Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging and chaired the Harvard College Working Group on Symbols and Spaces of Engagement charged with examining how campus spaces, symbols, and programming can advance an inclusive learning environment. Professor Asani is recipient of the Harvard Foundation medal for his outstanding contributions to improving intercultural and race relations by improving public understanding of Islam. More recently he was awarded the Petra C. Shattuck prize for excellence in teaching by Harvard's Division of Continuing Education. In 2020 he received the Harvard Foundation Faculty of the Year Award for going above and beyond his responsibilities as a faculty member to make Harvard a more inclusive place.




Contact Information

Harvard University
The Study of Religion
12 Quincy St.
Cambridge MA 02138
p: 617-495-5755
Office Hours: Office Hours: Wednesdays 10am-12pm

Research Areas of Doctoral Students

Methodologies and Approaches