Joel Blecher is a scholar of Islamic history and Islamic thought who is dedicated to understanding the transformations of Islam across long periods of time and space, bringing to light understudied sources in this field, and marshalling his findings in the service of broader questions in the humanities. His research straddles the fields of history and religious studies and is grounded in archives and ethnographic field sites in Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey, and India, as well as various manuscript libraries across Europe and North America.
Prof. Blecher's scholarship has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. He has also worked to expand public discourse on the Islamic world through his engagement with public radio, The Atlantic, and numerous podcasts.
Prof. Blecher's first book, Said the Prophet of God: Hadith Commentary across a Millennium (University of California Press, 2018), explores the rich history of the practice of hadith commentary in the times and places it flourished the most—classical Andalusia, medieval Egypt, and early modern India. Weaving together tales of public debates, high court rivalries, and colonial politics with analyses of ethnographic field notes and fine-grained arguments adorning the margins of manuscripts, this book opens new avenues for scholars who study interpretive traditions over long periods of time and geographical expanses.
He is now preparing his second monograph, Profit & Prophecy: Islam and the Spice Trade (under contract with the University of California Press). At its heart, the book will explore the dynamic and competing visions of Islam that transformed the ethics of global maritime trade prior to the rise of modern capitalism, taking readers on a journey along the spice routes of the long 15th century – traversing the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean – and bringing to life the dilemmas faced by Muslim merchants and scholars who navigated the risks of the spice routes’ moral, economic, and geographic hazards.
He is the translator, along with Mairaj Syed, of the first English translation of the Islamic world’s preeminent meditation on plagues and pandemics: Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani’s Merits of the Plague (Penguin Classics, 2023).
He is also co-editor, with Stefanie Brinkmann, of the first volume of scholarly essays ever published on the key texts and critical themes of hadith commentary across diverse periods, regions, and sects: Hadith Commentary: Continuity and Change (Edinburgh University Press, 2023).
You can read more about Prof. Blecher's work in this feature in GW Magazine.
You can access Prof. Blecher's personal website here.