Joel Blecher Assistant Professor of Religion and Adjunct Professor of Law

Joel Blecher

Baker 205


  • Ph.D. in Religion, Princeton University, 2013
  • M.A. in Religion, Princeton University, 2010
  • B.A. in Religion with a minor in Political Science, high honors, Swarthmore College, 2004


Research Interests:
Hadith and Hadith Commentary; Islamic Law and Society; Scriptural Hermeneutics; Transmission of Religious Knowledge from Andalusia to the Indian Ocean; Manuscript and Print Reading Cultures; Salafism; Secularism, Race and Ethnicity in Islamic Societies

Current Research:
How did social forces and ideas come together to preserve and transform the way that traditions attributed to Muhammad were interpreted across the Muslim world over the last millennium? My current book project addresses this question by touring the everyday life and exegetical stakes of interpreting Prophetic traditions in Muslim reading communities in Classical Andalusia, Medieval Egypt and Modern India. The central case study of the project is the commentary tradition on the Sahih, al-Bukhari’s 9th-century collection of “sound” traditions. For Sunnis, the prestige of this work is second only to the Qur’an, and has served, alongside other collections of traditions, as both a foundation and a summit of religious and legal education. Commentary on the Sahih, I argue, could serve as a vibrant, public and political spectacle in which commentators competed for social and material rewards in their day-to-day lives. But it was also a medium in which interpreters developed novel strategies to defend and renew nuanced legal, theological and scholarly commitments across long periods of time. By reframing textual interpretation as a social practice that functions within and across time, this project not only offers new avenues for scholars of Islamic studies, but also speaks to broader concerns within the study of religion, cultural history, and intellectual history.


Introduction to Islam; Islamic Civilization; The Qur’an; Prophetic Traditions; Islamic Law; Islamic Political Thought; Islam and Gender; Islamic Mysticism.

Selected Publications

Peer Reviewed Articles:

"Hadith Commentary in the Presence of Students, Patrons, and Rivals: Ibn Hajar and Sahih al-Bukhari in Mamluk Cairo." Oriens 41, no. 3-4 (2013): 261-287.

“Hadith Commentary.” Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies. Ed. Andrew Rippin. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming.

Peer Reviewed Book Chapters:

“Overlooking Race and Secularism in Muslim Philadelphia.” Race and Secularism in America. Eds. Vincent Lloyd and Jonathan S. Kahn. New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming.

“Pedagogy and the Digital Humanities: Undergraduate Exploration into the Transmission of Early Islamic Law.” The Digital Humanities and Islamic & Middle East Studies. Ed. Elias Muhanna. Berlin: De Gruyter, forthcoming.


"Review of Women and the Transmission of Knowledge in Islam, by Asma Sayeed." Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 74, no. 1 (2015): 172-174.