Elias I. Muhanna Manning Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature

Elias Muhanna is a scholar of classical Arabic literature and Islamic intellectual history at Brown University. His research focuses primarily on encyclopedic texts in the Islamic world and Europe, the cultural production of the Mamluk Empire, and the problem of the vernacular in different literary traditions.

Muhanna earned his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations from Harvard University in 2012. He was a Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies in 2015-16, and is currently a Faculty Fellow of the Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs at Brown. In 2017-18, he will be a Whiting Foundation Public Engagement Fellow.

Muhanna has published two books: a selected translation of Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri's 14th-century Arabic compendium, The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition (Penguin, 2016), and an edited volume, The Digital Humanities and Islamic & Middle East Studies (De Gruyter, 2016). Muhanna's monograph The World in a Book: al-Nuwayri and the Islamic Encyclopedic Tradition is forthcoming from Princeton University Press in 2017. He is the creator of the Digital Islamic Humanities Project at Brown, a multi-year initiative that convenes an annual conference and hosts a variety of research activities. 

In addition to his scholarship, Muhanna writes frequently for the mainstream press. He is a contributing writer for The New Yorker's online edition, and his essays and criticism have appeared in The New York TimesThe Nation, and other periodicals.

For a list of selected publications, see here. For media inquiries, please contact me at my email address.

Brown Affiliations

Research Areas

scholarly work


The World in a Book: al-Nuwayri and the Islamic Encyclopedic Tradition (Princeton University Press, forthcoming November 2017)

The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition (New York: Penguin, 2016)

The Digital Humanities and Islamic & Middle East Studies (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016)


“The Art of Copying: Mamluk Manuscript Culture in Theory and Practice.” In “In the Author’s Hand”: Holograph and Authorial Manuscripts in the Islamic

Handwritten Tradition. Edited by Frédéric Bauden and Élise Franssen. (In press, forthcoming 2017)

"The Scattered and the Gathered: Questioning Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi.” In Essays in Islamic Philology, History, and Philosophyedited by Alireza Korangy, Roy P. Mottahedeh, Wheeler Thackston, and William Granara. (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016).

"Islamic & Middle East Studies and the Digital Turn." In The Digital Humanities and Islamic & Middle East Studies. Edited by Elias Muhanna (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016).

"Encyclopaedias, Arabic," Encyclopaedia of Islam Three, (Leiden: Brill, 2015)

"Why was the 14th Century a Century of Arabic Encyclopaedism?" In Encyclopaedias and Encyclopaedism from Antiquity to the Renaissance. Edited by Jason König and Greg Woolf. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

"Establishing a Lebanese Senate: Bicameralism and the Third Republic." Stanford University Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law Working Papers Series, no. 125. August 2012.

"The Sultan's New Clothes: Ottoman-Mamluk Gift Exchange in the 15th Century." Muqarnas 27 (2010): 189-207.

"Ilyâs al-Mawsilî." In Essays in Arabic Literary Biography, c. 1350-1830. Edited by J. Lowry & D. Stewart. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 2009.

"Folk the Kasbah," Transition, no. 94 (2003), pp. 132-49.