Date of Award

Spring 5-18-2018

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures

Additional Affiliations

A.M. in Islamic and Near Eastern Studies

Degree Name

Master of Arts (AM/MA)

Degree Type



This project explores the polemical/apologetic texts of ‘Alī al-Ṭabarī, a 9th century convert from Christianity to Islam. Raised in a Nestorian (East Syrian) Christian family and educated in medicine, this figure served as a court physician under the 'Abbāsid Empire for much of his life. Reportedly, around the age of 70 he denounced his childhood faith and converted to Islam. Following this conversion, he composed "The Refutation of the Christians" and the "Book of Religion and Empire". In this first text, he lays out his grievances against Christianity. These include not only philosophical critiques of Christian doctrine, but also arguments against the scriptural (biblical) groundedness of these doctrines. In the second text, he explains and justifies his conversion to Islam by demonstrating the authenticity of Muḥammad's prophethood and the divine sanction of the empire that Muḥammad founded. These arguments rely largely on biblical testimonies to the prophethood of Muḥammad.

In my analysis of these two texts, I explore the connection between this author's polemical/apologetic arguments and his religious conversion. As I argue, the religious changes experienced by this figure are expressed through a number of intellectual discourses relevant in this his day and age: rationality, scriptural falsification, proofs of prophethood, and readings of apocalyptic texts. By analyzing the way that ‘Alī al-Ṭabarī's religious texts engage in each of these discourses, I demonstrate the contextual nature of religious conversion: more than a mere change of internal orientation, religious conversion is mediated through external institutions and discourses.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Dr. Hayrettin Yücesoy

Committee Members

Dr. Martin Jacobs Dr. Aria Nakissa


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