Dr Sophia Vasalou BA (Hons) (London), MA (London), PhD (Cantab)

Dr Sophia Vasalou

Department of Theology and Religion
Associate Professor of Philosophical Theology

Contact details

Room 251
School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion
ERI Building
University of Birmingham
Birmingham, B15 2TT

My work spans a number of areas and a number of themes. As a researcher in Islamic theology, my main interests lie in ethics, particularly forms of Islamic ethics with a strong rationalist edge. My early work on the Mu’tazilites was followed by more recent work on the ethical thought of the Hanbalite theologian Ibn Taymiyya. My current research focuses on the development of the virtues in the Islamic intellectual tradition, taking al-Ghazālī as a linchpin figure. One of my aims in engaging with this tradition is to place it in conversation with the larger history of philosophical and theological approaches to the virtues. As part of this ambition, I recently led a collective project that explored the intellectual history of the virtue of magnanimity or greatness of soul.

Outside Islamic ethics, I have been interested in the complex phenomenon of wonder and the many conceptual threads that meet on its grounds -- intellectual, spiritual, ethical, aesthetic. This is the prism through which I have approached the philosophy of Schopenhauer and engaged with its aesthetic and ethical dimensions.


  • BA (Hons) in Arabic, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
  • MA in Islamic Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
  • PhD in Islamic theology, Faculty of Divinity/St John’s College, University of Cambridge


After completing my PhD in Cambridge in 2006, I was a junior research fellow at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge for four years (2005-08, 2011) and a post-doctoral teaching fellow on the interdisciplinary programme of the European College of Liberal Arts in Berlin, now Bard College Berlin (2009-10). This was followed by research fellowships at Orient Institut Beirut (2012), Oxford Brookes University (2013-14), and New York University Abu Dhabi as part of the Library of Arabic Literature project (2015).

Postgraduate supervision

Find out more - our PhD Theology and Religion  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


My current research interests include:

  • Islamic ethics
  • Philosophical and theological approaches to the virtues
  • Philosophy of religion, esp. the relationship between morality and religion, the problem of evil
  • Schopenhauer; pessimism, the problem of suffering
  • Wonder; the emotions

Other activities

In my spare time I’m also a translator of modern Arabic fiction.

Personal website: http://vasalou.weebly.com/


Recent publications


Vasalou, S 2021, Al-Ghazali and the idea of moral beauty. 1 edn, Routledge.

Vasalou, S 2019, Virtues of Greatness in the Arabic Tradition. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780198842828.001.0001

Vasalou, S 2015, Ibn Taymiyya's Theological Ethics. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199397839.001.0001


Vasalou, S 2022, 'Ethics as medicine: moral therapy, expertise, and practical reasoning in al-Ghazālī’s ethics', Archiv fur Geschichte der Philosophie, vol. 104, no. 3, pp. 468–508. https://doi.org/10.1515/agph-2020-5006

Vasalou, S 2020, 'Admiration, emulation, and the description of character', Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 54, no. 3, pp. 47-69. https://doi.org/10.5406/jaesteduc.54.3.0047

Vasalou, S 2017, 'An ancient virtue and its heirs: the reception of greatness of soul in the Arabic tradition', Journal of Religious Ethics, vol. 45, no. 4, pp. 688–731. https://doi.org/10.1111/jore.12197

Vasalou, S 2017, 'Greatness of Spirit: A New Virtue for our Taxonomies?', Dialogue: Canadian Philosophy Review, vol. 56, no. 2, pp. 291-316. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0012217317000324

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Vasalou, S 2021, Exemplars in Islamic ethics. in M Shah (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Ethics. Oxford University Press.

Vasalou, S 2019, Greatness of Spirit in the Arabic Tradition. in The Measure of Greatness: Philosophers on Magnanimity. Oxford University Press.

Vasalou, S 2019, Humility in the Islamic Tradition. in M Alfano, M Lynch & A Tanesini (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Humility. Routledge.

Vasalou, S 2019, Virtue and the Law in al-Ghazālī’s Ethics. in S Guenther & Y El Jamouhi (eds), Islamic Ethics as Educational Discourse: Thought and Impact of the Classical Muslim Thinker Miskawayh. Mohr Siebeck: Tübingen.


Vasalou, S 2020, Does al-Ghazālī Have a Theory of Virtue? in B Orfali, A Khalil & M Rustom (eds), Mysticism and Ethics in Islam. American University of Beirut.

Vasalou, S 2019, Philosophical Arguments and the Experience of Cosmic Wonder. in A Schinkel (ed.), Wonder, Education, and Human Flourishing. VU University Press, Amsterdam.


Vasalou, S 2019, The Measure of Greatness: Philosophers on Magnanimity. Oxford University Press.

Other report

Vasalou, S 2019, The Philosopher Responds: An Intellectual Correspondence From the Tenth Century. New York University Press.

View all publications in research portal