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

Dr Sophia Vasalou

Department of Theology and Religion
Birmingham Fellow in 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

I'm happy to supervise students in any of my research areas, and I welcome inquiries about projects in the broader areas of Islamic ethics and theology, philosophical and theological ethics, and philosophy of religion.

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: www.vasalou.net



  • Virtues of Greatness in the Arabic Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019.
  • Ibn Taymiyya’s Theological Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • Wonder: A Grammar. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2015.
  • Schopenhauer and the Aesthetic Standpoint: Philosophy as a Practice of the Sublime. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
  • Moral Agents and their Deserts: The Character of Muʿtazilite Ethics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008.

Edited volumes

  • The Measure of Greatness: Philosophers on Magnanimity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019.
  • Practices of Wonder: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2012.

Journal articles and book chapters           

  • “Virtue and the Law in al-Ghazālī’s Ethics.” In Sebastian Günther and Yassir El Jamouhi, eds., Islamic Ethics as Educational Discourse: Thought and Impact of the Classical Muslim Thinker Miskawayh. Tübingen: Mehr Siebeck, forthcoming.
  • “Philosophical Arguments and the Experience of Cosmic Wonder.” In Anders Schinkel, ed., Wonder, Education, and Human Flourishing. Amsterdam: VU University Press, forthcoming.
  • “Counting the Minutes: Productivity and the Well-Lived Day between Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī and Benjamin Franklin.” Renovatio, forthcoming.
  • “Admiration, Emulation, and the Description of Character.” Journal of Aesthetic Education, forthcoming.
  • “Humility in the Islamic Tradition.” In Mark Alfano, Michael Lynch, and Alexandra Tanesini, eds., The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Humility. Abingdon: Routledge, forthcoming.
  • “Greatness of Spirit in the Arabic Tradition.” In Sophia Vasalou, ed., The Measure of Greatness: Philosophers on Magnanimity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019.
  • “To See the World for the First Time.” Renovatio 3:1 (2019).
  • “Ibn Taymiyya’s Ethics Between Ashʿarite Voluntarism and Muʿtazilite Rationalism: A Middle Road?” In Lukas Muehlethaler, Gregor Schwarb, and Sabine Schmidtke, eds., Theological Rationalism in Medieval Islam: New Sources and Perspectives. Leuven: Peeters, 2018.
  • “Virtue, Human and Divine.” Renovatio 2:1 (2018).
  • “Greatness of Spirit: A New Virtue for Our Taxonomies?” Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review 56 (2017).
  • “An Ancient Virtue and its Heirs: The Reception of Greatness of Soul in the Arabic Tradition.” Journal of Religious Ethics 45 (2017).
  • “Wonder: Toward a Grammar.” In Sophia Vasalou, ed., Practices of Wonder: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2012.
  • “Educating Virtue as a Mastery of Language.” Journal of Ethics 16 (2012).
  • “‘Their Intention Was Shown in Their Bodily Movements’: The Baṣran Muʿtazilites on the Institution of Language.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 47 (2009).
  • “‘The Mind as an Object of God’s Knowledge’: Another Cartesian Temptation?” Philosophical  Investigations 32 (2009).
  • “Personal Identity as a Task.” Inquiry 51 (2008).
  • “Subject and Body in Baṣran Muʿtazilism, or: Muʿtazilite Kalām and the Fear of Triviality.” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 17 (2007).
  • “The Expression of Wonderment.” Philosophical Investigations 30 (2007).
  • “Iʿjāz.” In Kees Versteegh et al., eds., Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, vol. 2. Leiden: Brill, 2006.
  • “Equal Before the Law: The Evilness of Human and Divine lies—ʿAbd al-Jabbār’s Rational Ethics.” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 13 (2003).
  • “The Miraculous Eloquence of the Qurʾān: General Trajectories and Individual Approaches.” Journal of Qur’anic Studies 4 (2002).


  • (With James E. Montgomery) Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī and Abū ʿAlī Miskawayh, The Philosopher Responds: An Intellectual Correspondence From the Tenth Century. New York: New York University Press, 2019. 2 volumes.
  • Ismail Fahd Ismail, The Old Woman and the River. Northampton: Interlink Books, 2019.

View all publications in research portal