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. Part of my aim in exploring this tradition is to place it in conversation with the larger history of philosophical and theological approaches to the virtues.

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.

At present, one of my projects is to produce an English translation of the Arabic literary-philosophical work al-Hawāmil wa’l-shawāmil, by the 10th/11th-century thinkers Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī and Miskawayh. This is a project I’m undertaking for the Library of Arabic Literature.


  • 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 an occasional translator of modern Arabic fiction.

Personal website: www.vasalou.net



  • Ibn Taymiyya’s Theological Ethics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015)
  • 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 Mu‘tazilite Ethics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008)

Edited volumes

  • Practices of Wonder: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2012)

Journal articles and book chapters

  • “An ancient virtue and its heirs: the reception of greatness of soul in the Arabic tradition,” Journal of Religious Ethics (in press)
  • “Greatness of spirit: a new virtue for our taxonomies?”, Dialogue (in press)
  • “Ibn Taymiyya’s ethics between Asharite voluntarism and Mutazilite rationalism: a middle road?” in L. Muehlethaler and G. Schwarb, eds., Theological Rationalism in Medieval Islam: New Sources and Perspectives (Leuven: Peeters, in press)
  • “Wonder: toward a grammar,” in S. 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 Mutazilites 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 Mutazilism, or: Mutazilite kalām and the fear of triviality,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, 17 (2007)
  • “The expression of wonderment,” Philosophical Investigations, 30 (2007)
  • “Ijāz,” in K. Versteegh et al., ed., Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics (Leiden: Brill, 2006), vol. 2
  • “Equal before the Law: the evilness of human and divine lies; ‘Abd al-Jabbār’s rational ethics,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, 13 (2003)
  • “The miraculous eloquence of the Qur’ān: general trajectories and individual approaches,” Journal of Qur’anic Studies, 4 (2002)

View all publications in research portal