Caleb Elfenbein


Elfenbein Caleb
Director, Center for the Humanities
Associate Professor

I am an Associate Professor of History and Religious Studies at Grinnell College, where I also direct the Center for the Humanities. Long ago, I graduated from Vassar College with a degree in political science, an education that still informs my work and my life. I have a Masters in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a PhD in religious studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

I am fascinated by how people in different times and places think about human welfare. What does well-being mean? What sources do people use to answer this question? In the context of community, who gets to participate in discussions or debates about the values and goals guiding collective life?

Much of my work has explored these questions in the context of modern colonial and postcolonial Muslim communities. From Egypt to South Asia, I have investigated how the sources and participants in debates about community welfare have changed over time. This has led me to delve into the social theories that informed nineteenth- and twentieth-century European colonial reform efforts and the ways modern Muslim communities responded to these ideas and the policies they inspired. My work in this area has appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, and The Muslim World.

More recently, my exploration of human welfare has broadened to contemporary considerations of the common good in the United States, a shift occasioning more publicly-facing work. Specifically, I am interested in questions relating to anti-Muslim hostility and its effects on American Muslim participation in public life. How does anti-Muslim hostility manifest? How have American Muslims responded? Does anti-Muslim hostility constrain the ability of American Muslims to freely participate in debates concerning the common good? My current project is Mapping Islamophobia, an on-line digital humanities tool presenting interactive, visualized data on Islamophobic incidents and its effects on the participation of American Muslims in public life.



Campus Phone: 
(641) 269-4352
(641) 269-4414


faculty info column 1

On-Campus Address: 
210 Macy House
Grinnell, IA 50112
United States
Education / Degrees: 

PhD, Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara (2009); MTS, Harvard Divinity School (2001); BA, Political Science, Vassar College (1998)

Courses Taught: 

Advanced Topics in Religious Studies; Being Muslim in America; History of the Modern Middle East; Islam in the Modern Era; Islam and Gender; Studying Religion: the Middle East; Traditions of Islam; Sacred and Secular History in the Modern Middle East; Special Topic: Politics of Human Thriving; Special Topic: Religion, Self & Society

Primary Academic Interest: 
Islam; Islam and modernity; colonial history in the modern Middle East; comparative intellectual and colonial history; theories of public life


Unit Head: 
Center for Prairie Studies