Prof. dr. P.M. (Petra) Sijpesteijn

  • Professor of Arabic
  • Islamic history

Telephone number: +31 (0)71 527 2027
Faculty / Department: Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Leiden Institute for Area Studies, SMES APT
Office Address: Witte Singel-complex
Witte Singel 25/M. de Vrieshof 4
2311 BZ Leiden
Room number 1.08a

Office hours

Tuesdays 11-12 during term


My research concentrates on recovering the experience of Muslims and non-Muslims living under Islamic rule, using the vast stores of radically under-used documents surviving from the early Islamic world. Starting from Islam’s crucial first centuries, my work explores the many, varied expressions of Islam from its formation up to the present day.

In my ERC project, 'The Formation of Islam. The view from below' (2009-15) and the monograph that resulted from it, I focused on the intertwined processes of Islam's formation and spread after the Arab conquests of the mid-seventh century. Looking at the transition from the pre-Islamic Byzantine system and its Egyptian variant to an Arab/Muslim state, I examined the extent to which the Arabs built on the ancient societies that preceded them and the innovations they introduced. Recently I have been exploring how to extend this interest to the dynamic historical processes underlying the transition from a conquest society to a lasting Muslim polity in other areas of the Muslim Empire, especially the Iberian peninsula and Central Asia.

Aiming to understand the diversity and unity of the Muslim Empire and its culture, I also work on global interactions and the networks that extended from the Mediterranean into South-East Asia in the pre-modern world and how the Middle East functioned within them. From material culture and archaeology to religious studies, I am interested in how people, objects and ideas travelled throughout this vast area and the changes they brought about.

For more information on current collaborative research projects, see:
Provinces and Empires: Islamic Egypt in the ancient world
Andrew W. Mellon funded Arabic papyri on-line project

Teaching activities

Recent courses include the following:

  • From inkwell to internet: text and transmission in the Muslim world
  • The world of Sheherazade: daily life in medieval Baghdad
  • Migration of people, objects and ideas in the Muslim world
  • Historiography of early Islam
  • Arabic papyrology


Petra Sijpesteijn studied history and Arabic at Leiden University (MA), the University of Damascus, Cambridge University, Cornell University, and Princeton University (MA, PhD), where she defended her dissertation in Near Eastern Studies in 2004, being awarded the department’s annual prize for best thesis. She was a junior research fellow in Oriental Studies at Christ Church, Oxford (2003-2007), before moving to the CNRS in Paris as a chargée de recherche. In 2008 she was appointed full professor on the chair of Arabic language and culture. In 2007 she was awarded a Starter’s Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). She was the founding president of the International Society for Arabic Papyrology (2001-2014) and the Andrew H. Mellon research fellow in the papyrus digitisation and cataloguing project at the Austrian National Library (2013-14). She has held visiting professorships at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences-Sociales (EHESS), Paris, University College London Qatar, and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. Since 2014 Petra Sijpesteijn has been the director of the Leiden Center for the Study of Islam and Society (LUCIS). She speaks regularly on the radio and in public fora on issues in Islamic history and Middle Eastern current affairs.

Key publications

Last Modified: 11-12-2015