Paul Powers

Associate Professor of Religious Studies

John R. Howard Hall 222, MSC: 45

Paul Powers teaches a range of courses about Islam and Religious Studies. His courses include “Islamic Origins,” “Islam in the Modern World,” “Religion and Violence,” “Religious Fundamentalism,” “Sufism: Islamic Mysticism,” and a seminar on Islamic law. Many of these courses explore theoretical and methodological questions about the nature and study of religion, as well as gender-related issues and questions about the nature of “modernity.”

Academic Credentials

PhD 2001 University of Chicago Divinity School, History of Religions/Islamic Studies

MA 1992 University of Chicago Divinity School, BA 1990 Carleton College


Fall 2020 Courses:

RELS 201: History and Theory
MWF 1:00PM - 2:00PM

History of the field. Psychological, literary,
anthropological, sociological, and historical
approaches to the study of religion. Readings by
major theorists. Should normally be taken no later
than the junior year.

Prerequisites: None.

RELS 274: Islam in the Modern World
TTH 2:10PM - 3:40PM

The religious, social, and political dynamics of
the Islamic world, circa 1300 C.E. to present,
especially the 19th through 21st centuries.
Earlier developments (e.g., the Qur’an, Muhammad,
Muslim dynasties) considered in relation to the
modern context. European colonialism, postcolonial change, reform and “fundamentalist” movements, Sufism, Muslim views of “modernity,” and changing understandings of politics, gender, and relations with non-Muslims.

Prerequisites: None.

RELS 453: Seminar: Islamic Law
TTH 9:55AM - 11:25AM

The religio-legal traditions of Islam, the efforts
to develop a comprehensive set of behavior guides
derived from the Qur’an, the exemplary behavior of
the Prophet, and other sources. Topics include
legal history; efforts at modernization and
reform; the formation of the major schools of law;
legal theory and methods for deriving rules from
sacred texts; the rules of ritual, civil, and
criminal law; political theory; adjudication and
court procedure; Islamic law and the colonial
encounter; legal expressions of gender roles; and
historical case studies.

Prerequisites: RELS 273 or RELS 274.

Restrictions: Sophomore standing required.


Prof. Powers’ research interests focus on pre-modern Islam, especially Islamic law. He has published articles in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, the Journal of Religion and Violence, and Islamic Law and Society, and has contributed chapters to several volumes in Islamic legal studies. HIs first book, Intent in Islamic law: Motive and Meaning in Medieval Sunni Fiqh (Brill, 2006), explores how Islamic law deals with human subjective states. 

His latest article is “Territory is Not Map: Deterritorialisation, Mere Religion, and the Islamic State,” forthcoming in the Journal of Religion and Violence.

Prof. Powers is currently at work on a book tentatively titled Religion and Violence: A Religious Studies Approach. This project explores the relevance of classic religious studies theories for increasing our understanding of the relationship between religion and violence.

He has traveled extensively in the Muslim world, including Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Morocco, and India. 

Location: J.R. Howard Hall