University of Missouri
College of Arts & Science

Religious Studies Professor Travels Around the World for Research

Nate Hofer, assistant professor of religious studies

Nate Hofer, an assistant professor of religious studies, will spend the next year doing what he loves most—researching and writing. Hofer has been granted funding and research space from the John W. Kluge Center in the Library of Congress and from the AnneMarie Schimmel Kolleg, a center affiliated with the University of Bonn in Germany.

During his time at the Kluge Center, Hofer plans to work on his first book, The Popularization of Sufism in Ayyubid and Early Mamluk Egypt, 1173–1325. Because the center is located in the Library of Congress, residents have easy access to the library’s vast collections, specialized staff, and the intellectual community of Washington, D.C. These resources will be of great help to Hofer as he finishes his book, which looks at the history of the popularization of Sufism in medieval Egypt. In the 12th century there were very few Sufis in Egypt, but by the beginning of the 14th century there were Sufis across the socio-economic spectrum and in every major city and village in Egypt. “There has been no study to date that has tried to explain systematically how and why Sufism became so popular in Egypt,” Hofer says. “It is my hope that the model of popularization I develop in the book will be of use not only to historians of Sufism, but to any historians of religion who study popular movements in a medieval context.” The book is under contract with Edinburgh University Press and will hopefully be published in August 2015.

After spending approximately five months in Washington, D.C., Hofer will travel to Germany to conduct research at the AnneMarie Schimmel Kolleg in Bonn, Germany. The Kolleg is unique because it is the only center of its kind dedicated solely to scholars of the Mamluk era (an Islamic dynasty from 1250 to 1517 in Egypt and Syria). During his time in Bonn, Hofer plans to work on his second book, tentatively titled The Miraculous Lives of Muslims in the Middle Ages.

He will use medieval Arabic hagiography as a tool for writing Islamic history. Monographic hagiography is a genre of medieval writing that recounts a saint’s life through miraculous stories about such things as flying men, talking animals, and hallucinatory visions. Usually, these texts are disregarded when scholars construct histories of the Middle East, but Hofer says, “The detailed social and cultural worlds of many different groups are deeply embedded within these stories. Thus, medieval hagiography, when used in conjunction with other forms of historiography, is, in fact, extraordinarily well suited for writing new forms of history of the Islamic Middle East.”

Hofer also received funding from the University of Missouri Research Board and Research Council. Many of the texts that Hofer will study have not been published, so he will use some of the funds to travel to Cairo and Istanbul to review original manuscripts. Hofer is eager to devote the entire year to his research and welcomes the opportunity to travel, learn, and write.

By Kristi Galloway, College of Arts and Science
July 7, 2014