Caitlyn Olson


Associate Faculty Member

Faculty / College Address:

The Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies



I am a historian of the Maghrib – Morocco in particular – during the early modern period, meaning the 15th-18th centuries. Increasingly, I am also interested in the circulation of ideas, people, and practices between the Maghrib, the Sahel, and West Africa. My current book project, “Creed for the Common Folk,” focuses on disputes among elite theologians about whether and how they ought to intervene in the creedal knowledge of the broader Muslim populace and explores the place of orthodoxy in the ongoing process of Islamization. Research for the project took me to more than a dozen manuscript libraries in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

Previously, I was a postdoctoral fellow at NYU Abu Dhabi, and I earned my PhD from Harvard’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations in 2020. I have a BA in Religion, with a minor in Spanish, from Middlebury College.

Research Interests:

Islamic theology and creed
Islamic education beyond the elite
History of the Maghrib, the Sahel, and West Africa
Periodization; the question of an Islamic early modernity

Current Projects:

Book project: “Creed for the Common Folk: Ensuring Orthodoxy in the Early Modern Maghrib”

Courses Taught:

Islamic History and Culture (BA)
Islamic History (BA)
Islamic History (MPhil)
Topics in the History of the Islamic West (MPhil)
Topics in the History of Islamic Popular Religion (BA)

Recent Publications:

“Beyond the Avicennian Turn: The Creeds of Muḥammad b. Yūsuf al-Sanūsī (d. 895/1490).” Studia Islamica 115, no. 1 (2020): 101-140.

Caitlyn Olson