Dr. Ali A Olomi is a historian of the Middle East and Islam researching, writing, and publishing on medieval and modern Muslim thought. He studies how Muslims imagined the “Islamic world” at the intersection of religion, science, and empire. He works on how Muslims in the premodern and modern world deployed the concept of homeland to etch the borders of empire, construct collective identity, and imagine the other. Dr. Olomi's research examines the Muslim imagination of the monstrous through the djinn/jinn, the early history of astronomy and its role in empire-building, and Islamic apocalypticism and cosmology. He has an interest in the deep roots of nationalism, the histories of science and rationality, Islamism, gender and sexuality, and the tension between global religious community and local identity. He has additional research and teaching interests in world history, critical theory, the global south, historiography, folklore, and mysticism.
In his teaching, he combine research-based critical pedagogy with digital technologies.
University of California, Irvine: Ph.D., History 2019
University of California, Irvine: M.A., History 2014
University of California, Los Angeles: B.A., History 2011
Areas of Expertise (10)
Middle East Comparative Politics
History of Science
History of Imperialism and Colonialism
Gender and Sexuality
Zarrinkelk Family Fellowship
Humanities Commons Research Grant
2017 - 2018
Faculty Summer Research Grant, PSU
- American Historical Association : Member
- Middle East Studies Association : Member
- American Academy of Religion : Member
- Association for Iranian Studies : Member
Media Appearances (5)
Afghan girls, faraway relatives worry over dreams disrupted
The Taliban is “taking their personal, unique interpretation of Islamic law and fusing it with their cultural understanding of women’s rights and women’s access to the public sphere,” says Ali A. Olomi, an assistant professor of Islamic and Middle East history at Penn State University, Abington, stressing that Islam strongly encourages education.
Origins of the Taliban and what their history tells us about takeover of Afghanistan – podcast
The Conversation online
For Ali Olomi, those people surprised by the Taliban’s quick takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, were only surprised because they “don’t know the history”. Olomi, assistant professor of history at Penn State Abington in the US, says a failure to understand the past 40 years of Afghan history led to “massive blunders” after the US-led invasion in 2001. And it’s this history that can help explain what may happen next in Afghanistan.
The history of US intervention in Afghanistan, from the Cold War to 9/11
I recently spoke with Ali A. Olomi, a historian of the Middle East and Islam at Penn State Abington, about the long, storied history of US meddling in Afghanistan and how it has shaped the country and people’s lives there. Olomi, who is the host of the podcast Head on History, discussed the US’s funding of some factions of the mujahedeen, or Afghan guerrilla fighters, during the 1970s and ’80s; America’s rolling reasoning for its involvement in Afghanistan post-2001; and whether the US, even without soldiers present, is really gone.
Afghans chant ‘Allahu Akbar’ in defiant protests against Taliban
Al Jazeera online
Ali A Olomi, an Afghan-American professor of the History of the Middle East and Islam, said the fact that the people chose “Allahu Akbar” as their cry of defiance to the Taliban is especially profound. “It is a declaration that God, no matter the circumstances whether in victory, or defeat, is greater than any and all. It is a cry of defiance when facing an overwhelming oppressor, or experiencing the vicissitudes of persecution,” he told Al Jazeera.
Saturn and Jupiter are Just Showing Off
“From time immemorial, people have looked to the stars to help them explain the chaos of their present and the uncertainty of their future,” Ali A. Olomi, a history professor at Penn State who has studied how early observers thought about planetary conjunctions, told me.”
The Modern Middle East: The State, Citizen, and Society