Aaron Rock-Singer

Position title: Assistant Professor

Email: rocksinger@wisc.edu

Phone: 608.263.1848

Office: 4118 Mosse Humanities Building
Mailbox: 4008 Mosse Humanities Building
Office Hours: By appointment (Zoom)

Aaron Rock-Singer


I am a historian of the modern Middle East, with a research focus on 20th century Islamic movements and states. I use the tools of social and intellectual history to trace the emergence and performance of particular projects of piety and, more broadly, the ways in which men and women employ their bodies to challenge the prescriptive visions of religious elites to regulate daily practice. In my first book, Practicing Islam in Egypt: Print Media and Islamic Revival (Cambridge, 2019), I drew on ideologically diverse Islamic magazines from this period to chart the rise of an Islamic Revival in 1970s Egypt within a larger global story of religious contestation and change.

My second book, entitled In the Shade of the Sunna: Salafi Piety in the Twentieth-Century Middle East, is forthcoming from the University of California Press. This study explores Islam’s fastest growing movement through a transnational lens with a particular emphasis on Egypt. Moving beyond a focus on specific organizations or commitment to the boundaries of particular nation states, it traces the emergence and consolidation of distinctly Salafi social practices between 1926 and present. To do so, it draws on over 150,000 pages of Salafi print media found in traditional archives, used-book markets and contemporary Salafi websites. Based on these sources, it explores the development of particular practices as a lens to understanding Salafism’s internal dynamics of authority, its relationship to Secularism and Islamism, and the unacknowledged reinvention of the Sunna by pious Muslims in the modern period. Threaded throughout the project is an argument that Purist Salafism’s defining practices can only be understood within a global story of the distinctly performative demands of modern visions of gender, communal membership, and piety. Alongside careful analysis of the texts that Salafis hold dear, the project tells a story of how and why precise religious practice becomes a measure of faith and of how the signifying purpose of particular practices to other Muslims and non-Muslims alike comes to exceed and even overshadow their ethical function


Ph.D., Princeton University
M.Phil, St. Antony’s College, Oxford
B.A., University of Pennsylvania


Selected Publications

  • “The Rise of Islamic Society: Social Change, State Power and Historical Imagination,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 64:4 (August 2022), 994-1023.
  • “Practices of Piety: An Alternative Approach to the Study of Islamic Movements, Religions 11:10 (2020), 1-15 (Part of a special issue, “Political Islam in World Politics”).
  • “Leading with a Fist: A History of the Salafi Beard in the 20th-Century Middle East,” Islamic Law and Society 27:1-2 (2020), 83-110.
  • “Reading the Ads in al-Daʿwa Magazine: Commercialism and Islamist Activism in al-Sadat’s Egypt,” The British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. Published online 27 September 2018 (With Steven Brooke)
  • “Censoring the Kishkophone: Religion and State Power in Mubarak’s Egypt,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 49:3 (July 2017), 437-56.
  • “Scholarly Authority and Lay Mobilization: Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s Vision of Daʿwa, 1976-1984,” The Muslim World 106:3 (July 2016), 588-604.
  • “The Salafi Mystique: The Rise of Gender Segregation in 1970s Egypt,” Islamic Law and Society 23:3 (June 2016), 279-305
  • “Prayer and the Islamic Revival: a Timely Challenge,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 48:2 (April 2016), 293-312.
  • “A Pious Public: Islamic Magazines and Revival in Egypt, 1976-1981,” The British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 42:4 (2015), 427-46.
  • “Amr Khaled: From Daʿwa to Political and Religious Leadership,” The British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 37:1 (2010), 15-37.

History Courses