Denise Spellberg

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Denise A. Spellberg
Denise spellburg 3925.JPG
Born Circa 1958
Occupation Educator, academic
Nationality American
Alma mater Smith College;
Columbia University

Denise A. Spellberg (born c. 1958) is an American scholar of Islamic history. She is an associate professor of history and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Spellberg holds a BA from Smith College (1980) and a PhD (1989) from Columbia University.

Academic work[edit]

Spellberg is the author of Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of 'A'isha Bint Abi Bakr, a widely cited work on the portrayal of Aisha in Islamic tradition. In particular, Spellberg shows how later commentators reinterpreted Aisha's role at the Battle of Camel (656,) where she rode her camel into battle against Ali but stayed inside the howdah on its back with the curtains closed, as an argument that women should never participate in public affairs.[1][2]

The Jewel of Medina[edit]

In 2008 Spellberg was involved in a controversy over Sherry Jones' historical novel The Jewel of Medina. Random House, which intended to publish the novel later that year, had sent Spellberg galley proofs, hoping for a publishable comment. Spellberg sharply criticized the novel from a historical perspective, and also reportedly told Random House publishing the book might result in violence by radical Muslims. Subsequently, Random House indefinitely postponed publication, citing concerns about violence from extremists.[3]

Asra Nomani wrote about the events in an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal, in which she characterized Spellberg as "the instigator of the trouble".[3] In the wake of Nomani's article, a number of publications printed pieces criticizing Spellberg's actions as tantamount to advocating censorship.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11]

Spellberg responded in the Wall Street Journal, contesting Nomani's characterization of her as the "instigator" of the book's cancellation. She wrote that she was not advocating censorship, but rather offering her professional assessment of the book and a warning about the potential reaction from some Muslims, stating "I felt it was my professional responsibility to counter this novel's fallacious representation of a very real woman's life."[12][13][13]

Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders[edit]

In 2013, Spellberg published Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders. The book discusses a copy of the Qur'an owned by Thomas Jefferson as well as Jefferson's views on Islam, arguing that his vision for religious freedom in the United States specifically included Muslims.[14]


  • Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of 'A'isha Bint Abi Bakr. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
  • Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders, New York: Knopf, October 1, 2013; ISBN 978-0307268228


  1. ^ James E. Lindsay, Daily Life in the Medieval Islamic World (2005), p. 68
  2. ^ Kate E. Tunstall, Displacement, Asylum, Migration: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures, p. 310 (2006)Oxford University Press[ISBN missing]
  3. ^ a b Nomani, Asra Q. (2008-08-06). "You Still Can't Write About Mohammad". The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company. Retrieved 2008-08-09. 
  4. ^ "Random Error" (editorial), Washington Post, August 22, 2008.
  5. ^ "The Triumph of Threats" (editorial), Jyllands-Posten (translation into English by Gates of Vienna blog), August 22, 2008
  6. ^ "The triumph of threats",, August 2008; accessed December 9, 2014.
  7. ^ Bob Hoover, "Censorship Never Goes Out of Style", The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 31, 2008 [1]
  8. ^ "Islamic Intimidation Trumps Liberty Again, Extremists need not make a single threat to silence writers" (editorial), Las Vegas Review-Journal, August 25, 2008 [2]
  9. ^ Irshad Manji, "Pre-emptive Censorship is Offensive to Muslims", The Globe and Mail, August 22, 2008 [3]
  10. ^ Adam Kirsch, "Freedom's Gift to Religion", New York Sun, August 26, 2008 [4]
  11. ^ Carlin Romano, "'The Jewel of Medina': Anatomy of a Ruckus", The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 19, 2008 [5]
  12. ^ Spellberg, Denise (2008-08-09). "I Didn't Kill 'The Jewel of Medina'". The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company. Retrieved 2008-08-09. 
  13. ^ a b Edward Nawotka,"UT professor's complaints lead to cancellation of book about Muhammad's wife", The Austin American-Statesman, August 13, 2008; accessed December 9, 2014.
  14. ^ "The Surprising Story Of 'Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an'",, October 12, 2013.