Fred Donner

Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago

Portrait of Fred Donner

Fred M. Donner is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern History in The Oriental Institute and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, where he taught from 1982 to 2020. Donner is an historian whose has made significant contributions to our understanding of the origins of Islam and early Islamic history. In his first book, The Early Islamic Conquests (Princeton, 1981), Donner demonstrates that the early Islamic conquests were the result of a well-planned and well-executed state policy. In Narratives of Islamic Origins (Darwin Press, 1981), Donner investigates the early development of Islamic historical writing and argues that this historical interest developed out of a need to articulate an identity separate from that of other religious communities. His most recent book, Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam (Harvard University Press, 2010), presents a unique vision of how Islam first evolved: the early Islamic movement created by the Prophet Muhammad was one that actively included Jews and Christians as part of a general monotheistic community, but after Muhammad’s death a new generation decided that only those who saw the Quran as the final revelation were Muslim. In recent years he has turned to the study of documentary sources for early Islamic history, particularly Arabic papyri. He was educated at Princeton University, where he earned his A. B. in Oriental Studies (1968) and his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies (1975), and at the Friedrich-Alexander Universität in Erlangen, Germany (1970–71). He taught at Yale University from 1975 to 1982; was President of the Middle East Studies Association, Middle East Medievalists, and the International Qur’anic Studies Association; and is a life foreign member of the Scientific Committee of the Tunisian Academy of Sciences, Letters and Arts “Bayt al-Hikma”. His work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy in Berlin, the American Council of Learned Societies, and Stanford Humanities Center.

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