Associate Professor Contact Areas of Interest
Department for the Study of Religion
170 St George Street, Room 329
t: 416-978-6217
  • Shi’ism, Islam, South Asia
  • Islam and material culture studies
  • Hagiography, ritual
  • South Asia, Iran
  • Indian Ocean studies
  • Religion, gender, and theories of the body


Karen Ruffle specializes in Indo-Persian Shiʿism. Her research and teaching interests focus on devotional texts, ritual practice, and Shiʿi material practices in South Asia. She has conducted field research in India, Pakistan, Iran, and Syria. Ruffle obtained her BA in Religion from Middlebury College and her MA and PhD in Religious Studies with a specialization in Islamic studies from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Her first book, Gender, Sainthood, and Everyday Practice in South Asian Shi’ism, was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2011. Recent publications focus on Fatimah al-Zahra’s exceptional embodiment in Shiʿi hagiographical narratives; devotional literature and ritual practices in South Asia that centre on Fatimah; and Urdu didactic hagiographical narratives focusing on the special father-daughter relationship between the Prophet Muhammad and Fatimah. Ruffle’s most current publications focus on issues of Shiʿi material practices and the ritual performance of self-flagellation (matam). She is currently working on her second book, tentatively titled Somatic Shiʿism: The Body in Deccani Shiʿi Material Religion and Ritual Practice.

Curriculum Vitae

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Primary Teaching

  • Islamicate Material Culture
  • Indian Ocean Religious Networks
  • Sex and Gender in South Asian Religions

Selected Publications

“Wounds of Devotion: Re-Conceiving Mātam in Shiʿi Islam.” History of Religions 55:2 (November 2015) forthcoming.

“Shiʿi Diasporas.” In The Shiʿa World, edited by Farhad Daftary, Shainool Jiwa and Amyn Sajoo. Muslim Heritage Series. London: I.B. Tauris. Co-authored with Zulfikar Hirji. Forthcoming.

“Presence in Absence: Relics and Their Role in Ḥaidarābādī Shīʿism.” Iran Nameh. Special issue on Indo-Persian Islam in the Deccan, edited by Firoozeh Papan-Matin (in Persian) forthcoming fall 2014.

“An Even Better Creation: The Role of Adam and Eve in Shiʿi Narratives about Fatimah al-Zahra.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 81:3 (September 2013): 791-813.

“Islam: Beliefs and Practices.” In South Asian Religions: Tradition and Today, edited by Karen Pechilis and Selva J. Raj. New York: Routledge, 2012. 193-221.

Gender, Sainthood, and Everyday Practice in South Asian Shiʿism. Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks Series. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. 240 pp.

“May You Learn from Their Model: The Exemplary Father-Daughter Relationship of Mohammad and Fatima in South Asian Shiʿism.” Journal of Persianate Studies 4:1 (2011): 12-29.

“Karbala in the Indo-Persian Imaginaire: The Marriage of Qasem and Fatimah Kubra in Mir ʿAlam’s Dah Majlis.” In Islam in the Indo-Iranian World during the Modern Epoch, 1500-1900, edited by Fabrizio Speziale and Denis Hermann. Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 2010. 181-200.

Research Awards (2011-2014)

Association for the Study of Persianate Studies/Maulana Azad National Urdu University Visiting Scholar Fellowship, “Somatic Shiʿism: The Body in Deccani Material and Ritual Practice,” 2014.

Jackman Humanities Institute Arts Program Grant, “Gender in Wonderland: Rhys Ernst and Zackary Drucker on the Art and Play of Gender in ‘Relationship’ and She Gone Rogue” (co-applicant: Elspeth Brown), 2014.

Jackman Humanities Institute Working Group Grant, “Religious Materiality in the Indian Ocean World, 1300-1800” (co-applicants: Ajay Rao, Walid Saleh, Nhung Tuyet Tran), 2014-2015.

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation John C. Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures, “Religious Materiality in the Indian Ocean World, 1300-1800” (co-PIs: Ajay Rao, Walid Saleh, Nhung Tuyet Tran), 2014-2016.

Jackman Humanities Institute Arts Program, “Exchanging Glances: Imag(in)ing Hindu-Muslim Visual Pieties in the Deccan” (co-applicant: Ajay Rao), 2013-2014.

SSHRC Insight Development Grant, “Bodies of Pleasure: Conceiving the Body in Shiʿi Islam,” 2012-2015.

SSHRC Institutional Grant, 2012.

Jackman Humanities Institute Working Group Grant, “Conceptions of the Self in Islam” (co-applicants: Anver Emon and Amira Mittermaier), 2012-2013.

SSHRC Standard Research Grant, “The Best of Women: Engendered Sainthood in Material and Ritual Devotion to Fatimah al-Zahra,” 2011-2013.

Jackman Humanities Institute Working Group Grant, “(Un)Disciplining Islamic Studies” (co-applicants: Anver Emon and Amira Mittermaier), 2011-2012.

Council of American Overseas Research Centers Multi-Country Fellowship (India, Turkey), “The Mistress of Two Worlds: Fatimah al-Zahra in Shiʿi Literature and Ritual Devotion,” 2011.