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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Middle Eastern Studies
Professor in the History and Culture of the Maghrib
+44 (0) 1223 335115
Fellow of: 
Magdalene College
Director of Studies at: 
Magdalene College

Amira K. Bennison became interested in the Middle East and North Africa while studying for her BA Hons in History and Arabic at Cambridge. After graduating, she went to live in Cairo for a year before studying for a Masters at Harvard University and a PhD at the SOAS. Her PhD, based on a year’s archival research in Morocco, looked at the impact of the French conquest of Algiers in 1830 on notions of political legitimacy in neighbouring Morocco. This involved an exploration of the significance of jihād in political legitimation in the western Maghrib published as Jihād and its Interpretations in Pre-colonial Morocco.

She went on to the University of Manchester as a Leverhulme research fellow before moving to the University of Cambridge in 1997. Her work has continued to explore political legitimacy but has expanded to encompass Islamic Spain as well as the Maghrib, and to consider urban planning, ceremonial and rhetoric alongside jihād. Professor Bennison has appeared in several TV programmes about the history of the Middle East and North Africa including ‘Europe’s Lost Civilisation’; ‘The Thirties in Colour’, ‘Islamic Science’; and 'The Ottomans'. She is also a regular contributor to Radio 4’s ‘In Our Time’ with Melvyn Bragg and other radio programmes on Islamic history.


1989 BA (Hons) History and Arabic, University of Cambridge
1992 MA Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University
1996 PhD Moroccan History, SOAS, University of London


1996-1997 Leverhulme Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Manchester University
1997-2002 Lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge
2002-2012 Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge
2012-2017 Reader in the History and Culture of the Maghrib, University of Cambridge
2017- Professor in the History and Culture of the Maghrib
Teaching responsibilities: 

Professor Bennison teaches undergraduate courses relating to the history and culture of the Middle East

Supervision information: 

Professor Bennison is happy to supervise graduate students in work relating to the pre-modern history of the Maghrib and Islamic cultural history, including the Medieval Islamic West

Research interests: 

Prof Bennison's current work focuses on

  • the evolution of a particular ‘language of power’ in the Maghrib with a focus on Morocco and Islamic Iberia and western Algeria where relevant
  • the history of al-Andalus not as part of the national history of Spain, or for that matter Portugal, but as a trans-national phenomenon predicated on the ebb and flow of influences across the Straits of Gibraltar between al-Andalus and Morocco which gave rise to a distinctive far-western Islamic culture which differed from that of Ifriqiya, modern-day Tunisia and western Libya, and the Middle East too
  • a collaborative project led by Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill in the Department of Classics, covering the impact of the ancient, Greco-Roman city on subsequent urban history in Europe and the Islamic world

Since beginning research for her doctorate, Prof Bennison has been interested in the way in which different regimes and dynasties in North Africa and Islamic Spain legitimised themselves. Having explored such dynasties’ usage of jihād, she began to look at textual descriptions of palaces and the ceremonies which took place within them from eighth century Cordoba to nineteenth century Morocco, and charting the emergence of a visual/material language of power. As a result of my research on religion-political ideology, she developed a small additional project on the experience of religious minorities under the Almohads in collaboration with Dr. Gallego-Garcia in Madrid funded by the British Academy (2007-9)

In 2009, she received a two year Leverhulme Research Grant to explore these issues in Morocco and Granada in the 13th-15th centuries under the title Political Legitimacy in the Islamic West with the assistance of a research fellow, Dr James Brown.

She has also worked on the impact of European modernity and colonialism in the nineteenth century through a collaborative Oxbridge project on comparative religious internationalisms, led by Dr Abigail Green.

Current PhD students

Elisabeth Kwan: Sacred sites, Identity, and Revivalism: Local responses to modernity in the Mzāb, Algeria (c. 1850-1920)


Articles, Book Chapters etc

Sectarianism in the landscape: the transfer of the khuṭba of Fes from the Mosque of the Shurafāʾ to the Qarawiyyīn Mosque in 933 (321 AH) Maghreb Review 40: 1 pp. 12-27 (2015)
Drums, Banners and Baraka: Symbols of authority during the first century of Marīnid rule, 1250-1350 A. K. Bennison (ed.) The Articulation of Power in Medieval Iberia and the Maghrib pp. 195-216 (2014)
Relations between rulers and ruled in the medieval Maghrib: The "social contract" in the Almoravid and Almohad centuries, 1050-1250 Comparative Islamic Studies 10: 2 pp. 137-156 (2014)
Muslim internationalism between empire and nation-state Abigail Green (ed.) & Vincent Viaene (ed.) Religious Internationals in the Modern World pp. 163-185 (2012)
Tribal identities and the formation of the Almohad élite: The salutory tale of Ibn ‘Aṭiyya Mohamed Meouak (ed.) Biografías magrebíes. Identidades y grupos religiosos, sociales y políticos en el Magreb medieval pp. 245-72 (2012)
Almohad tawḥīd and its implications for religious difference Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies, 2: 2, Special Issue, Religious Minorities under the Almohads pp. 195-216 (2010)
The necklace of al-Shifa: Abbasid borrowings in the Islamic West Oriens 38 pp. 251-276 (2010)
The Ottoman Empire and its precedents from the perspective of English school Theory B. Buzan (ed.) & A. Gonzalez-Pelaez (ed.) International Society and the Middle East: English School theory at the regional level pp. 45-69 (2009)