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Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies

Photo of Associate Professor Emily Selove

Associate Professor Emily Selove

Associate Professor in Medieval Arabic Literature


01392 725259


Emily Selove (PhD 2012, UCLA) is an associate professor in Medieval Arabic Language and Literature at the University of Exeter. She is also the convener of the University of Exeter's Centre for Magic and Esotericism:, a uniquely interdisciplinary collaboration of colleagues across the University of Exeter to study the history of magic and the occult sciences—an area in which our university has exceptional, internationally recognized expertise. 

Professor Selove designed and, in 2023, launched a new MA in Magic and Occult Sciences that showcases the unique, interdisciplinary expertise of University of Exeter Colleagus in the study of the history of magic. This MA was featured in the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, and multiple other news organisations.

Professor Selove was a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Manchester from 2012-2014, working on the ERC-funded Arabic Commentaries on the Hippocratic Aphorisms project. Her early research focused on the figure of the uninvited guest (or "party-crasher") in medieval Arabic literature, and especially on the 11th-century work Ḥikāyat Abī l-Qāsim, the subject of her monograph, Ḥikāyat Abī l-Qāsim: A Literary Banquet (Edinburgh University Press, 2016). She also co-edited and translated this text with Professor Geert Jan van Gelder: The Portrait of Abū l-Qāsim al-Baghdādī al-Tamīmī (Gibb Memorial Trust, 2021). Her translation of another 11th-century book of party-crashing is titled Selections from the Art of Party-Crashing in Medieval Iraq.  She also co-authored a textbook to introduce beginning students to the city of medieval Baghdad, Baghdad at the Centre of a World: 8th-13th Century,  and has created a collection of cartoons titled  Popeye and Curly: 120 Days in Medieval Baghdad to accompany this textbook: Her most recent book was a short monograph for the Cambridge Elements series titled The Donkey King: Asinine Symbology in Ancient and Medieval Magic.

Her article "Magic as Poetry, Poetry as Magic: A Fragment of Arabic Spells" in Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, 2020, explores an area of special interest to her research: the overlap between poetic and magical language. She was the PI of a Leverhulme-funded research project, "A Sorcerer's Handbook," (2019-2022) which will create an edition, translation, and multidisciplinary, multi-authored scholarly analysis of Sirāj al-Dīn al-Sakkākī's (d. 1229) magic handbook, Kitāb al-Shāmil wa-baḥr al-kāmil (The Book of the Complete)  This multi-cultural, multi-lingual guide to cursing, healing, and harnessing the power of stars, angels, jinn, and devils, was conceived at the crossroads of many magical and religious traditions, and serves as the intersection at which multiple scholarly methodologies and disciplines can intersect today.

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 My research focuses on medieval Arabic literature, and especially on comic literature on the one hand, and magic and esotericism on the other. I argue that topics which we might perceive as marginal subjects in this body of literature are in fact central, including intoxication, sexuality, and magic. These topics are best understood within a medieval microcosmic/carnivalesque worldview which demands that both high and low, sacred and profane, and seriousness and jest be given equal consideration as mirrors of one another and as aspects of an act of divine creation which ultimately defies mundane human logic. The city of Medieval Baghdad stands at the centre of these interests, as a centre of a multi-ethnic, multi-faith burst of creative scholarly energy which changed the global picture of literature, art, and science, and whose impact is still apparent all around us today. 

Research group links

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 I am happy to supervise projects about magic, medieval Arabic literature (adab), and the influences of Greek and Roman literatures on these traditions. I am also interested in the receptions of medieval Arabic writing in both medieval and modern Europe. In the future, I hope to explore more research that considers alternative epistemologies, embodied sources of knowledge, and creative approaches to scholarship, and would be especially happy to consider projects in this vein. 

Current PhD Students:

Hassan Asiri: “The Implicit Patterns in the Hijazi Sensual Ghazal Poetry during the Umayyad Era -A New Historicist interpretation.”

Arghavan Moharrami: “The Winds of Zār: On Occult Performance among Black Indigenous Communities in the Persian Gulf”

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Copyright Notice: Any articles made available for download are for personal use only. Any other use requires prior permission of the author and the copyright holder.

| 2023 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 |


  • Selove E. (2023) The Donkey King Asinine Symbology in Ancient and Medieval Magic, Cambridge University Press.
  • Selove E, Sanad M. (2023) The Sorcerer Scholar: Sirāj al-Dīn al-Sakkākī between Grammar and Grimoire, Knowledge and Power in Muslim Societies Approaches in Intellectual History, Gerlach Press.


  • Selove EJ, van Gelder GJ. (2021) THE PORTRAIT OF ABŪ L-QĀSIM AL-BAGHDĀDĪ AL-TAMĪMĪ (ḤIKĀYAT ABĪ L-QĀSIM AL-BAGHDĀDĪ AL-TAMĪMĪ) by Abū l-Muṭahhar al-Azdī (5th/11th c.), Gibb Memorial Trust.
  • Selove EJ, van Gelder GJ. (2021) THE PORTRAIT OF ABŪ L-QĀSIM AL-BAGHDĀDĪ AL-TAMĪMĪ (ḤIKĀYAT ABĪ L-QĀSIM AL-BAGHDĀDĪ AL-TAMĪMĪ) by Abū l-Muṭahhar al-Azdī (5th/11th c.), Gibb Memorial Trust.



  • Selove E. (2019) A Hundred and One Nights, JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN ORIENTAL SOCIETY, volume 139, no. 1, pages 253-255. [PDF]
  • Selove EJ, Turner J. (2019) Heretics and Party-Crashers: Al-Khāṭīb al-Baghdādī’s Kitāb al-Taṭfīl, Journal of Abbasid Studies.


  • Selove EJ, Pormann P. (2017) Two New Texts on Medicine and Natural Philosophy by Abū Bakr al-Rāzī, Journal of the American Oriental Society.


  • Selove E. (2016) The Hikayat Abu Al-qasim A Literary Banquet.



  • Selove EJ, Batten R. (2014) Making Men and Women: Arabic Commentaries on the Hippocratic Gynaecological Aphorisms in Context, Annales Islamologiques, volume 48, no. 1, pages 239-262.
  • Selove EJ. (2014) Review of Al-Qāḍī al-Quḍā‘ī, A Treasury of Virtues: Sayings, Sermons and Teachings of 'Ali, with the One Hundred Proverbs Attributed to Al-Jahiz, ed. and trans. Tahera Qutbuddin, Speculum: a journal of Medieval studies. [PDF]
  • Selove EJ. (2014) Mujūn is a Crazy Game: The chess game in Ḥikāyat Abī al-Qāsim, The Rude, the Bad and the Bawdy.


  • Selove EJ. (2013) Review of The Performing Arts in Medieval Islam: Shadow Play and Popular Poetry in Ibn Dāniyāl’s Mamluk Cairo, Journal of Islamic Studies. [PDF]
  • Selove EJ. (2013) “Who Invited the Microcosm?”, Abbasid Studies: Occasional Papers of the School of Abbasid Studies. [PDF]


  • Selove EJ, Wanberg K. (2012) Authorizing the Authorless: A Classical Arabic Dream Interpretation Forgery, Mundus vult decipi, Ediciones Clásicas.
  • Al-Baghdadi A-K, Selove E. (2012) Selections from the art of party crashing in medieval Iraq.

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External impact and engagement

Popeye and Curly: 120 Days in Medieval Baghdad

This must surely be among the world’s most carefully footnoted comics. One reviewer wrote, “You can get a PhD in Classical Arabic Literature, or you can just buy this book.” Popeye and Curly is not a book for children, dealing frankly with sexuality, slavery, racism, and the toe-curling and hilarious obscenity of medieval Arabic literature. It is a book that shows the humans of this era in all of their complexity. I am proud to have demonstrated with this and similar works that serious scholarship can and should be fun and accessible, while also addressing the hard questions with courage.

Baghdad at the Centre of a World, 8th-13th century: An Introductory Textbook

The city of Baghdad during the 8th to the 13th centuries CE was one of the most important centers of cultural production in human history. A melting pot of languages, religions, and ethnicities, it produced thinkers and artists whose impact on the sciences, literatures, and cultures of the Middle East and Europe is still felt today. In countries like the UK and the USA, however, the importance of this time and place in human history is often barely mentioned in schools. This textbook will provide teachers with reliable and engaging material with which to introduce the dynamic medieval city of Baghdad to their students; it can be used by both students in school or by introductory level university classes, depending on the amount of support provided by the teacher to readers of the textbook. Included among the authors of this textbook are some of the leading names in the field, all conducting ground-breaking research on the history, culture, religion, and writing of this city.

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Modules taught

  • ARA2001 - From Holy Text to Sex Manuals in the Medieval Middle East
  • ARA3197 - The Arabian Nights: Perception and Reception
  • ARAM251 - Esotericism and the Magical Tradition

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