Caleb head shot—smiling

Nollen House, 1121 Park Street
Grinnell College
Grinnell, IA 50112
United States

Curriculum Vitae

Caleb Elfenbein


Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

I am a Professor of History and Religious Studies at Grinnell College, where I am also Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I graduated from Vassar College with a degree in political science, an education that still informs my work and my life. I have a Masters in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a PhD in religious studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Over time, the topics of my research and teaching have evolved, but a common thread has remained: I am fascinated by how people in different times and places think about human welfare. What does well-being mean? What sources do people use to answer this question? In the context of community, who gets to participate in discussions or debates about the values and goals guiding collective life?

Earlier in my career, my teaching and research explored these questions in the context of modern colonial and postcolonial Muslim communities. From Egypt to South Asia, I have investigated how the sources and participants in debates about community welfare have changed over time. I studied the social theories that informed nineteenth- and twentieth-century European colonial reform efforts and the ways modern Muslim communities engaged these ideas and the policies they inspired. My work in this area has appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, and The Muslim World.

My exploration of human welfare has since broadened to include the United States, a shift occasioning more publicly-facing work. My work in this area explores anti-Muslim hostility and its effects on American Muslim participation in public life. Fear in Our Hearts: What Islamophobia Tells Us about America (NYU Press) looks at anti-Muslim hostility and its effects on American Muslim participation in public life. Themes include connections between anti-Muslim hostility and broader histories of anti-Black and anti-immigrant racism in the United States, citizenship and access to public life, the nature of contemporary anti-Muslim sentiment, and efforts American Muslim communities have undertaken to humanize themselves in the face of hostility. The book draws on original data from Mapping Islamophobia, an online digital humanities tool presenting interactive, visualized data on Islamophobic incidents and its effects on the participation of American Muslims in public life.

Working on Fear in Our Hearts inspired me to consider race more fully in my research on human welfare. I am slowly working on a project that utilizes James Baldwin's understanding of the intersections of race and history to analyze a series of cultural, social, and political issues in the contemporary United States. An early example of this analysis, "The Past Isn't Dead," appeared on

The most recent additions to my teaching portfolio include "Habits" and "Everyday Contemplation," which explore elements of human welfare through a hands-on or applied approach to humanistic, interdisciplinary learning.


Education and Degrees

PhD, Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara (2009); MTS, Harvard Divinity School (2001); BA, Political Science, Vassar College (1998)

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