About Emily Jane O’Dell

Global Adventurer & Nomad. Award Winning Professor & Writer. Law & Foreign Policy Expert. Egyptologist / Anthropologist / Archaeologist. Playwright & Performer. Concert Javanese Gamelan Musician. Whirling Dervish and Tai Chi Teacher.

Dr. Emily Jane O’Dell is the author of The Gift of Rumi and a renowned expert on Sufism and Islamic law. She has spent over two decades visiting Sufi masters from Indonesia to Mali, taught Sufi whirling in Istanbul and Beirut, and preserved historic Sufi shrines on the Silk Road.

For her expertise in Islamic law, she has been a Research Scholar in Law and Islamic Law and Civilization Research Fellow at Yale Law School, and an editor for Harvard Law School’s SHARIASource. Stateside she has taught at Columbia, Brown, and Harvard, where she received an award for teaching excellence, and she has also taught abroad as the Whittlesey Chair of History and Archaeology at the American University of Beirut, an Associate Professor at Sichuan University–Pittsburgh Institute in China, and an Assistant Professor at Sultan Qaboos University in the Sultanate of Oman.   

She is presently a fellow at the American Institute for Indonesian Studies in Java and a professor in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.

Dr. O’Dell completed her Postdoctoral Fellowship at Harvard University in the Humanities Center and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations under the direction of Professor Homi Bhabha. She received her PhD, MA, MFA, and MA from Brown University and an additional Masters in Russian, Eastern European, and Central Asian Studies from Columbia University.

Dr. O’Dell is a global mentor for the Coalition for Women in Journalism, and her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Salon, NPR, Al Jazeera,Christian Science Monitor, TRT World, Counterpunch, The Louisville Review, and The Huffington Post.

Her research can be read in the Journal of Global Slavery, Journal of Iranian Studies, Journal of Africana Religions, Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora, International Journal of Persian Literature, Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, Disability & Society, and Harvard Law School’s SHARIASource.

For her expertise on Islam, Sufism, and law, she has been an Edward A. Hewett Policy Fellow, a Fulbright-Hays Fellow, a Harvard Traveling Fellow, a Harvard Research Fellow, an American Councils Research Fellow, an IREX Fellow, an American Center for Mongolian Studies Fellow, an American Institute of Indonesian Studies Fellow, and a State Department Critical Languages Fellow for Persian and Tajiki.

Thanks to the generous support of a number of research grants, Dr. O’Dell has conducted extensive in-country research in the following countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Indonesia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Tibet, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan/Karakalpakstan, Egypt, Russia, Syria, Mali, Lebanon, Turkey, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, and Hungary.

For seven years, she served as the Chief Epigrapher for Brown and Cairo University at the Great Pyramids in Egypt, where she excavated mummies, and collaborated on recently returned objects with the Egyptian Museum.

She has also conducted archaeological field-work in Central Asia and Sudan.  She has preserved Sufi shrines and excavated Islamic archaeology on the Silk Road in Turkmenistan, and excavated a Meroitic temple in Sudan.

For her research, Dr. O’Dell uses Arabic, Persian/Tajik, Indonesian, Russian, Czech, Mongolian, French, German, Italian, Old Egyptian, Middle Egyptian, Late Egyptian, Coptic, Demotic, Akkadian, Chinese, Tibetan, French, German, Maltese, Italian, Burmese, American Sign Language (ASL) and Ge’ez.

With an MFA in Literary Arts from Brown University, where she received the Weston Award for Creative Writing, she has also taught creative writing and performance studies at Harvard and Brown.

Readings and productions of her plays have been produced at theatres such as Lincoln Center, the Public Theatre, City Center, Trinity Repertory Company, Perishable Theatre, Brown University, and the New York Fringe Festival. She has also worked in film and television. She is currently working on a new play and screenplay.

Dr. O’Dell regularly performs Javanese gamelan music in concert in America at venues such as Lincoln Center, the Indonesian Consulate, Asia Society, and The Stone, and in Indonesia with master Javanese musicians. She also teaches Sufi whirling in Beirut, Istanbul, and New York —  and recently launched her standup comedy world tour in the People’s Republic of China. She is currently writing a memoir about her adventures in Tibet.