Background and activities

I have an MA in Arabic and History of Religions from Stockholm University (1989), and PhD in History of Religions from Uppsala University (2001) on the theses The True New Testament: Sealing the Heart's Covenant in al-Tabari's History of the Messengers and the Kings.

I am currently responsible teacher for two courses at the department:

RVI1030: Midtøstens religioner (Introduction to the Middle East religions Judaism, Islam and the Oriental Christian churches)

RVI2115: Religion, Politics and Science in Global Society (a course also given as part of NTNU's International MA in Globalisation studies).

In addition, I teach epistemology, hermeneutics and methodology on our MA in Religious studies.

My research is about Islam. Thanks to a collegue who, many years ago, alerted me to the French historian of religion, Michel de Certeau (d. 1986), I have become increasingly fascinated by the ways in which modern academia conceptualises 'religion', and its own relationship with it as 'science'. I try to explore the intersections between 'religion' and academic and theoretical thought, and what these intersections imply for how indviduals and institutions conceptualise and 'treat' religious people, artefacts and movements.

I have done some research into Islam in the context of the Nordic welfare state and its institutional order; the intellectual foundations of the modern movement the Muslim Brotherhood; and the general religious studies concept 'fundamentalism'.

The bulk of my research and my publications, however, concerns early and medieval Islamic history, historiography, and Qur'anic studies.

1. The Qur'an: By focusing on concepts related to social contract, law, and linguistics (both rhetoric and semiotics), I have begun to analyse the Qur’an’s historical context in terms of theories. The results have implications for theories of religion, since they show how what we usually define as ‘religion’ (here the Qur’an, Islam’s canon and ‘sacred text’) intersects with what we usually define as ‘non-religion’, i.e. academic disciplines such as law, politics, ethics, and linguistics.

2. Qur'an exegesis: As part of my research into the Qur'an, I compare medieval and modern Qur'an commentaries and scholarship, focusing on how scholars define and theorise the Qur'an. Surprisingly often, I find that the medieval scholars conceptualised the Qur'an in theoretical terms, which again problematises contemporary and sometimes misleading definitions of 'religion'.

3. Historiography of the rise of Islam and the significance of the Qur'an: The early and medieval Muslim histories provide quite different analysis of the rise of Islam and the significance of the Qur'an, depending on how the individual historians selected and constructed the regional and political frames and processes. I am particularly interested in identifying the political, societal and economic factors, which the historians adduce in their anaytical explanations of the rise of Islam, and the significance of the Qur'an and its concepts.

4. Rights and natural law theory: This is a new problem area, which I have arrived at through my research on the Qur'an, Qur'an exegesis and historiography. Here I am particularly interested in how the so-called 'tradition-ists' (those who were not strict rationalists) among the early exegetes and jurists developed theory of natural law, with reference to Qur'anic concepts. It appears that for example the famous Qur'an commentator, historian and jurist Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari (d. 310/923) actually developed a theory of human rights, anticipating the UDHR by some 1025 years!


Scientific, academic and artistic work

A selection of recent journal publications, artistic productions, books, including book and report excerpts. See all publications in the database

Journal publications


  • Weismann, Itzchak; Sedgwick, Mark; Mårtensson, Ulrika. (2014) Islamic Myths and Memories: Mediators of Globalization. Ashgate. 2014. ISBN 978-1-4724-1149-5.
  • Mårtensson, Ulrika; Bailey, Jennifer Leigh; Ringrose, Priscilla; Dyrendal, Asbjørn. (2011) Fundamentalism in the Modern World. Volume 1. I.B. Tauris. 2011. ISBN 978-1-84885-330-0.
  • Mårtensson, Ulrika; Bailey, Jennifer Leigh; Ringrose, Priscilla; Dyrendal, Asbjørn. (2011) Fundamentalism in the Modern World. Volume 2. I.B. Tauris. 2011. ISBN 978-1-84885-331-7.
  • Mårtensson, Ulrika. (2009) Tabari. Oxford University Press. 2009. ISBN 9780198063018.