Serena Tolino

Prof. Dr. Serena Tolino

University of Bonn
Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies
Niebuhrstraße 5
53113 Bonn


My research focuses on law, and particularly Islamic Law, and issues of gender, sexuality and slavery. I focus in particular on Egypt, but recently, within the framework of the project SLAFNET, I also started to work on slavery in Ethiopia, where I conducted research in March 2019.

Research Project

Eunuchs in Islamicate Societies:
The Fatimid Case

In this project I am going to focus on eunuchs in Islamicate societies. Usually eunuchs were, from the perspective of Islamic Law, slaves and property of their masters, unless manumitted. However, sources also tell us that they hold a central position in court politics in many pre-modern Islamicate Courts. They were military commanders, administrators, governors and teachers of the future caliphs: in this sense, they were much more than simply harem guardians. As having access to both the feminine and the masculine world, they had an important key to power. If we stick to the dichotomy slavery/freedom, we certainly fail to properly situate their relevance in the socio-political context.

Focusing on eunuchs will allow me to take into account a number of factors related to their gender, that would not be found when looking at non-castrated slaves. At the same time, eunuchs were usually elite slaves. This means that they were also well represented in chronicles, and this is certainly an important element when we consider the importance of textual evidence for historians.

During my fellowship at the Heinz Heinen Kolleg, I will scrutinize a number of different sources on eunuchs (including the literary genre of adab, chronicles, medical, legal and religious sources) in order to contribute to the reconstruction of the specific semantics of dependency in Islamicate pre-modern societies. For what regards literary, medical, legal and religious sources I will look at the entire Islamicate world from the nineth to the twelveth century. I will then focus on the Fatimid Empire (909–1171), the first Islamic Shi‘i empire, that at its peak included the Maghreb, Sudan, Sicily, the Levant, Ḥiğāz and, most notably after its conquest in 969, Egypt.


  • 2018                          Italian National Habilitation (Abilitazione scientifica nazionale) as Associate Professor of "History of Islamic
  • 2012                          Ph.D. in Islamic Studies, University of Halle-Wittenberg; Doctor Europaeus in Studies on the Near East and
                                       Maghreb: Cultural Specificities and Intercultural Relations, University of Naples L'Orientale 
                                       Frankfurt am Main, Germany, "Escravos e terras entre posses e títulos: a construção social do direito de
                                       propriedade no Brasil (1835–1889)"
  • 2007                          M.A. in Sciences of Languages, History and Cultures of Islamic and Mediterranean Countries, University of
                                       Naples L'Orientale
  • 2005                          B.A. in Languages, History and Cultures of Islamic and Mediterranean Countires, University of Naples L'Orientale

Academic Positions

  • 2020–present          Professor for Islamic Studies, Institute for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Bern, Switzerland
  • 2016–2020              Junior Professor for Islamic Studies, Asien-Afrika-Institut, Hamburg University, Germany
  • 2013                          Fellow at the Islamic Legal Studies Programm, Harvard University, USA
  • 2012–2016              Postdoc, History Department, University of Zurich, Switzerland
  • 2008–2012              Doctoral fellow at the Graduate School Society and Culture in Motion, Halle/Saale, Germany

    Selected Publications

    • Tolino, S.: Omosessualità e atti omosessuali tra diritto islamico e diritto positivo: il caso egiziano con alcuni riferimenti all’esperienza Libanese. Naples: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane 2013.
    • Höfert, A., Mesley, M. M., Tolino, S. (eds.): Celibate and Childless Men in Power: Ruling Eunuchs and Bishops in the Pre-Modern World. London and New York: Routledge 2018.
    • Tolino, S. (ed.): Gender Equality and Women's Rights in the Constitutions of the Middle Eastern and North African Countries. Special Issue of "Oriente Moderno" 98 (2), 2018.
    • De Angelo, C., Tolino, S. (eds.): Minorities and Islamic Law. Special Issue of "Journal of Islamic and Arabic Studies" 17, 2017.
    • Kreil, A., Sorbera, L., Tolino, S. (eds.): Sexual Norms in the Arab World: Desire and Transgression in Islamic Cultures. London: I.B. Tauris (expected 2020).
    • Eunuchs in the Fatimid Empire: Ambiguities, Gender and Sacredness. In: Celibate and Childless Men in Power: Ruling Eunuchs and Bishops in the Pre-Modern World. Höfert, A., Mesley, M. M., Tolino, S. (eds). London and New York: Routledge 2018, pp. 246–266.
    • Gender Equality in the Egyptian Constitution: From 1923 to 2014. In: Oriente Moderno 98 (2), 2018, 140–165.
    • Crossing Borders: Women, Gender and Islam in Italian Scholarship. In: Daimon. Annuario di diritto comparato delle religioni 2018, 155–182.
    • Transgenderism, Transsexuality and Sex-Reassignment Surgery in Contemporary Sunni Fatwas. In: Journal of Arab and Islamic Studies 17, 2017, 223–246.
    • The Approach to Homosexuality in Contemporary "Fatāwā": Sexual Practices or Sexual Orientation? In: Zeitschrift für Recht & Islam 1, 2016, 141–158.
    • Homosexual Acts in Islamic Law: "Siḥāq" and "Liwāṭ" in the Legal Debate. In: GAIR-Mitteilungen, Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Arabisches und Islamisches Recht 6, 2014, 187–205.
    • Homosexuality in the Middle East: An Analysis of Dominant and Competitive Discourses. In: DEP. Deportate, Esule, Profughe 25, 2014, 72–91.
    • Identità omosessuale in tribunale nell "Egitto e nel Libano contemporanei". In: Genesis. Rivista delle Storiche Italiane 11 (1–2), 2012, 115–140.
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