Having studied Islamic Studies, Chinese, and Romance Studies at the Universities of Cologne, Germany, and Mashhad, Iran, I served as a member of the editorial committee of the Enzyklopädie des Märchens, a research and publishing institution at the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, between 1986 and 2015. In 2016-2018, I conducted the research project "The Orient Within Us: Narratives from the Muslim World in European Oral Tradition". As of 2019, I am a retired professor of Islamic Studies at the Georg-August-University in Göttingen, Germany.

I have been a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, in 2002; a visiting professor at the National Museum for Ethnology in Osaka, Japan, in 2003; and a scholar in residence at Shangri-La, the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 2012.

My main research interest is the narrative culture of the Muslim Near and Middle East. My PhD dissertation (1981) is a typology of Persian folktales, and my Habilitation ("second book"; 1992) is a study of jocular tales in pre-Mongol Arabic literature. In recent years, I devoted some energy to exploring Persian popular literature in the nineteenth century and to studying the history of the Thousand and One Nights.