Her research focuses on Islam and its interaction with modern Middle Eastern cultures and societies over the past 200 years. Authority, knowledge, education, and gender are key themes in her examination of the processes of reform and modernisation that have transformed much of the world in this timespan. Her work highlights how Islam, its traditions, and its institutions have been reinvented to fit within - or even advance - reform projects, a phenomenon that continues through to the present day. To accomplish this, she combines approaches from area studies, history, and digital humanities, including the close reading of texts.
Dr Kalmbach is the first director of MENACS, the Middle East and North Africa Centre at Sussex, continuing on from her role leading the initiative that established the centre. MENACS is one of four regional research centres that aim to recapture and reimagine Sussex's legacy as a centre of innovative interdisciplinary study of major world regions. It brings together multiple new hires - including a philosopher studying Islam and five historians studying the Middle East, North Africa, and Israel - and a cohort of researchers from the social sciences, literature, and the arts. One of its formative activities was hosting the 2014 Annual Conference of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies.
Dr Kalmbach previously held a postdoctoral position, the Sir Christopher Cox Junior Fellowship, at New College, Oxford. Prior to that she was a doctoral student at St Antony's College, Oxford, submitting a dissertation on Cairo's Dar al-'Ulum teacher training school. Her graduate studies at Oxford, which began with an MSt in Modern Middle Eastern Studies, were funded by Clarendon and ORS Awards. Before arriving in Oxford, she completed an AB in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University and studied female Islamic leadership while a Fulbright Fellow in Damascus, Syria. She honed her Arabic language skills (MSA, Syrian, Egyptian) at Princeton, Middlebury College's Summer Language School, and while completing fieldwork in Damascus and Cairo. Her article, "Social and Religious Change in Damascus: One Case of Female Islamic Religious Authority," won the 2007 British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) Graduate Article Prize.
Dr Kalmbach is on the Councils of the British Society of Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) and the British Association for Islamic Studies (BRAIS), and is an officer of the Syrian Studies Association (an affiliate of the Middle East Studies Association, MESA). She coordinates BRISMES's Faith, Politics, and Society Research Network and runs a mailing list for academics interested in female Islamic leadership.