Penn is the recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council for Learned Studies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center, the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, Brandeis University, and Duke University. He has also received grants from the British Academy, the American Philosophical Association, the American Academy of Religion, the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning, and the Goethe Institute.
Penn’s first book, Kissing Christians: Ritual and Community in the Late Ancient Church was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2005. Penn has also published articles in the Journal of Early Christian Studies, Le Muséon, Parole de l’Orient, Oriens Christianus, Medieval Encounters, Journal for the Study of Pseudepigrapha, Ecclesiastical History, Islamochristiana, Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies, Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy, Studia Patristica, and Coptic Church Review. He has also contributed reviews to the National Women's Studies Journal, Review of Biblical Literature, Journal of Early Christian Studies, and Church History.
Before coming to Mount Holyoke, Penn was a postdoctoral fellow at Brandeis University and taught religion at Haverford College, Bryn Mawr College, and Duke University. He has also been a secondary school teacher; for six years he was the director of forensics at Durham Academy High School, where he ran a nationally competitive high school debate team. As an undergraduate at Princeton University, Penn studied molecular biology. He previously held research positions at Apple Computers, the Weizmann Institute (Israel), Palo Alto Veterans Hospital, and Ames Research Center, NASA.
Penn's class offerings include courses in the Hebrew scripture and the New Testament and seminars such as Early Christian-Muslim Relations, Early Christianity in Iran and Iraq, What Didn't Make It into the Bible, Women and Early Christianity, and Sex and the Early Church.
- "Faculty recognized for research, teaching," Office of Communications and Marketing, March 4, 2015
- "Penn Reveals Early Muslim-Christian Relations," Smith College News, July 7, 2011
- "Illuminating Early Christian-Muslim Relations," Office of Communications, April 8, 2011
- "Christian-Muslim History Not All Hostile,"Boston Globe, June 12, 2007
- "MHC Professor Penn Wins Guggenheim," Office of Communications, April 26, 2007
- "Professor Penn on Gospel of Judas," USA Today, April 6, 2006