The literal meaning, between Christian worlds and Muslim worlds (7ᵗʰ‒15ᵗʰ centuries)

Conference organized at the Dominican Institute of Oriental Studies (Cairo)

February 15ᵗʰ‒17ᵗʰ, 2024

By pointing the finger at the “literalism” or “fundamentalism” of this or that religious movement, current events willingly bring to the forefront the notion of the literal meaning of sacred texts, whether it is claimed as the only authentic meaning or denounced as an oversimplification. The apparent simplicity of the literal meaning, presented as the obvious meaning of a text, beyond any interpretation or hermeneutic approach, is nevertheless called into question by studies of linguistics, which have long shown that it is a constructed meaning, whose definition always presupposes a hermeneutic framework, even if it is implicit1.

With regard to the hermeneutics of the holy texts of Christianity and Islam, it is through medieval debates that these frames of reference, which have already been the subject of numerous studies, were established. For the Christian West, from the pioneering works of Henri de Lubac2 and Beryl Smalley3 to the rich synthesis of Gilbert Dahan4, the history of the progressive conception and canonization of multiple meanings is now known, showing in particular the essential role played by the historia (or littera): far from being the forgotten element of medieval Latin exegesis, it is, on the contrary, affirmed not only as the foundation of the spiritual senses, but also as a rich sense in itself, which can be analyzed at different levels. This harmony elaborated by scholarly hermeneutics does not prevent the existence of spiritual movements with a claimed strict literalism. This richness of studies on Latin hermeneutics contrasts, however, with their weakness with regard to other Christian worlds, notably the Byzantine universe.

The Islamic field, in spite of a large number of studies, seems to have resisted synthesis so far. It is true that the literal meaning of sacred texts is the subject of distinct disciplinary approaches, particularly in legal theory (uṣūl al-fiqh)5 and in theology, which helps to explain the diversity of technical terms that can designate the literal meaning (ẓāhir, ḥarfī, lafẓ, naṣṣ). Above all, there are deep divisions at stake, which may be confessional (the fruitful dialectic between the external meaning, ẓāhir, and the internal meaning, bāṭin, a structuring element in Shiism6, is the object of strong criticism in Sunnism) or methodological between the different legal and theological schools (the question of the literal meaning is central in the major controversy that opposes ḥanbalism to muʿtazilism and then to ašʿarism7).

The rich work carried out on either side of the religious frontier hardly meets each other. However, medieval Christian and Islamic hermeneutics share essential sources in the heritage of Hellenistic civilization and the practices of interpretation of Judaism. Having faith in a God who reveals Himself through the word, the two religious traditions also share important issues, although they approach revelation in very different ways. The existence of a sometimes intense intellectual circulation between the two civilizations in many other areas further justifies the value of a rigorous comparative approach that would shed light on both fields of study.

This comparative approach does not, however, aim to highlight simple convergences or reciprocal influences. It is not certain that the literal meaning used by the two traditions can be the object of a single definition, in different theological and hermeneutical frameworks; perhaps the notion does not even cover similar realities: comparative study can serve to clarify these distinctions, and thus to account for the complexity of the notion of literal meaning. The conference does not aim to deal with all the topics related to literalism, but rather to clarify the meanings of the literal meaning. The expected proposals will therefore focus on the place of this literal meaning in hermeneutic questioning.

The conference deliberately covers a vast chronology, the boundaries of which have value in both fields: the seventh century corresponds to the beginning of Islam, but also to that of the High Middle Ages —a naturally less absolute beginning, so much so that the patristic roots remain active and essential. As for the fifteenth century, which ends in the Christian world on the threshold of the Reformation and the new hermeneutic questioning it implies, it also marks the end of the classical period in the Islamic world, leaving the Ottoman and Safavid civilizations in particular to other studies.

The comparative approach of the conference implies a real effort of understanding between scholars working on usually watertight fields. This is why the speakers will commit to send in their interventions one month before the conference, and to prepare a well-argued reaction to two interventions that they will have read beforehand.

Papers will be given in English.

The conference will take place from February 15ᵗʰ to 17ᵗʰ, 2024 in Cairo. Proposals for papers should be sent (, ) before June 30ᵗʰ, 2023. The papers will be published in the Mélanges de l’Institut dominicain d’études orientales.

  1. See for instance J. R. SEARLE, « Le sens littéral », in Langue française, n°42 (1979) pp. 34-47.
  2. H. DE LUBAC, Exégèse médiévale. Les quatre sens de l’Ecriture, Paris, Aubier, 1949-1964, 4 vol.
  3. B. SMALLEY, The study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, 3e ed., Oxford, Blackwell, 1983 (original ed. : 1952).
  4. G. DAHAN, L’exégèse chrétienne de la Bible en Occident médiéval (XIIᵉ-XIVᵉ siècle), Paris, Le Cerf, 1999.
  5. In this important field has been published the only synthesis available to date: R. GLEAVE, Islam and Literalism: Literal Meaning and Interpretation in Islamic Legal Theory, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2012.
  6. CH. JAMBET, Le Caché et l’Apparent, Paris, L’Herne, 2003.
  7. See in particular J. VAN ESS, Theologie und Gesellschaft im 2. und 3. Jahrhundert Hidschra, Berlin/ New York, De Gruyter, 1991, vol. 4.

60 Years of Nostra Aetate

New Perspectives on the Dominican Engagement for a Catholic Dialogue with Jews and Muslims

 January 19‒21, 2024, in Trier (Germany)


As “one of the final surprises of the Second Vatican Council”1 (Maurice Borrmans), its comparatively short declaration of Nostra Aetate “on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions” (1965) marks a paradigm shift in the attitude of the Catholic Church towards other religions. Despite numerous theological —from today’s perspective— shortcomings of the Declaration, it represents a different, appreciative perception of other religions, especially Judaism and Islam, and thus laid the basis for a modern theology of religions from a Catholic perspective.

It is indisputable that various religious, among them Dominicans, played a significant role in drafting the Declaration.2 Less known is their intensive, sometimes decades-long theological and/or practical work of preparation, which they carried out through personal encounters with Jews and Muslims as well as through their academic study of Judaism and Islam, paving the way for Nostra Aetate. In contrast, other members of the Order were critical of this engagement and attempted to prevent such a far-reaching declaration of the Council, but ultimately failed because of the Council Fathers’ call for an ‘aggiornamento’ in the Church.

The theological and dialogical preconditions for an inter-religious opening in the first half of the twentieth century until the end of the Council in 1965 will be the topic of an international conference at the Faculty of Theology in Trier, Germany, in cooperation with the Emil Frank Institute and the Institute for Research on the History of the Dominican Order in German-Speaking Lands (IGDom). Focusing on Dominicans, the conference will examine the direct and indirect contribution of members of the Order —i.e. sisters, brothers, and lay people— to the paradigm shift in Jewish-Catholic as well as Muslim-Catholic relations.

Based on hitherto unexplored sources (letters, reports, chronicles, theological works etc.), which are preserved in public and private libraries as well as in archives, the topic will be discussed in different contexts (social, ecclesiastical, political) and regions (countries, provinces of the Order). Our goal is to critically examine the inter-religious engagement of the members of the Order in the first half of the twentieth century as a prerequisite for the declaration of Nostra Aetate, for the purpose of identifying desiderata and stimulating future research in this field.

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the promulgation of Nostra Aetate on October 28ᵗʰ, 2025, a publication of the most innovative papers is planned in the series of “Quellen und Forschungen zur Geschichte des Dominikanerordens – Neue Folge”, with the publisher De Gruyter.

The organizers of the academic conference are issuing a call for papers that focus on one of the following three levels:

1. Individual members of the Dominican Order such as:

  • Georges Chehata Anawati, OP (1905‒1994)
  • Paolo Vieri Andreotti, OP (1921‒1995)
  • Kevin William Barden, OP (1908‒2004)
  • Serge de Laugier de Beaurecueil, OP (1917‒2005)
  • Pierre Benoit, OP (1906‒1987)
  • Dominique Boilot, OP (1912‒1989)
  • Marie-Dominique Boulanger, OP (1885‒1961)
  • Marie-Dominique Chenu, OP (1895‒1990)
  • Francesco Benedetto Cialeo, OP (1901‒1985)
  • Marcel-Jacques Dubois, OP (1920‒2007)
  • Bernard Dupuy, OP (1925‒2014)
  • Willehad Paul Eckert, OP (1926‒2005)
  • Paulus Engelhardt, OP (1921‒2014)
  • Sebastianus Van den Eynde, OP (1893‒1960)
  • Claude Geffré, OP (1926‒2017)
  • Giuseppe Girotti, OP (1905‒1945)
  • Bruno Hussar, OP (1911‒1996)
  • Antonin Jaussen, OP (1871-1962)
  • Jacques Jomier, OP (1914‒2008)
  • Jean-Paul Lichtenberg-Lantier, OP (1926‒1972)
  • Jean Pierre de Menasce, OP (1902‒1973)
  • Félix Morlion, OP (1904‒1987)
  • Carolus Pauwels, OP (1903‒1965)
  • Giorgio La Pira, OP (1904‒1977)
  • Cyprian Rice, OP (1889‒1966)
  • Reginaldo Santilli, OP (1908‒1981)
  • Rose Thering, OP (1920‒2006)

2. Groups of Dominicans (communities, convents, institutions) such as:

  • Antagonists vs. protagonists within the Order “dialogue pairs”
  • Dominicans as participants in the Seelisberg Conference of 1947
  • École biblique et archéologique française, Jerusalem
  • Convents (e.g. in Algiers, Baghdad, Beirut, Casablanca, İstanbul, Mosul, Multan, Rabat, Shiraz, Tehran)
  • Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies, Cairo
  • Saint Isaiah House, Jerusalem

3. Journals such as:

  • L’Afrique dominicaine, Algiers, 1936‒1956 (renamed Les Cahiers religieux d’Afrique du Nord, 1956‒1961, Aujourd’hui, 1964‒1966)
  • Blackfriars, 1920‒1964 (renamed New Blackfriars, 1964‒)
  • Cahiers du Cercle thomiste, Cairo, 1934‒1952
  • Istina, 1954‒
  • Lumière et vie, 1951‒2013
  • Mélanges de l’Institut dominicain d’études orientales, 1954‒
  • Revue biblique, 1892‒

Please email an abstract of your paper, up to 300 words, and a short academic CV to  by September 30, 2023 (subject heading: Trier Conference 2024).

Conference date: Friday, January 19ᵗʰ, through Sunday, January 21ˢᵗ, 2024.

Conference venue: Haus der pastoralen Berufe (Conference hall II), Jesuitenstraße 13, 54290 Trier, Germany.

Conference languages: English, French, German (no interpretation provided).

Organizers: Elias H. Füllenbach OP (IGDom) / Dr. Dennis Halft OP (Faculty of Theology in Trier, Emil Frank Institute).

1. M. Borrmans, “L’émergence de la Déclaration Nostra Aetate au Concile Vatican II,” in: idem, Dialogues, rencontres et points de contact entre musulmans et chrétiens dans une dimension historique, Milano 2007, 32-64, here 32.

2. See M. Attridge, D. Dias, M. Eaton, and N. Olkovich (eds), The Promise of Renewal: Dominicans and Vatican II, Adelaide 2017.

The Cairo Edition of the Qurʾān 1924: Texts, histories & challenges

Conference of the IDEO in Cairo

October 16ᵗʰ‒17ᵗʰ, 2021

Click here to download the conference programme…


This conference offers an historical reflection on the Cairo edition of the Qurʾān made under the authority of al-Azhar committee in 1924 and also known as the “King Fuʾād’s edition”. This edition, which will celebrate its hundred’s anniversary in three years’ time, was preceded by several other editions, in Egypt and other places. It is of utmost importance in modern and contemporary Islamic societies, and in Qurʾānic studies since the second half of the twentieth century, especially in manuscript studies. The Cairo edition provides both Muslims and scholars of Islam with a version of the Qurʾānic text that will gradually become the most popular religious, liturgical, and academic reference in the Islamic world. Despite the proliferation of scholarly editions of old Qurʾānic manuscripts over the last twenty years, the popularity of the Cairo edition of the Qurʾān has never been challenged. On the contrary, many studies on the Qurʾān use the Cairo edition as an academic reference and as a point of comparison to underline the particularities of old manuscripts.
More than a religious phenomenon for Muslims alone, the Cairo edition is rooted in the particular political and civilisational context of the early 20ᵗʰ century. Thus, the advent of the Cairo edition bears a significance that goes beyond the sphere of belief and takes an important place in the history of Islamic civilisation, including: the history of institutions, material history, history of religious thought and history of Islamic studies

Topics of the conference

This conference will be in preparation of a second conference in three years’ time on the occasion of the centenary of the Cairo edition, welcomes papers in Arabic, French, or English that propose a reflection on the following topics:

1) Printing in the Muslim world at the turn of the 20ᵗʰ century

This topic of the conference focuses on the technological advances that preceded and accompanied the emergence of the Cairo edition. This topic also discusses the editions of the Qurʾān that preceded the 1924 Cairo edition and the reasons why those editions have been superseded or are less well known than the Cairo edition. Editions produced in other countries such as India, Iran, Turkey, Russia, or Germany will be studied, as well as the political and religious contexts, and what was at stake in their emergence.

2) The history of institutions

The history of institutions and especially the history of al-Azhar and of the Ministry of Education; the process of editing the Qurʾān and the methodology of this endeavour. This topic consists of archival work that retraces the work of the al-Azhar committee responsible for setting up the Cairo edition of 1924. This topic also focuses on the educational dimension of the Cairo edition and the link between printing and the educational institutions in this post-Ottoman institutional context.

3) The history of Qurʾānic studies

The history of Qurʾānic studies and, in particular, the research on Qurʾānic manuscripts and the status of the Cairo edition. This topic also discusses the question of the canonisation of the Qurʾān, as well as its translations and the status of the Cairo edition within these issues.

4) The production of muṣḥafs

The impact of the Cairo edition on the production of muṣḥafs in the Islamic world. The materiality of the book will be discussed in this topic, particularly issues related to calligraphy, typography and type design.

5) Devotional practices

The impact of the Cairo edition on devotional practices, liturgy, recitation and especially Qurʾānic variants.


Proposals should be sent in the form of a one-page abstract, before May 15ᵗʰ, 2021, by email to (subject of the email: “Proposal for the Cairo Qurʾān conference”).

While being open to the public, this conference is conceived as a place for work and scientific debate. Accordingly, those selected will be asked to send 3 to 4-page summary of their contributions to the other members of their workshop (by September 15ᵗʰ), to follow the entire conference, and to participate as a “discussant” in another workshop than the one of their contribution (and therefore to read in advance the documents that will be sent to them for this purpose).


Asma Hilali (Lille University).

Scientific committee

Logistics and financial organization

Thanks to a grant of the European Delegation in Cairo, through the project Adawāt (2018‒2022), the IDEO will cover the expense for 10 plane tickets and 40 nights’ hotel accommodation.

Date of the conference: October 16ᵗʰ‒17ᵗʰ October, 2021.

Languages: French, English and Arabic.

Place of the conference: Cairo (Egypt).

For inquiries, please contact us at .

Call for papers: Reciting in the Early Islamic Empire

Reciting in the Early Islamic Empire

(7ᵗʰ‒9ᵗʰ centuries)

Texts, Modalities, Issues

A Conference Organised by the IDEO
Cairo, October 16ᵗʰ‒18ᵗʰ, 2020

Click here to download the conference programme…

Keynote Speaker: Prof. Devin J. Stewart, Emory University (Atlanta)

  • Qurʾānic Recitation ‒ Psalmody ‒ Orality ‒ Transmission.
  • Islam ‒ Judaism ‒ Christianity ‒ Zoroastrianism ‒ Late Antiquity and Early Islam.
  • Torah ‒ Bible ‒ Psalms ‒ Qurʾān ‒ Qaṣaṣ ‒ Poetry ‒ Prayer ‒ Rites ‒ Saǧʿ ‒ reading ‒ memorisation.

Click here to download the PDF version of this Call for Papers…


This conference offers a space for reflection on the various types of recitation that took place in the central regions of the Arab-Islamic empire (from Egypt to Persia, including the Arabian Peninsula) during its first three centuries, including different contexts:

  • in “Islamic religious context”: the Qurʾān, Ḥadīṯ, stories (qaṣaṣ), mystical poetry, etc.
  • in a “non-Islamic religious context”: Jewish and Christian psalms and prayers (in Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic); Zoroastrian and Manichean ceremonies; magical rites, etc.
  • or in a “secular context”: poetry and rhyming prose (saǧʿ) in Arabic, Hebrew, Syriac, Coptic or other languages; political speeches and propaganda; memorizing techniques for learning medical, scientific, philosophical, legal, grammatical knowledge, etc.

NB: the religious vs. secular distinction will be questioned.

These types of recitations will be discussed as a starting point for a reflection on the literary genres of the texts recited, on the recitation techniques, as well as on the actors of recitation, and the socio-political contexts and issues linked to the act of reciting. This conference welcomes papers on one (or more) of the following themes:

1) The modalities of the recitation

The details of the practices that precede and constitute the act of recitation (both religious and secular): such as listening, learning by heart, reading, reciting or declaiming in front of an audience, chanting, performing, etc. will be considered, as well as the rules and modalities of pronunciation, the vocal interpretation of the text, the artistic and emotional aspects, and finally, the precise contexts in which one recites such or such a text (rites, celebrations, feasts, calendars, circumstances, material conditions, clothes, etc.).

2) Recitation and transmission of knowledge

Reciting is a form of knowledge transmission. In return, some “recitation professionals” transmit the specific knowledge (and know-how) of recitation. This session will address the articulation between recitation and teaching/learning, addressing the materiality of recitation —either linked to manuscripts or epigraphy—, learning practices such as “recitation before the scholar” and validation by the scholar (iǧāza, etc.), as well as the actors of recitation (often professionals, religious, or artists, etc.) and how they transmit their vocal art and ethics (e.g. adab al-qurrāʾ).

3) The stakes of recitation

The religious/spiritual horizons of recitation practices will be explored (edification, justification, prayer for healing, mysticism, etc.), as well as secular aims (political, social, academic, artistic, etc.): mastery of the content, timing or form of recitation can be linked to power, community identity or creation.


Although being open to the public, this conference mainly intends to be a place for work and scientific debate. Consequently, we will ask the speakers who have been selected to send a 3 to 4-page summary of their paper by May 15, 2020. These summaries will be distributed to the other participants. Each speaker will then enrol as a discussant for at least one paper presented by a peer. It is expected that all the speakers attend all the panels.

Languages of the conference: English and French.

Scientific organization
Logistics and financial organization

International transportation, airport transfer, and half-board accommodation will be covered by the IDEO, thanks to a grant of the European Union through the project “Adawāt” (2018‒2022).


The issue 37 (2022) of MIDEO will be devoted to the same topic and will welcome papers, presented in this conference or not, under the condition that they undergo the usual evaluation principles. The deadline to submit your paper to is May 31ˢᵗ, 2021.

For inquiries, please contact us at .


Interactions between Twelver Shiites and Christians: history, theology, literature

International conference with the participation of Rudi Matthee (University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware) and Francis Richard (CNRS, Paris), in Paris, France, Wednesday, April 11, through Friday, April 13, 2018

Click here to download the final programme…


The interactions and exchanges between Twelver Shiites and Christians, Catholics as well as Protestants, have rarely been studied in detail.However, there were intensive mutual contacts, as indicated by numerous travelogues, missionary reports, theological and polemical works, diplomatic correspondence, etc. Many of these texts that are preserved in libraries and archives in Europe, as well as Iran and Iraq, still remain to be studied.

The conference aims to identify the nature of the intercultural relations according to time, milieu, and geographical zone. We are particularly interested in manuscripts and little-studied texts by missionaries, envoys, travelers (Europeans as well as Arabs and Persians), converts (Muslims and Christians), theologians and scholars, who were engaged in debates with the ‘other’, in the Middle East as well as Europe. The purpose of the conference is to study the different representations of the ‘other’ and to identify mutual influences, possible ruptures, and the cultural dynamics that appeared during these encounters between ‘East’ and ‘West’.

Among other issues, we will discuss the cultural, religious, political and theological perceptions of the ‘other’. What was the role of missionaries? What about diplomatic and political exchanges? What was the relation between the Vatican and local authorities? How did literature contribute to an understanding of the ‘other’, to the reciprocity of perspectives? What about the proximity of theological works and religious practices between Christians and Shiites? The conference will, through its scientific expertise, attempt to address some of these questions.

The languages of the studied texts include Arabic, Persian, Latin, and the vernacular languages (Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French, Polish).

Organizing institutions: Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies (IDEO) / Institut de Science et de Théologie des Religions (ISTR) / Groupe de recherches interdisciplinaires sur les écritures missionnaires (GRIEM)

Location: Institut Catholique de Paris

Languages of the conference: English, French

Conference fee: There is a conference fee of 25 Euros per participant and presenter. This fee will entitle these persons to participate in the entire conference and attend the reception dinner. Travel or accommodation expenses will not be covered by the organizers, but they would be happy to assist in finding low priced accommodation in religious communities near the Institut Catholique de Paris.

Deadline for the call for papers: November 1, 2017. Successful applicants will be notified by December 1.

If you wish to submit a proposal (the presentation of each paper should be no longer than 20 min), please send an abstract of 300 to 500 words in English or French as well as your CV to the following address:

Publication: The deadline for submitting an article for review is March 1, 2019. The Mélanges de l’Institut dominicain d’études orientales 35 (2020) dedicates its dossier to the topic of the conference. An article can be published following its positive evaluation by the scientific committee.

Workshop “Arabic and Persian manuscripts in Najaf”

From September 28 through October 1, 2018, we will offer to conference participants a workshop on manuscripts linked to the history of Shiite-Christian relations. The workshop will take place in Najaf, Irak (limited registration). Language of the workshop: Arabic.

The pioneer of studies on this topic is Dr Francis Richard whose most influential article is “Catholicisme et Islam chiite au ‘grand siècle’. Autour de quelques documents concernant les Missions catholiques au XVIIème siècle », Euntes docete 33 (1980), 339-403.

The emergence of Ḥadīṯ as the authority of knowledge

International conference with Walid Saleh (University of Toronto), Aisha Geissinger (University of Carleton) in Cairo, 11–13 January 2018

In collaboration with the French Institute of Egypt

Click here to download the programme…

One of the questions raised today by some Egyptian religious authorities is on the lawfulness and relevance of using intellectual tools foreign to the Islamic tradition to read and interpret the Qurʾān and texts of the classic Islamic heritage. Is it permissible and appropriate to use contemporary human sciences to study the texts of the Arab-Islamic patrimony or should it be limited to Ḥadīṯ? IDEO would like to contribute to this debate by studying the emergence of Ḥadīṯ as the authority of knowledge in the Islamic sciences between the 4ᵗʰ/10ᵗʰ and the 8ᵗʰ/14ᵗʰ century.

As demonstrated by Jonathan Brown (2007), the process of canonization of the body of Ḥadīṯ in the 4th/10th century primarily answered the new needs of the Islamic community. And as noted by Aisha Musa (2008: 17–29), this canonization did not occur without the protest of those who saw Ḥadīṯ as a rival to the Qurʾānic text. In its two constitutive parts, matn and isnādḤadīṯ enables scholars to transmit juridical, theological and spiritual knowledge as well as to connect this knowledge to the authority of the Prophet (Brown 2010: 166‒168). Since the 2nd/8th century, Muslim scholars have been confronted with the following paradox: how does one interpret a source that is certain (the Qurʾān) through the lens of texts whose historical reliability is doubtful and subject to criticism (Ḥadīṯ)? Isn’t human reason more reliable than Ḥadīṯ? The middle way of Ašʿarism (between a strict theological literalism and Muʿtazilī rationalism) enabled a kind of fusion between the science of Ḥadīṯ and the rational Muʿtazilī tools (Brown 2010: 178). However, Ašʿarism never silenced more traditionalist voices for whom Ḥadīṯ was the ultimate source of knowledge.

Many scholars have studied the mutual influence of Ḥadīṯ on Fiqh, exegesis, theology and Sufism. We would like to further this research by studying other fields of knowledge in which the recourse to Ḥadīṯ has also been increasing since the 4th/10th century, such as grammar, philosophy, medicine… Are all sciences influenced by this movement? And even in the religious sciences (Fiqh, exegesis, Kalām, Sufism, etc.), do authors turn to the Ḥadīṯ in the same way? Practically, do they treat the ḥadīts, which go back to the Prophet, differently from those which go back to God, as is the case with the aḥādīṯ qudsiyya, and from the āṯār, which trace back to the Companions? Are both matn and isnād used in the discussions? Are ḥadīṯs merely used as an identity marker? As an illustration? As a means to confer Prophetic authority to knowledge? Why would weak ḥadīṯs still be used? Is there resistance to this movement? How would Shia authors deal with Ḥadīṯ? How and to what extent did the Ḥadīṯ also become a source of authority in fields where one would least expect?

In a more fundamental way, and beyond the functions of Ḥadīṯ in Islamic sciences, what is the epistemology that justifies or necessitates recourse to Ḥadīṯ? Is the same ‘radical hermeneutics’ described by Walid Saleh (2010) to be found in all authors? Why must the origin of human knowledge be based in the Prophet’s sayings? Can human reason have access to certain truths without the help of a prophetic revelation?

The proceedings of this conference will be published in MIDEO, the journal of the Institute, issue 34 (May 2019) – contingent on the approval of the reading committee.

Practical information:

The conferences of IDEO aim at supporting young scholars (PhD students and post-PhDs) by providing a space for encounter and debate. To attend the conference, please register by email at the following address: . Registration and attendance is free of charge. The deadline to register for attendance is December 31, 2017.

If you wish to submit a proposal, please send an abstract of 300 to 500 words in English, French or Arabic, as well as your CV to the same address, . The deadline for submitting a proposal is September 30, 2017. We will select between six and ten proposals.

References and bibliography

Brown, Jonathan A. C. 2007. The Canonization of al-Bukhārī and Muslim. Leiden‒Boston: Brill.

—. 2010. Hadith. Oxford: Oneworld.

—. 2011. “The canonization of Ibn Mâjah: Authenticity vs. Utility in the formation of the Sunni Ḥadîth canon,” in Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée 129: 169–181.

Ḥanafī, Ḥasan 2013. Min al-naql ilā al-ʿaql. Al-ǧuzʾ al-ṯānī: ʿulūm al-ḥadīṯ, min naqd al-sanad ilā naqd al-matn. Al-Qāhira: Madbūlī.

Musa, Aisha Y. 2008. Ḥadīth As Scripture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Saleh, Walid A. 2010. “Ibn Taymiyya and the rise of radical hermeneutics,” in Ibn Taymiyya and His Time, edited by Yossef Rapoport & Shahab Ahmed. Karachi: Oxford University Press. 123‒162.

The sciences of Islam, between repetition and innovation: What is commenting in Islam?

Concluding conference of the 200 Project: “Historical contextualization of 200 authors of the Arab and Islamic heritage” IDEO, Cairo, January 14-16, 2016

The Mellon Sawyer Seminar,1 held at the University of California, Berkeley, from October 12-14, 2012, addressed the issue of the literary genre of commentary in post-classical Islam (6th-13rd century A.H./12nd-19th century A.D.). The organizers wanted to restore honor to the genre of commentary, often ignored by specialists in the various Islamic sciences under the pretext that it would, by nature, lack innovation. As El Shamsy2 put it, while modernity was obsessed with the question of originality, postmodernism is preoccupied with hermeneutic circles and language games. He concludes that the present reassessment of the genre of commentary and of scholastic scholarship is not surprising.

Commentary is of paramount importance in the post-classical Islamic sciences. One can even say, as did Saleh,3 that, in the 8th/14th century, commentary became the main mode of intellectual activity as a natural result of the professionalization of knowledge. It forces thinkers to confront the works of others; to follow their arguments, and to respond to them. Here we use “commentary” in the broader sense: tafsīr, šarḥ, ḥāšiya, taʿlīq, but also taḥqīq, taqrīr, taḥrīr etc. Saleh concludes4 by suggesting that the system of the Ottoman madrasa epitomizes this mode of transmission of knowledge.

In the case of philosophical texts, Wisnovsky5 identified seven functions of commentary: 1) reasoned collation of manuscripts; 2) identification of authors and of cited works; 3) paraphrase or definition of puzzling terms; 4) provision of additional evidence for some propositions; 5) remodeling or replacement of the evidence given in the matn; 6) harmonization of the author’s theories with other theories he stated himself in other works, or with theories of others; and 7) refutation of the theories of the matn and at times their replacement by a new theory. More generally, commentary, though one tool among many, plays a role in transmitting and developing the Islamic sciences while at the same time maintaining a strong link with an often idealized past.6

The proceedings of the seminar, partially published in issue 41/3-4 (2013) of the journal Oriens, show that the extent of the corpus of post-classical commentaries in Islam requires further research before one is able to arrive at meaningful conclusions. Eleven of the thirteen published contributions each address a specific text and its corresponding tradition of commentaries, and those being from various fields: Qur’ān, ḥadīṯ, fiqh, philosophy, medicine, Sufism, and poetry. Our conference intends to contribute to this research by continuing the investigation begun at the 2012 Mellon Sawyer Seminar. We expect to add new fields and provide convincing examples which clarify issues and refine our understanding of the challenges faced by the transmission and interpretation of the Islamic sciences. We also seek to understand if there are historical constants in this matter.

One issue deserves more attention: the analysis of commentaries that seem to transmit scribal errors or miscomprehension of texts. A good example of this is the case of Ibn al-Nafīs’ Mūjaz. As studied by Fancy,7 the physiological theory presented by Ibn al-Nafīs in his Mūjaz (a compendium of Avicenna’s Canon) contradicts certain points of his own theory, as expressed in his commentaries of the same Canon. What is more puzzling is that some of Ibn al-Nafīs’ commentators seem not to have noticed these contradictions.

Other questions we would like to address are: Do other areas reflect the same seven functions of the commentary that Wisnovsky identified in philosophy? Can variations in these functions be observed according to the field or era? Which processes govern the canonization of one commentary over another? Do commentaries on these “canonical” commentaries serve functions which differ from the functions of the commentaries on basic works? Do self-commentaries follow fundamentally different criteria? Can we pinpoint particular features in the thought of an author in his own practice of commentary and the function which he intends his commentaries to play?

These research questions are based on the results of the Mellon Sawyer Seminar, they do not cover all the aspects of the commentary relations between texts. We hope your contributions will enrich this fascinating research field.

Keynote speakers: Walid A. Saleh (University of Toronto) and Nadjet Zouggar (RESMED, Paris).

The proceedings of this symposium will be published in MIDEO, the journal of the Institute, after acceptance by the peer committee.

Practical information:

To register, please send an email at the following address: . Registration is free of fees.

If you wish to deliver a paper, please send your abstract (300‒500 words, in English, French or Arabic) and a CV to the same address, . Deadline for application: September 30, 2015. We will select between six and ten papers.

The conference will take place at Bayt al-Sinnari on January, 14, 15 and 16, 2016.

This project is funded by the Delegation of the European Union in Egypt. The ideas expressed do not reflect the views of the European Union.

1 Ahmed, Asad Q. & Larkin, Margaret (Ed.) (2013). The ḥāshiya and Islamic intellectual history [Papers of the Mellon Sawyer Seminar, University of California, Berkeley, October 12‒14, 2012]. Oriens 41/3-4. 213‒545.

2 El Shamsy, Ahmed (2013). The ḥāshiya in Islamic law: A sketch of the Shāfiʿī literature. Oriens 41/3-4. 302.

3 Saleh, Walid A. (2013). The gloss as intellectual history: The ḥāshiyahs on al-Kashshāf. Oriens 41/3-4. 249.

4 Ibid., p. 250.

5 Wisnovsky, Robert (2013). Avicennism and exegetical practice in the early commentaries on the Ishārāt. Oriens 41/3-4. 354-357.

6 Ingalls, Matthew B. (2013). Reading the Sufis as scripture through the sharḥ mamzūj: Reflections on a late-medieval Sufi commentary. Oriens 41/3-4. 473.

Fancy, Nahyan (2013). Medical commentaries: A preliminary examination of Ibn al-Nafīs’s shurūḥ, the Mūjaz and subsequent commentaries on the Mūjaz. Oriens 41/3-4. 525‒545.