EUME Summer Academy
Sun 02 Sep 2007 – Wed 12 Sep 2007

Literary and Historical Approaches to the Qur’an and the Bible

In cooperation with the German Oriental Society in Istanbul and the ISAM – Center for Islamic Studies


»Literary and Historical Approaches to the Qur'an and the Bible« was the theme of the International Summer Academy, which the research program Europe in the Middle East—The Middle East in Europe (EUME) in cooperation with the German Oriental Society in Istanbul and the ISAM – Center for Islamic Studies jointly organized in Istanbul. The Academy was held in different venues from 02 September - 12 September 2007 in Istanbul. It was chaired by Angelika Neuwirth (Seminar für Semitistik und Arabistik, Freie Universität Berlin), Stefan Wild (Orientalisches Seminar, Universität Bonn), Jens Schröter (Theologische Fakultät, Universität Leipzig), Walid Saleh (University of Toronto), Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid (Universität Utrecht).

Please find here the schedule of the Summer Academy and the original call for Applications.

The Summer Academy has brought together 36 doctoral and postdoctoral scholars as well as more established scholars from more than fifteen countries and various disciplinary fields for two weeks to discuss topics and questions related to the agenda of the summer academy. Discussions were based on  the participants’ ongoing research projects. Debates occurred also in thematically structured groups and in panel discussions

Although sacred scriptures such as the Qur’an, the Gospel or the Torah can be read and recited in a non-hermeneutical fashion, it is clear that any account of the special status accorded to such texts must include the fact that they are interpreted in a particular way, and with particular care. To say that a text functions as a canon, or a sacred scripture, is to say, that it is read by a community on the basis of special hermeneutic commitments: Sacred scriptures are texts which are presumed a priori – rather than found a posteriori – to be universally true, coherent, and relevant to the fundamental concerns of their adherents at any given time. The canonical status accorded to such texts thus rests upon the fact that they are interpreted differently from profane writings, which are not usually assumed to be universally true and relevant.

Yet insofar as the texts under discussion are not only canons but also texts, they exhibit a number of aspects which do not as such involve religious premises. While literary approaches identify and analyze the poetic and rhetorical techniques and literary structures exhibited by such texts, historical approaches sound out the way these texts may have been understood in their context of origin by the very first reciters, listeners, and readers. In such a way the often complicated process of their literary evolution (i.e. the conflation of independent source documents, or later revisions of earlier textual strata) can be reconstructed.

The general topic of the proposed summer academy will be the question whether, and if so how, the historical and/or literary study of religious canons is possible ‘from inside’, i. e., whether, and under which conditions, it is compatible with a religious commitment to these texts. The academy’s aim will therefore be, firstly, to locate various methods of historical and literary analysis within the larger framework of the interpretation of sacred scriptures, both historically and theologically. Secondly, the objective will not merely be to catalogue different approaches to canonical writings but also to identify their respective strengths and shortcomings when confronted with the texts they purport to illuminate. The academy is thus not envisaged exclusively as a descriptive review of some of the ways in which the Bible and Qur’an have been and are interpreted; it will at least pose – albeit not solve – the normative question of the way these texts responsibly ought to be interpreted. This problem is, thirdly, tied up with the question of scriptural authority inside the relevant community. Since it is hoped that the academy will attract scholars from very diverse cultural and academic backgrounds (i.e., from within and without their respective religious communities), it may well prove impossible to reach a consensus on this issue. However, even if complete agreement on a shared paradigm of research does not appear to be a realistic expectation, the interaction of differing and even rivalling approaches will certainly give rise to important methodological impulses and, hopefully, to a more refined understanding of the texts themselves. A fourth aim of the academy is to tap the rich exegetical work of contemporary Turkish scholars which runs the whole gamut between traditional exegesis and attempts of de-mythologization.

Both in terms of the tutors and the venue chosen (Istanbul), the summer academy’s main emphasis will be on the Qur’an, as it is part of the project  “Perspectives on the Qur’an: Negotiating Different Views of a Shared History”, directed by Angelika Neuwirth and Stefan Wild. Furthermore, a comparative approach to the academy’s subject is clearly required: After all, historical-critical scholarship has emerged in the cultural context of Western Christianity and was first applied to the Biblical writings, thus prompting a long process of reflection on its merits and limits within Christian and Jewish theology. When exploring new approaches to Qur’anic exegesis, therefore, it will prove illuminating for students of all three scriptures to take into account the methodological debates and interpretative practices within other monotheistic traditions.         

Guiding Questions of the Summer Academy

One fundamental problem to be pursued throughout the academy will be the question of how the theological unrest generated by historical-literary readings of scripture may be reconciled with a religious commitment to the ongoing canonicity of these writings. Just as importantly, the precise shape of the methodologies here labelled as “historical” and “literary” is a subject of considerable debate.

In addition, the precise way in which historical and literary approaches do or do not intersect remains to be determined.

A further possible avenue of inquiry consists in asking to what extent historical and literary reading strategies can already be detected within classical Islamic exegesis. If the gist of the historical-critical approach is, roughly speaking, to situate the respective text within a critical reconstruction of its historical context, then traditional ways of interpreting the Qur’an come close to falling under the term. Attention to issues of historical context plays a significant role in traditional Qur’anic exegesis. This underlying attitude is certainly one of critical sifting, reconstruction, and above all contextualization.

Participants of the Summer Academy of 2007:

Ahmad, Ahmad A. (University of California, Santa Barbara) Back to Nöldeke/Schwally/Bergsträsser. The Early Dialogues Between Modern Westerners and Medieval Muslims on the Qur’an
Ameur, Jihène (Université de Tunis) Text History of the Qur’an
Aybakan, Bilal (Marmara University, Faculty of Divinity, Istanbul) A Theoretical Framework for the Contextual Analysis of Qur'anic Revelation
Aydin, M. Akif (ISAM) Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı - Islam Araştırmaları Merkezi
Boisliveau, Anne-Sylvie (Institut Français du Proche-Orient Damas) The Qur’an Seen by Itself. A Study of the Qur’anic Discourse about Itself, Based on the Scriptural Data
Dayeh, Islam (Freie Universität Berlin) Meccan Negotiations and Rise of an Apocalyptic Community. A Literary-Historical Analysis of Sura 6 (Al-An’am)
El Masri, Ghassan (Freie Universität Berlin) A Systematic Method for Interpreting the Qur'an
Gökkir, Bilal (Süleyman Demirel University) Form and Structure of Sura Maryam
Gokkir, Necmettin (Trinity College Dublin) The relationship between text and society in Muslim hermeneutical traditions
Goldstein, Miriam (Bar Illan University) Judeo-Arabic Bible Exegesis in the 10th and 11th Centuries
Gürkan, Salime Leyla (ISAM, Research Fellow) A Comparative Analysis of the Concept of Election / Chosenness in the Bible and the Qur'an
Hamid Abu Zaid, Nasr (Humanistic University in Utrecht) Canonicity and Authority: The Power of Discourse
Hammami, Nader (University Sfax, Tunisia) Qur'an and a'arab: a historical re-examination
Hartwig, Dirk (New York University) The Qur’an as the 'Authentic Torah': A Re-Reading of Sura al-Baqarah with its Rabbinic Intertexts
Horn, Cornelia (Saint Louis University) Synergetical Relationships: Christian Apocrypha and Early Islamic Literature in Dialogue
Kiltz, David (BBAW) Assessing Loanwords in the Qur'an
Marx, Michael (BBAW) A Database of Intertexts on the Qur'an: Surat Maryam as an Example. A Methodological Tool for a Historical Critical Approach on the Qur'an
Neuwirth, Angelika (Freie Universität Berlin) Plural and Travelling Traditions in the Mirror of the Qur'an
Özervarlı, Sait (ISAM, Research Fellow) Towards the Formation of Qur'anic Theology: The Concept of Fitra as a Base for Belief in God
Paçaci, Mehmet(Ankara University)A Critique of Modernist-Historicist Approaches to the Qur’an
Pietrareanu, Ovidiu (University of Bucharest) Divine Love, Human Love and Morality in the Prophetic Writings of the Old Testament and in the Qur’an
Pregill, Michael (Columbia University) The Living Calf of Sinai: Orientalism, "Influence," and the Foundations of the Islamic Exegetical Tradition
Rabb, Intisar (Princeton University) Textual-Legal Intepetation and Variant Readings of the Qur'an
Roggema, Barbara (Birmingham University) Arabic Christian Polemic Against Islam and the Early Development of Qur’anic Exegesis
Saleh, Walid (University of Toronto) How Do We Train a Qur'an Scholar? A Tentative Discussion on the Status of the Field of Qur'anic Studies
Schröter, Jens (Universität Leipzig) The Biblical Canon as Historical Document and Sacred Text. In Search of Common Ground for Interpretation of the Bible and the Qur'an
Sinai, Nicolai (BBAW) The Qur'an as Process. The Project of a Historical-critical Commentary on the Qur'an: Methodological Principles and Assumptions of the Project Corpus Coranicum at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences (BBAW)
Sinanoğlu, Mustafa (ISAM, Research Fellow)         
Stefanidis, Emmanuelle (University Vincennes-St Denis, Paris VIII) Working on the Qur’an: The Mechanics of Textual Co-operation
Stefaniw, Blossom (Universität Erfurt) Noetic Exegesis as a Cultural System: A Thick Description of Allegorical Interpretation in the Educational Practice of Origen of Alexandria, Didymus the Blind, and Evagrius Ponticus
Strauss, Tobie (Hebrew University) Jerusalem Prosodic Structure Conveyed by the Written and Chanted Biblical Accents
Tabbara, Nayla (Saint Joseph University, Beirut) The Sufi Commentaries of sûrat al-Kahf: Qur’anic Narrative as Symbol of Spiritual Itinerary
Tinasz, Nuri (ISAM, Research Fellow)  
Tofighi, Fatemeh (Shahid Beheshti University Teheran) God and His Family in the Abrahamic Sacred Scriptures
Turker, Omer (ISAM, Research Fellow) Theoretical and Metaphysical Framework of Ta'wil in Understanding of the Qur'an
Wild, Stefan (Universität Bonn) The Noble Qur'an and the Orientalists. A Symposion in Medina

Institutional Framework

The summer academy "Literary and Historical Approaches to the the Qur’an and the Bible" will be held from September 2 to September 12, 2007 in Istanbul. It will be organised in co-operation with the Institute of the German Oriental Society in Istanbul and the ISAM – Centre for Islamic Studies within the research field “Perspectives on the Qur’an: Negotiating Different Views of a Shared History” as part of the research program Europe in the Middle East–The Middle East in Europe, a joint research program of the Berlin Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. The Summer Academy will be conducted by Prof. Angelika Neuwirth (FU Berlin) and Prof. Stefan Wild (Bonn), who are also the co-directors of the Qur’an section of Europe in the Middle East–The Middle East in Europe.

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