The Centre for the Study of Islam (CSI)

Visiting speakers

4 November 2015 – Prof Blain Auer, University of Lausanne, Switzerland
“What Islamic History (in India) says about History”

This talk concerns the construction and production of Persian historiography in India during the medieval period. It considers debates about the knowledge of history in the broader intellectual milieu developing across the Middle East and South Asia in the 13th and 14th centuries. Finally, it attempts to confront broader challenges in the writing of Islamic history in relation to myth and religion.

Blain Auer is Professor of the Study of Islam in South Asia at the University of Lausanne in the Department of Slavic and South Asian Languages and Civilizations.

9 December 2015 – Prof Jon Hoover, Dept of Theology & Religious Studies, University of Nottingham
“Did Ibn Taymiyya Confess to being an Ash’ari?”

Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328) of Damascus is best known today as an inspiration for Wahhabis, Salafis, jihadis and even some modernists, and in his own time he was arguably the most incisive and prolific scholar of the Mamluk sultanate of Syria and Egypt. However, his views sometimes brought him into conflict with the religious establishment and the Mamluk authorities, and one of the most protracted disputes pitted his doctrine of God’s attributes against the dominant Ash‘ari theology. Adherents of Ash‘ari doctrine accused Ibn Taymiyya of ascribing a body to God and letters and sounds to God’s speech. These charges led to hearings in Damascus in 1298 and 1305 and then hearings and imprisonment in Egypt from 1305 to 1310. On most accounts, Ibn Taymiyya held to his views throughout, but, according to some contemporary reports, he retracted his doctrine at two hearings in 1307 and confessed to being an Ash‘ari. This lecture will assess the plausibility of these reports and their significance for the boundaries of orthodoxy in the Mamluk sultanate.

10 February 2016 – Dr Mateo Farzaneh, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago
“Shiite Clerics and Political Madernization in Iran”

In this book presentation, Prof Farzaneh will discuss the role of Islamic jurisprudence in political reform in Iran. Throughout the 1800s, Iran was challenged to politically modernize in order to undo the failed policies of its corrupt/absolutist monarchical system. Introduction of Western-style constitutionalism by secular Iranians brought about the establishment of the Islamic world’s first parliament in Iran in 1906. However, that was the beginning of a long struggle between the proponents and the opponents of rule of law as a new political reality. Mullah Muhammad Kazim Khurasani led a group of high-ranking Iranian Shiite clerics living in Iraq and began a transnational clerical movement in support of constitutionalism with the objective to sever the political influence of Muslim clerics and leaving “modern” politics to the elected parliamentarians. This talk is based on Prof Farzaneh’s new book, The Iranian Constitutional Revolution and the Clerical Leadership of Khurasani.

Prof Farzaneh received his PhD from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He taught world and Middle Eastern history at Santa Barbara City College and California State Fullerton before joining the history department at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago in 2010.

17 February 2016 – Dr Vasileios Syros, Academy of Finland

“Palaces of Cards: Consultation and Good Government in Islamic and Italian Advice Literature”

This presentation is a preliminary attempt to look at the evolution of early Islamic and Renaissance Italian advice literature in a comparative perspective, by focusing on some of the major works produced in the 8th century Abbasid Empire and 16th century Italy.  I will undertake a comparative analysis of Ibn al-Muqaffa’s (d. ca. 140/757) Adab al-Kabīr and Baldassare Castiglione’s (1478-1529) Il Libro del cortegiano (The Book of the Courtier) and canvass a shared set of themes that inform early Islamic and Renaissance Italian political discourse on the complex relationship between the ruler and his courtiers, the qualities of the ideal adviser and the dynamics of the decision-making process and consultatation.  The presentation will also identify new modes of exploring the development of Abbasid and Italian court cultures within a comparative framework and revisiting their relevance in the context of current debates on effective leadership and delegation of authority.

Vasileios Syros is a Senior Research Fellow at the Academy of Finland and Principal Investigator of the international research project “Political Power in the Early Modern European and Islamic Worlds”.  He previously taught at the University of Chicago, McGill University and the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes.  Syros recently launched the book series “Contestations and Reconfigurations” with Edinburgh University Press.

2 March 2016 – Professor David Thomas, University of Birmingham

“The Minimalisation of Christianity under Early Islamic Rule”

Christians living under early Islamic rule often enjoyed considerable social freedom, but they were also constrained by a sense of increasing inequality.  In addition to discriminatory legal measures, Muslim religious writings frequently ignored Christianity as a full faith tradition.  Religious experts routinely stripped it down into a series of individual teachings which they proved were weak by contrast with the strength of their own Islamic doctrines.  Christianity as a tradition of faith was gradually erased from the picture and Christians were silenced as partners in religious debate.

Professor Thomas has been a specialist in Islam and Christian-Muslim relations for many years.  After undergraduate work at Oxford, he worked in the northern Sudan, where his interest in Islam was kindled.  He took this further in theological studies at Cambridge and in PhD research at Lancaster.  In 1993 he was appointed Lecturer at the Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, Selly Oak.  In 2007 he was appointed Professor of Christianity and Islam.  In 2011 he was made Nadir Dinshaw Professor of Interreligious Relations.

9 March 2016 – Professor Nicolai Sinai, University of Oxford

“In the Messenger of God you have a good example: Episcopal Leadership and the Medinan Qur’an”

This lecture will examine the noticeably elevated status and wide range of functions that the Medinan Qur’an, in contrast to the earlier Meccan Surahs, ascribes to the Qur’anic messenger.  The perceptible discontinuity with the Meccan presentation of Muhammad’s role raises the question whether the Medinan Qur’an might be recasting and latching on to pre-existing templates of communal leadership.  I shall propose that the Christian episcopate yields a surprising number of close overlaps.  At the same time, I shall also highlight important differences.  In the light of the evidence presented, the Medinan Qur’an emerges as engaged in a sophisticated appropriation of a wide range of late antique predecessor traditions.

Professor Sinai is an Associate Professor of Islamic Studies and Fellow of Pembroke College at the University of Oxford.  He received his doctorate from the Free University Berlin in 2007.  His primary focus of research is in Qur’anic studies which covers topics such as the Qur’an’s literary features, its engagement with earlier (Christian, Rabbinic, Arabian) traditions, and Islamic scriptural exegesis.

23 March 2016 – Professor Geert Jan van Gelder, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences

“Foul Whisperings: Madness and Poetry in Arabic Literary History”

This lecture will focus on a number of minor poets from the first few centuries of Islam, who were said to be insane (muwaswis, literally "bewhispered"), even though their poetry was not always mad.

Professor van Gelder was the Laudian Professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford from 1998 to 2012 and Fellow of St John's College, Oxford.  He was previously a Lecturer in Arabic at the University of Groningen and gained his PhD from the University of Leiden.  He was appointed as a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1994 and became a Fellow of the British Academy in 2005.

21 September 2016 – Professor William Ochsenwald, Virginia Tech University, USA

“The Transformation of Education in the Hijaz, 1925-1945”

Professor William Ochsenwald will discuss the historical transformation of education in the major cities of the Hijaz from their conquest by Saudi forces in 1925 to the end of World War II, with an emphasis on curriculum, funding, administration structures, levels of education, foreign influences and the education of women.

Professor Ochsenwald gained his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1971 and specialises in Middle Eastern History.  He is currently researching the history of the Saudi Hijaz from 1925 to 1945.  His publications include “The Middle East: A History” 7th Edition (McGraw-Hill, 2011). 

He is currently Associate Editor for History, “Review of Middle East Studies” and Contributing Editor, “Encyclopaedia of Islam and the Muslim World”, 2nd Edition (Gale/Cengage 2016).

23 November 2016 – Dr Humeira Iqtidar, King’s College, London

“Tolerance and Justice: Abul Ala Maududi and Modern Islamic Thought”

Dr Iqtidar is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the Department of Political Economy at King's College London. She is the author of "Secularising Islamists?" (Chicago, 2011) and the co-convenor of London Comparative Political Theory Workshop. She led the ERC funded project "Tolerance in Contemparory Islamic Politics: Political Theory Beyond the West."

8 February 2017 – Professor Christian Lange, Utrecht University

“What no eye has seen: The Development of Early Muslim Literature on Paradise and Hell”

In this talk, I provide first an overview of the Muslim literature about paradise and hell up to ca 250 AH.  To illustrate the broad development that this literature underwent, I then zoom in on the well-known ‘divine saying’ (hadith qudsī) that “I have prepared for my servants [in paradise] that which no eye has seen, no ear has heard and no mind has conceived”.  This is a tradition that has deep roots in the Judeo-Christian literature of Late Antiquity.  The Qur’an seems aware of it, but does not quote it.  The first appearance in Muslim literature comes in the Scroll (șahīfa) of the Yemeni traditionist, Hammām b. Munabbih (d. 131/749 or 132/750).  From there, the saying undergoes a series of fascinating transformations and ends up (in various shapes) in the canonical collections.  I discuss the theological content and implications of the various versions of the saying and then back up my thoughts with an analysis of the chains of transmitters (isnāds) that support these versions.

Christian Lange (PhD Harvard, 2006) holds the Chair of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Utrecht.  In his research, he seeks to inject the study of Islamic sources in Arabic and Persian with the analytical categories and approaches developed in the Study of Religion and cognate disciplines in the Humanities.  He’s primarily interested in the areas of Islamic theology (eschatology in particular), Islamic law and legal theory, and Islamic mysticism.

15 March 2017 – Dr Ramon Harvey, Ebrahim College

“Towards a Neo-Māturīdī Natural Law Theory: A Constructive Rereading of al-Māturīdī’s (d.333/944) Theology and Ethics”

The centrality of theological and ethical questions for the articulation of Islamic jurisprudence is well-known. A meaningful systematic account of the sharīʿa cannot be given without enquiry into the nature of God and of morality, as well as their relation to the obligations placed upon human beings.

In this lecture, I will argue that the theological system of the early Transoxianan scholar Abū Manṣūr al-Māturīdī, which places the attribute of divine wisdom centre stage, has interesting implications for his grounding of morality and apparent theory of practical jurisprudence when compared to other major theological schools of his era.

My intention in excavating these questions within the thought of al-Māturīdī is not just their intrinsic historical interest, but to outline a constructive proposal for a Neo-Māturīdī natural law theory. Such a perspective would aim to be fit for engagement in both contemporary debates of Islamic law and wider ethical discourse with other traditions and academic views.

Dr Harvey received his MA and then PhD in Islamic Studies from SOAS, University of London. He has previously worked as a Senior Teaching Fellow at SOAS, as a Research Fellow at the Cambridge Muslim College and is currently Lecturer in Islamic Studies at Ebrahim College in London. He has written articles on canonical and variant Qur’anic qirāʾāt and will soon release his first book entitled The Qur’an and the Just Society with Edinburgh University Press. His current research interests are Qur’anic studies, Islamic theology and legal theory, as well as contemporary ethical and political philosophy.