The anthropological turn in Islamic legal interpretation

On July 23-24, 2016, the Zentrum für Islamische Theologie at the University of Tübingen did a superb job of organizing and hosting a conference on “Islamic Theology – Past, Present and Future: Global Challenges and Prospective Synergies in the Academic Study of Islam.” My presentation dealt once again with the Indonesian thinker Aksin Wijaya, arguing that his explicitly anthropocentric epistemology reflects a broader shift in Islamic thought that opens up new conversations between historical and confessional scholarship on Islam:

“The Anthropological Turn in Islamic Legal Interpretation.” Islamic Theology – Past, Present and Future: Global Challenges and Prospective Synergies in the Academic Study of Islam, University of Tübingen, July 24, 2016.

Here is a pdf of the paper, as delivered. It was written for oral presentation, without documentation. I plan to use it as the framework for a published article incorporating aspects of several papers I have given recently on Qur’anic hermeneutics in contemporary Indonesia.

Al‑hirminyūṭīqā al‑fiqhiyya ʿinda al‑Imām al‑Shāfiʿī

This Arabic article on the legal hermeneutics of al‑Shāfiʿī was presented at a meeting of the regional office of the Indonesian scholarly organization Nahdlatul Ulama (Pengurus Wilayah Nahdlatul Ulama Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta) in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on March 31, 2013, at the invitation of Sahiron Syamsuddin, and then published in his International Journal of Pesantren Studies:

“Al‑hirminyūṭīqā al‑fiqhiyya ʿinda al‑Imām al‑Shāfiʿī.” International Journal of Pesantren Studies 7 no. 2 (2015 [2016]): 263–281.

Many thanks to Pak Sahiron and the scholars of Nadhlatul Ulama for their warm hospitality and their kind generosity toward my ideas and poor Arabic.

Here is a pdf of the article (marked up to indicate a few corrections necessitated by formatting issues).

Here is the English abstract:

Hermeneutics is not a new discipline among Muslim thinkers; it goes back to al‑Shāfiʿī’s founding of the discipline of legal theory (uṣūl al‑fiqh). This article examines the role al‑Shāfiʿī played in the founding of Islamic legal hermeneutics, and then describes his hermeneutic as one of great flexibility for defining hermeneutical intertextual relationships, and great freedom for deriving legal rules from texts. Then it presents the goal of al‑Shāfiʿī’s hermeneutic as the establishment of a perfect correlation between his legal opinions and the Qurʾānic verses and Prophetic traditions that were widely accepted in his time. Then it indicates the most important consequence of al‑Shāfiʿī’s legal hermeneutic: the possibility of imagining a legal system that is at once divine and human, that is entirely based on the texts of divine revelation yet also evolves to suit the needs of human society across time and space.

The Structure and Composition of al-Shāfiʿī’s Risāla: Three Books, Three Outlines, Three Arguments.

In February 2016 Rob Gleave of the Islamic Reformulations project and Murteza Bedir of Istanbul University convened a conference on Islamic legal theory (uṣūl al‑fiqh) in the opulent setting of Istanbul University’s ceremonial administration building. It was a real who’s who of historians of uṣūl al‑fiqh. My contribution was:

“The Structure and Composition of al-Shāfiʿī’s Risāla: Three Books, Three Outlines, Three Arguments.” Reformulation and Hermeneutics: Researching the History of Islamic Legal Theory, Istanbul University, February 22, 2016.

The paper introduced and commented upon my “Reader’s Guide to al-Shāfiʿī’s Risāla,” which is available here.

The view from the conference meeting room:


Can Qur’anic Interpretation Be Both Practically Adequate and Theologically Principled? Some Instructive Historical Examples…

Harith Bin Ramli and Ramon Harvey hosted a warm, lively, and coherent symposium on theologies of revelation at the Cambridge Muslim College. It was a beautiful and memorable day, epitomized by this image of Shahrur and Mohammed:

Sahrur and Mohammed at CMC symposium

My presentation was a reflective pause, looking back on my previous work on classical legal hermeneutics, drawing in my recent readings in Indonesian Qur’anic hermeneutics, and pondering some of the intellectual challenges and moral dangers of thinking systematically about revelation:

“Can Qur’anic Interpretation Be both Practically Adequate and Theologically Principled? Some Instructive Historical Examples of the Delicate Connection between Hermeneutical Theories and Doctrines of Divine Speech.” From Revelation to Scripture: A Symposium on Divine Speech and Prophetic Inspiration in Islam, Cambridge Muslim College, Cambridge, England, September 12, 2015.

Here is a pdf of the full paper, which I summarized at the symposium. The new material it contains about the Indonesian thinker Aksin Wijaya was previously discussed at the International Qur’anic Studies Association in 2014, and hopefully will be included in a future publication (perhaps a volume stemming from the Cambridge Muslim College symposium).

Another image from the day–Farrokh and Ramon during one of the many coffee breaks:

Farrokh and Ramon at CMC symposium

Hermeneutics and the Traditional Islamic Sciences in Indonesia Today

At the IAHR meeting in beautiful Erfurt, in a paper session organized by Carool Kersten on “Retraditionalisation, Anti-Foundationalism and Glocalisation in a Post-Islamist Muslim World,” I presented a simple comparison of three Indonesian thinkers whose works I had been reading, and whom I had just had the opportunity to interview in Indonesia:

Hermeneutics and the Traditional Islamic Sciences in Indonesia Today: Rhetoric, Retraditionalisation, or Creative Anti-Foundationalism?” International Association for the History of Religions, Erfurt, Germany, August 24, 2015.

Here is a link to a pdf of the paper as presented. This is an oral presentation version, without documentation. It is not intended for publication, though the figures discussed here will doubtless appear in some future publication.

Islamic Studies as Sacrificial Listening