Article on al‑Shāfiʿī’s hermeneutics: الهرمنيوطيقا الفقهية عند الإمام الشافعي

This Arabic article on the legal hermeneutics of al‑Shāfiʿī was presented at a regional meeting of the Nahdlatul Ulama in Yogyakarta, Indonesia in 2013, and then published in a journal edited by my host Dr. Sahiron Syamsuddin (with me in the picture above):

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

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.

Panel on difficult passages in the Bible and the Qur’an

On March 16, 2016, I got to engage in an hour-and-a-half public discussion with James Murphy, a scholar of the Hebrew Bible and Christian origins at South Dakota State University, on the topic of “Religious Texts & Social Contexts: Challenging Interpretations in a Changing World.” We discussed our different responses to hard passages in the Qur’an and the Bible. I was enriched by my engagement with James Murphy, and with Krystal Smith of the Veritas Forum, which organized the event. Video of our discussion is at

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:


A Customizable Exaptive ‘Xap’

On October 16, 2015, the Digital Islamic Humanities Program at Brown University held its third annual scholarly gathering, a symposium on the subject “Distant Reading & the Islamic Archive,” organized by Elias Muhanna. My presentation was about the OU/Exaptive Discourse Map pilot project:

David R. Vishanoff. “A Customizable Exaptive ‘Xap’ for Charting Currents of Islamic Discourse across Multiple Bibliographic and Full Text Datasets.” Third Annual Islamic Digital Humanities Conference, “Distant Reading and the Islamic Archive,” Middle East Studies Program, Brown University, October 16, 2015.

A full record of the conference, including recordings, is available on the web site of Brown’s Digital Islamic Humanities Project.

The slides from my presentation are available here.

The photo above was taken by Rythum Vinoben.

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

Islamic Studies as Sacrificial Listening