Medieval Islamic Models of Revelation: Hermeneutical Consequences Then and Now.

At the 2005 American Academy of Religion meeting, while interviewing for jobs, I finally found a way to present the gist of my main research project, The Formation of Islamic Hermeneutics, in a way that would engage a general religious studies audience (with the help of a few props).

“Medieval Islamic Models of Revelation: Hermeneutical Consequences Then and Now.” American Academy of Religion, Philadelphia, November 21, 2005.

Here is a pdf of the paper.

Here is the abstract:

Medieval Muslim jurists’ competing interpretive theories embodied profoundly different visions of law, revelation, and the relationship between them.  The Zahiri Ibn Hazm envisioned law as a language game, in which the details of the law unfold like theorems from God’s axiomatic utterances.  The Mu`tazili `Abd al-Jabbar pictured revelation as a signpost erected by God in the midst of creation, indicating the consequences of human actions in plain speech.  The Ash`ari al-Baqillani regarded the words of revelation as dim and partial indicators from which human beings may infer the content of God’s eternal, inscrutable command.  The Hanbali Abu Ya`la portrayed revelation anthropomorphically, likening it to a human ruler’s speech that brings about obligations performatively.  Many of the fundamental questions about language and meaning addressed by these medieval models remain contested in contemporary Islamic hermeneutical discourse, where they now have the potential to generate dramatic changes in interpretation and law.


My very first publication was an encyclopedia article on the early Muslim theologian Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Sayyar al-Nazzam (782–836), whose thought I encountered in writing my dissertation.

David R. Vishanoff. “Naẓẓām, al‑.” In The Encyclopedia of Religion, Second Edition, ed. Lindsay Jones, vol. 9, 6444-6446. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005.

The article can be accessed directly in the Gale Virtual Reference Library.