Indicative and Performative Theories of Divine Speech in Classical Islamic Legal Theory

Nadja Germann and her research team put on a very rich and remarkably focused conference on “Intention and Signification: Philosophy of Language Across Islamic Disciplines, 800-1200” at the University of Freiburg, in beautiful Baden-Württemberg, Germany, from June 1 to 3, 2017. What a feast! My own contribution was:

“Indicative and Performative Theories of Divine Speech in Classical Islamic Legal Theory.” Intention and Signification: Philosophy of Language Across Islamic Disciplines, 800-1200, University of Freiburg, June 3, 2017.

I presented just a summary of a long paper draft which is still too rough to post here, but it will be polished up and published in a forthcoming conference volume from DeGruyter.

An Early Recension of the Islamic Psalms of David

Juan Pedro Monferrer Sala and the Biblia Arabica team put on a delightful conference on the transmission of the Arabic Bible among Jews, Christians, and Muslims from April 26 to 28, 2017, in Córdoba, at Casa Árabe, whose jasmine-filled courtyard is pictured above. My contribution was:

“An Early Recension of the Islamic Psalms of David: The Koranic Style and Content of Istanbul Fatih 28 and Madrid 5146.” Biblia Arabica conference on Translators, copyists and interpreters: Jews, Christians and Muslims and the transmission of the Bible in Arabic in the Middle Ages, Cordoba, Spain, April 28, 2017.

The slides from the presentation are available as a pdf here.

A Reader’s Guide to al-Shāfiʿī’s Epistle on Legal Theory (al-Risāla)

This Reader’s Guide is intended as a companion for those engaged in the delightful but sometimes puzzling task of reading al-Shāfiʿī’s famous Risāla, a work that sparked the discipline of Islamic legal theory. It includes a discussion of the structure of the work and a detailed twenty-four-page analytical outline that spells out step by step the flow of what I take to be al-Shāfiʿī’s argument. I hope it proves a useful tool for students and a compelling interpretive proposal for scholars already familiar with the work.

David R. Vishanoff. “A Reader’s Guide to al-Shāfiʿī’s Epistle on Legal Theory (al-Risāla).” Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations 28 no. 3 (2017): 245-269.

The Version of Record (VoR) is published at Please cite only this final version. For scholars whose institutions do not provide access to the journal, a limited number of free downloads are available at

A longer version, the Author’s Original (AO), is available here as a pdf for personal schol­ar­ly and educational use. It does not reflect the corrections and additions to the introductory essay that were suggested by reviewers, and therefore should not be cited in scholarship, but it has two advantages for personal study and teaching: it includes a brief as well as a detailed outline of the Risāla, and the long outline retains numerous comments about the text, including suggested amendments to Joseph Lowry’s translation of the Risāla, that had to be cut from the published version.

Review of Amr Osman, The Zahiri Madhhab

Here is my review of a new book on the Zahiri school of law, commonly called “literalist” but better described as “textualist” according to Amr Osman. Unfortunately, I found that the book suffers from numerous problems, which are documented in the review.

David R. Vishanoff. Review of Amr Osman, The Ẓāhirī Madhhab (3rd/9th–10th/16th Century): A Textualist Theory of Islamic Law (Leiden: Brill, 2014). Der Islam 93 no. 2 (2016): 603–609.

Permanent link to the published article (Version of Record): DOI 10.1515/islam-2016-0047

Given the negative nature of the review, I do not wish to distribute it widely, and so will not post the full text here. It is important only for those scholars who are considering making serious use of Osman’s book.

Images of David in several Muslim rewritings of the Psalms

A very rich conference on King David was held in the elegant setting of the Institute of History at the University of Warsaw from October 26 to 28, 2016. Many thanks and congratulations to Marzena Zawanowska for organizing such a splendidly comparative and interdisciplinary gathering! My presentation updated my earlier mapping of the manuscript families of the Islamic Psalms (see An Imagined Book Gets a New Text: Psalms of the Muslim David) and explored how the figure of David was reshaped by the editors of the various recensions:

“Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms.” Warrior, Poet, Prophet and King: The Character of David in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, University of Warsaw, Poland, October 28, 2016.

Here is a pdf of the paper, as delivered, and here is a pdf of the slides presented, which include the quotations discussed in the paper as well as several visualizations of the relationships between the various recensions of the psalms (produced from my database of notes using Gephi graph visualization software and the amazing RAW visualization tool by Density Design). The paper was written for oral presentation, without documentation; I plan to expand and document it for the volume of essays that is expected to result from the conference.