Many thanks to Amir Dziri and Hansjörg Schmid, both of the Swiss Center for Islam and Society at the University of Fribourg, for inviting me to join an exciting, coherent, and flawlessly organized conference celebrating the dissertations of seven graduates of their doctoral program in “Islam and Society: Islamic-theological Studies.” My presentation responded to an innovative and sophisticated dissertation by Esma Isis-Arnautović (“Vom Menschenbild zum Paradigma: Zur Begründbarkeit einer theologischen Anthropologie im Islam”):
“The Anthropological Turn in Islamic Theologies of Revelation.” On the Future of a Young Discipline: Islamic-theological Studies between Systematic and Practical Research, Swiss Center for Islam and Society, University of Fribourg / Paulus Akademie, Zurich, May 31, 2022.
Here is a pdf of the slides for my presentation.
The whole conference has been interpreted and memorialized in a magnificent summary by Esma Isis-Arnautović, Amir Dziri and Hansjörg Schmid, “From Zakāt to Theological Anthropology: Systematic and Practical Approaches in Islamic-Theological Studies,” available at https://doi.org/10.51363/unifr.szigs.2023.009.
Thanks to Anna Pohorielova for her fine photographs.
Many thanks to Muna Tatari and Idris Nassery for their warm hospitality and engagement during their conference on “Dynamics of Tradition: Islamic Theology and Law in Relation” at the University of Paderborn, September 17-19, 2021. I presented the following paper:
“Theologies of Divine Speech and the Human Exigencies of Law: A Conundrum for Classical and Contemporary Islamic Legal Hermeneutics.” Dynamics of Tradition: Islamic Theology and Law in Relation, Institute for Islamic Theology, University of Paderborn, Germany, September 19, 2021.
Here is a pdf of the pre-conference draft, without documentation, from which I presented excerpts at the conference.
The paper will appear in the conference volume; publication with Brill is expected in 2023.
This paper, delivered in 2017 at the conference on “Intention and Signification: Philosophy of Language Across Islamic Disciplines, 800-1200” organized by Nadja Germann at the University of Freiburg, has been published in the conference volume:
David R. Vishanoff. “Informative and Performative Theories of Divine Speech in Classical Islamic Legal Theory.” In Philosophy and Language in the Islamic World, ed. Nadja Germann and Mostafa Najafi, 183–208. Philosophy in the Islamic World in Context, ed. Peter Adamson, et al., no. 2. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110552409-007
The volume is available from De Gruyter.
Abstract: The Qurʾān describes God’s speech as powerful and creative: “When he decrees something he merely says to it ‘Be!’ and it is.” Just as impressively, when he desires to make an action obligatory he merely says “I oblige you to do it,” or even just “do it!” This is an example of what some modern theorists of language call performative speech, which brings about a new state of affairs rather than just conveying information about what is already the case. This essay considers the emergence of the concept of performative speech in classical Islamic legal theory, presenting the debate over whether to regard God’s speech as informative or performative as part of an ongoing argument over the nature of law, the nature of God’s speech, and the relationship between them. After a brief discussion of Muḥammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī (d. 204/820), the essay presents the views of four contrasting thinkers of the late 4th/10th and early 5th/11th centuries: the Shāfiʿī jurist and Muʿtazilī theologian ʿAbd al-Jabbār (d. 415/1025), who treated God’s speech as a purely informative description from which human beings may deduce the details of an ontologically and epistemologically prior moral order; the Ḥanbalī Abū Yaʿlā Ibn al-Farrāʾ (d. 458/1066), who took the opposite tack, treating God’s speech as a performative speech act that brings about obligations with the immediacy of a master’s face–to–face orders to a slave; the Mālikī jurist and Ashʿarī theologian Abū Bakr al-Bāqillānī (d. 403/1013), who sought to have it both ways; and the Ḥanafī Abū Zayd al-Dabūsī (d. ca. 430/1038), who appears to have introduced the term inshāʾ into Sunni legal theory. These last two thinkers sought, in very different ways, to affirm that legal obligations are brought about by God’s speech; yet they treated the language of revelation as a source of information and indicative evidence from which human interpreters could reconstruct the law through a flexible interpretive process.
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.
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:
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.
The new material in this paper about the Indonesian thinker Aksin Wijaya was previously discussed at the International Qur’anic Studies Association in 2014. This paper was not published, but a revised and expanded version will be presented at a conference on “Dynamics of Tradition: Islamic Theology and Law in Relation” at the University of Paderborn, September 19, 2021, and will hopefully be published in a volume of essays from that conference.
Another image from the day–Farrokh and Ramon during one of the many coffee breaks: