Visiting Researchers Programme: January and February 2016

During January and February 2016, the Islamic Reformulations project will be hosting five early career postdoctoral scholars in Exeter, working on different aspects of the Islamic Reformulations project’s agenda.  During their stay all the visiting researchers will work on their own research, lead seminars in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, participate in a series of sandpits, and contribute to the intellectual life of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies here in Exeter. For the developing programme of activities of the visiting researchers, click here.


The Researchers' various projects are described below; their timings are:

5th-31st January: Dr David Warren (Postdoctoral Visiting Fellow, Harvard University)
5th-31st January: Dr Ryan Rittenberg (Independent Researcher, Philadelphia)
13th January-8th February: Dr Bianka Speidl (Senior Researcher at the Migration Research Institute in Budapest)
5th-20th February: Dr Samer El-Karanshawy (Independent Researcher, Cairo)
7th -27th February: Dr Mohammed Eissa (Independent Researcher, Berlin)

Visiting Researchers' Project Descriptions:

David Warren:
The Ulama, the Arab Uprisings, and the Aftermath: Between the Tradition and the State

My current research project focuses on the Muslim scholarly-elite, the ulama, and their efforts to speak to the Arab public in the name of Islam since the Arab Spring. Alongside a focus on the ulama's discourse, I am particularly interested in deconstructing overarching structures that are commonly cited as constraining factors that the ulama have to negotiate. These structures include "the State" and "the Tradition." Through a combination of discourse analysis and personal interviews, I use the work of Muhammad Said Ramadan al-Buti, Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, Ali Gomaa, Rashid al-Ghannushi, and Yusuf al-Qaradawi as case studies. 

Ryan Rittenberg: Ibn Ḥanbal’s al-Radd ‘alā al-zanādiqa wa’l-jahmīya

I am currently studying the relationship between Ḥanbalī theology and law. In particular, my research examines the ways that the Ḥanbalī conception of God’s attributes and the uncreated nature of the Qur’ān influenced their legal theory. During my research stay at the University of Exeter, I will analyze the Radd ‘alā al-zanādiqa wa’l-jahmīya, a theological polemic attributed to Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, the eponymous founder of the school. Due to the importance of both its content and putative authorship, the Radd potentially offers invaluable insights into the development of early Ḥanbalī hermeneutics and theology. To date the text and determine the validity of its attribution to Ibn Ḥanbal, I will compare the Radd’s theological positions, hermeneutic techniques, and rhetoric with the larger corpus of works attributed to Ibn Ḥanbal and other early works of theology, law, and Qur’ānic commentary. I will also examine the reception of the Radd in later works of Ḥanbalī theology and legal theory.

Bianka Speidl:Islamic legal thought for minorities

How conflicts between Islamic law and the social, political realities of Non-Muslim states are dealt with in the fiqh al-aqalliyyāt, through a comparative analysis of the opinions of the Sunnī jurist Yūsuf al-Qaradāwī - based on the fatāwā published on the website of European Council for Fatwa Research-, and a volume of fiqh for Muslims living in non-Muslim environment by the Shīʿī jurist Muḥammad Ḥusayn Faḍlallāh’s entitled al-Hijra wa'l-ightirāb - Ta'sīs fiqhī li'l-mushkilat al-lujū' wa'l-hijra.  The analysis of the jurisprudential opinions will focus on four main aspects: the meaning of hijra, the scope and conditions of accommodation to the liberal-democratic political systems, hijra as an opportunity for daʿwa, and fatwas about violence including jihād. The comparative analysis aims to highlight the key assertions of the Sunnī and Shīʿī approach, and their similarities and differences in opinion and tactic.

Samer El-Karanshawy: Marginality and perceptions of history among the Lebanese Shīʿa

I will be researching the thought of Muammad Mahdī Shams al-Dīn (d. 2001), the prominent Lebanese Shīʿī ʿālim and editing a special edition of Contemporary Islam titled “Arab Shia and Shiism vs. Wilayat al-Faqih.” I am also writing my first monograph on the Twelver mourning sermons that commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husayn. Based on fieldwork conducted in Lebanon and textual analysis, I examine these sermons’ dialectics of textual origins and performative character. My work draws heavily on comparisons with Christian rituals, especially the cults of saints. I am analysing further “sermons” as a performative genre, again drawing on Christian-Muslim parallels.

Mohammed Eissa: Theology and Legal Theory in the Fifth/Eleventh Century: A Case Study from the Shāfiʿī School of Law

During my stay in Exeter, I plan to start the process of turning my recently finished doctoral thesis into a publishable book. My thesis examines the relation between legal theory (uṣūl al-fiqh) and speculative theology (ʿilm al-kalām) and evaluates how far the former informs and shapes the latter. As a case study, I compare the legal theory of four Shāfiʿī jurists who belong to three different theological traditions, namely the Muʿtazilī ʿAbd al-Jabbār al-Hamadhānī (d. 415/1024), the Ashʿarīs Abū Isḥāq al-Shīrāzī (d. 476/1083) and Abū al-Maʿālī al-Juwaynī (d. 478/1085), in addition to the traditionalist Abū al-Muẓaffar al-Samʿānī (d. 489/1096). My research tries to understand in what way, if ever, speculative theology informs the legal theory choices of those individual jurists and shapes the legal positions common within their school of law. What are the theological foundations for Shāfiʿī legal theory? I try to find out how far is the legal theory of the four jurists different or similar. Do jurists favour legal theory positions as a result of their theological convictions? To what extent does the adoption of a common theology leads to favouring similar positions in legal theory? How do jurists from various theological backgrounds co-exist within the same school of law?

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