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Centre of Islamic Studies

The Qur'an: Text, Interpretation & Translation Conference 2007

7–9 November 2007
SOAS, University of London

Convenor: Professor MAS Abdel Haleem

The 2007 Conference on the Qur'an 'The Qur'an: Text, Interpretation and Translation' sought to provide a forum for investigating the basic question: how is the Qur'anic text read, translated and interpreted? Our objective is to encompass a global vision of current research trends, and to stimulate discussion and debate on all aspects of the Qur'anic text and interpretation.

In contrast to the 2005 conference, which sought to explore Qur'anic studies in a wider sense, this meeting will returned to a closer focus on the text of the Qur'an: our traditional divisions into Sufism, philosophy, translation issues, tafsir, modern, ancient, will not apply; panels will divide thematically according to the different aspects of the text rather than the different aspects of those looking at the text. Panel titles include:

Dialogue, Discourse and Resonances of Narration (chair: A.H. Johns)

Properly speaking, the Qur'an is a single extended narration, the voice of God speaking to the Prophet, revealing to him the divine economy of salvation, and encouraging, comforting, and guiding him in his vocation. Within this narration however are patterns of themes, emphases, and styles of discourse, themselves narrational subsets in their own right.

They include accounts of events central to the human condition, such as the disobedience of Iblis and the fall of man, and the acts of individuals or communities. For the most part, the story-line is carried by dramatic dialogue with occasional shifts from direct to indirect speech, and at strategic points, an intervention of the voice of God speaking in the first person. There is a range in styles of diction of the participants in these dialogues according to character, situation and mood of the individual speaker.

Each narration is an integral part of the sura in which it is set, and by means of key-words, scene types and the reprise of underlying motifs, carries resonances it shares with the Qur'an as a whole. Papers are invited to explore the literary artistry and spiritual dynamics of Qur'anic narratives taking such perspectives as a point of departure.

 

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The Material Culture of the Qur'an (chair: Walid Saleh)

Papers for this panel cover the material culture of the Qur'an broadly understood. The aim is to develop a more detailed understanding of the physical environment of the Qur'an and the relationship of this physical environment with the world of ideas in the Qur'an. Apart from the 1966 unpublished dissertation of Eleonore Haeuptner, 'Koranische Hinweise auf die materielle Kultur der alten Araber', written under the direction of Rudi Paret, no sustained engagement with the 'stuff' of the Qur'an has taken root in Qur'anic studies. Scholars are invited to present papers on such diverse elements as the plants, animals, methods of transport, cloth, house structures, nomads, city life, and more non-material material culture of the Qur'an, like gossip, metaphors and their structures, and any other topic that deals with the material world of the Qur'an and its effects on the ephemeral world of ideas. A comparative approach is encouraged, especially since much now has been written on the late Antique world and its culture.

 

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Orthography and Grammar of the Qur'an (chair: Elsaid Badawi)

Our perception of the grammatical, orthographical and lexicographical aspects of the Qur'anic discourse underlies the way that we understand and appreciate both the text and its message at the most basic level. It is therefore unsurprising that the ways in which these elements are characteristic of the Qur'anic text, style and poetic idiom have traditionally been fruitful areas of research, and have been the basis of discussion of issues such as, for example, the question of the inimitability of the Qur'an, and the excellence of Qur'anic style.

hey are also of unquestionable significance to the methodology adopted in many modern approaches to the Qur'an, and also to the process of translating the Qur'an. This panel invites papers devoted to the discussion of the orthography (past, present and future) of the Qur'an, specifically systems of notation, and the rendition of the text in other scripts; the vocabulary of the Qur'an (Arabic and non-Arabic words, semantic fields, statistical analysis and semantic ambiguity); and the grammar of the Qur'an in terms of, for example, the codification of the language of the Qur'an, and the linguistic, semantic and grammatical devices used by the Qur'anic discourse, with a view to how these can be seen to influence our reading of the 'voice' of the Qur'an itself.

 

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Qur'anic Characters, Qur'anic Characterisation (chair: Shawkat Toorawa)

The Qur'an is populated by many characters, some major, some minor, some named, some unnamed, some sui generis, some archetypal. In all cases, howsoever brief their appearance might be, these characters are an integral part of the Qur'anic narrative canvas and are, of course, characterised. Papers are sought that inquire into the nature, (re)presentation, aesthetics, economies and logic of these characters and their characterisation(s).

Questions to be addressed might include (but are evidently not limited to): do characters 'develop' and if so, how? How are power and authority (linguistically, stylistically) distributed? What are the aesthetics of representation? Do epithets recur? Why are certain (or many?) characters not (or only obliquely) named? Can we speak of God the character? Are the various 'classes' of people (e.g. brothers, daughters, enemies, fathers, rulers, sceptics) monolithic or subtly differentiated? Has the tafsir tradition over- or under-privileged certain characters? What roles do non-human characters (animals, angels, devils, paradise dwellers) play? And, providing the papers remain focused also on the Qur'anic text, papers are also solicited that explore Qur'anic characters in non-Qur'anic texts.

 

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Theological Trajectories of the Qur'an: The Architecture of Form and Function (chair: Josef van Ess & Wilferd Madelung)

The aim of this panel is to encourage a percipient gauging of the theological axioms, constructs and paradigms which form integral elements of the trajectories of Qur'anic discourse. Interrelated theological topoi abound in the Qur'an with references to God's unity; the divine attributes and transcendence; predestination and the theodicy; eschatology; creation; deserts; intercession; and inimitability serving as the pre-eminent substrate for the synthesis of dialectical schema.

Research which explores the extent to which scriptural theological discourse can provide critical insights apropos the chronology, form, and structure of the sacred text is especially encouraged; further avenues which could be pursued include analyses of the interface between the underlying theological imperatives of the Qur'an and the religious traditions and institutions of the ancient Near East.

 

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Intertextuality in the Qu'ran (chair: Angelika Neuwirth)

 

Hermeneutical Strategies (chair: Kees Versteegh)

 

Lunchtime Presentations

 

Physical Materiality (chair: Muhammad Isa Waley)

 

Details for the 2007 conference:

Date: 7–9 November 2007
Venue: SOAS, University of London, Brunei Gallery, Russell Square, Thornhaugh Street, London WC1H 0XG (maps and location information)
Contact: jqs@soas.ac.uk / 020 7898 4385

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