SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Traditionalist Theological Discourses in Classical Islam: Scholarship and Literature

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year

This is a text-based module which examines the extensive body of theological scholarship cultivated within the context of classical Islamic traditionalist discourses. Defined by their influence, range and sophistication, they critically served as an antidote to the forms of arguments and doctrinal discussions developed in the field of dialectical theology and philosophy.

Ambitious in terms of their focus and design, these discourses covered the full gamut of theological subjects and were preserved in an impressive array of literary texts and formats, ranging from epistles, apologia, and creedal statements to theological summae, commentaries and even lengthy poems.

The panoply of discussions explored in traditionalist theological discourses confirms their intellectual dynamism. Introducing seminal texts composed by luminaries associated with the early, medieval and pre-modern periods, the module offers the opportunity to analyse and translate primary theological texts produced within the confines of traditionalist scholarship. With a concern for literary content and significance, key emphasis is placed upon reviewing the compositional features of these materials and their broader influence within the matrix of classical theological thought. Charting key historical junctures in the development of traditionalist scholarship, the module also draws attention to epistemological distinctions which underpin traditionalist approaches to theological questions; it also assesses prevalent academic discussions and narratives germane to the study of this material.

This module can be taken as an open option



Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • Appreciate the range of traditionalist theological discourses generated within the confines of classical Islamic thought
  • Acquire a critical understanding of the history of classical traditionalist theological discourses
  • Distinguish the different types of literary texts produced within traditionalist discourses
  • Show an awareness of the distinct compositional elements of the literary texts
  • Discern the conceptual and theoretical bases of traditionalist theology
  • Understand the role that linguistic arguments play in the formulation of theological concepts
  • Develop a critical awareness of the academic discourses which have defined the study of traditionalist expressions of theological though


The module is taught over 20 weeks in one lecture and one seminar each week (2 hours in total)

Scope and syllabus

  • Historical Contours of the Gestation of Theological Discourses
  • The Definition of Traditionalism: Constructs of Orthodoxy
  • Themes, Topics and Controversies in Early Discourses
  • The Prominence of ahl al-ḥadīth and the Gestation of Opposition to Dialectical Theology
  • Conflicting Conceptions of Divine Transcendence and Immanence: the Tools of taʾwīl; tashbīh;
    tafwīḍ and tanzīh
  • The Synthesis and Epistemology of Traditionalist Theological Thought
  • Historical Turning Points: the Miḥna and its Aftermath
  • Early Ḥanbalism: Strategies and Conflicts
  • Classical Ḥanbalism: Ibn al-Jawzī; Ibn Qudāma and the Case of Ibn ʿAqīl: Realigning
    Expressions of Orthodoxy
  • Traditionalism and Ashʿarism: the Intersection of Perspectives
  • Theology of the Ẓāhirīs: the Andalusian Nexus
  • Sufism and Traditionalist Theological Thought: Contours of a Legacy
  • Theological Epistles and Creedal Statements: Language in the Service of Theology
  • Genres and Formats of Traditionalist Writing: Kutub al-Tawḥīd and ʿilm Uṣūl al-Dīn
  • Medieval Theological Discourses: the Age Of Commentary, Super-Commentary; and the fatwā
  • Confluence of Strategies: the Legacy of Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim
  • The Agency of Poetry: Aesthetics in the Service of Theology
  • Legal and Exegetical Scholarship: Assessing the Impact of Traditionalist Theology
  • Modern Developments in Traditionalist Discourses

Method of assessment

  • 1 x Essay (3000 words) to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 2 (50%)
  • 1 X Essay (3000 words) to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 3 (50%)

Suggested reading

  • Adang, Camilla, Maribel Fierro, and Sabine Schmidtke (Eds.). Ibn Ḥazm af Cordoba: The Life and Works of a Controversial Thinker. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2013.
  • Cook, Michael. Early Muslim Dogma. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.
  • Frank, Richard. Classical Islamic Theology: the Ash‘arites. Texts and Studies on the Development and History of kalām. Edited by Dimitri Gutas. Aldershot: Ashgate, Variorum, 2008.
  • Gimaret, Daniel and Guy Monnot. Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Shahrastānī. Livre des Religions et des Sectes. Paris: Peeters: UNESCO, 1986.
  • Goldziher, Ignáz. The Ẓāhirīs: Their Doctrine and Their History: A Contribution to the History of Islamic Theology. Translated by Wolfgang Behn with an introduction by Camila Adang: Leiden ; Boston: Brill, 2008.
  • Holtzman, Livnat. Anthropomorphism in Islam: The Challenge of Traditionalism (700-1350). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018.
  • Hoover, Jon. Ibn Taymiyya’s Theodicy of Perpetual Optimism. Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2007.
  • Hurvitz, Nimrod. The Formation of Ḥanbalism: Piety into Power. Richmond, UK: Curzon Press, 2002.
  • Ovadia, Miriam. Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya and the Divine Attributes: Rationalized Traditionalistic Theology. Leiden ; Boston: Brill, 2018.
  • Swartz, Merlin. A Medieval Critique of Anthropomorphism: Ibn al-Jawzī’s Kitāb akhbār al-ṣifāt. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2002.

Additional Reading

  • Abrahamov, Binyamin. Anthropomorphism and the Interpretation of the Qurʾān in the Theology of al-Qāsim ibn Ibrāhīm. Kitāb al-Mustarshid edited with translation, introduction and notes. (Leiden, New York, Köln: E.J. Brill, 1996).
  • Al-Ghouz, A., Islamic Philosophy From The 12th to the 14th Century. Bonn University Press/V&R Unipress. 2018.
  • El-Rouayheb, Khaled and Sabine Schmidtke (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.
  • Rudolph, Ulrich. al-Māturīdī und die sunnitische Theologie in Samarkand. Leiden: Brill, 1997: Al-Māturīdī and the Development of Sunnī Theology in Samarqand. Translated by Rodrigo Adem. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015.
  • Schmidtke, Sabine (Ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Theology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • Van Ess, Josef. Theologie und Gesellschaft im 2. und 3. Jahrhundert Hidschra, 6 vols. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1991–7.
  • Winter, Tim (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology. Edited by Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules