A Pre-conference Workshop at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) in San Francisco, Friday 18 November 2011 (9 am to 1 pm), will be sponsored by the Qur'anic Studies Unit (http://www.qs.iis.ac.uk/) of The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) in association with the Qur'an Group of the AAR.
Organised by Dr. Nuha al-Shaar
Although less attention has been paid to the use of the Qur'an in non-religious texts than to its impact on theological and religious legislative works, it is undeniable that creative engagement with the language and content of the Qur'an was important for the conception and elaboration of many topics and themes of cultural products, including literature, folklore, music, sufism, and philosophy in Arabic as well as in other languages. The legitimacy of using the Qur'an in this way was questioned by some scholars and rhetoricians in the classical and modern periods, but the Qur'an has still shaped entire ways of thinking or ethical values which authors in the above-mentioned genres aimed to construct through different practices.
This workshop will generate discussions that arise from reading and interpreting the Qur'an in the wider social and cultural contexts. It will look at the ways in which concepts, stories, images, and the language of the Qur'an have influenced poets, prose writers, folklorists, musicians, Sufis, philosophers and artists, and will, in turn, look at how they have contributed to the reception history of the Qur'an. By exploring the engagement with and exegesis of the Qur'an in a variety of genres in a wider cultural framework, the workshop also aims to complement the current research trend that looks at the professional scholastic spheres of tafsir. Thus, it will indirectly contribute to the understanding of the extent and boundaries of tafsir and its relations to other genres.
Papers will be divided into two parts:
1) The first part will deal with how scholars dealing with the Qur'an viewed the use of the Qur'an in poetry, prose, folklore, music, and other artistic forms (mixing the sacred with the profane). How did they deal with issues such as borrowing or citing from the Qur'an? What were the theological and legal arguments for and against the use of the Qur'an in non-religious contexts? How were the different arguments informed by the theological or legal affiliations of the scholars uttering them? What were the forms and techniques of citations of the Qur'an that were considered acceptable?
2) The second part will present case studies of the diverse ways in which concepts, images, stories and narratives of the Qur'an were employed in works of poetry, prose, folklore, Sufism, philosophy and music. Stories of Moses and al-Khidr, and Solomon, for example, were used in different cultural media. Therefore, these two stories not only offer us the opportunity to look at the interaction of Biblical material with issues, such as questions of kingship, gender, romance, and jinn and divination, but also provide a valid context for us to reflect on the extent to which the Qur'an influenced Islamic thought and culture.
The papers selected may deal with the following questions:
a) To what extent did the Qur'an and the use of certain narratives influence the scope, theme, and structure of individual works, or lead to the conceptualisation of the content, social, cultural and political claims of certain authors?
b) What were the particular modalities and techniques used by scholars who alluded to and quoted from the Qur'an in their writings? How were the narratives constructed or modified in the different cultural contexts in which they were used? Are there any commonalities between how Qur'anic materials were handled in different genres and how they were handled in tafsir traditions?
c) How were Qur'anic citations used to beautify the literary writings?
d) What do the choices of certain Qur'anic materials reveal about the role of authorship in these works? How did readers respond to the Qur'anic text?
e) How did the ideological, social, and political purposes or religious beliefs inform an author’s use of certain Qur'anic references and narratives, and how did these serve the subject?
This workshop is preparatory to the international colloquium being organised by the IIS, which is to be held in Damascus in April 2012. The IIS expects to publish a volume on the reception of the Qur'an in genres outside the sphere of tafsir. This book will be a peer-reviewed edited volume to be submitted as part of the Qur'anic Studies Series published by Oxford University Press, in association with the IIS. The expected publication date is 2013. We hope that some of the contributions presented at the workshop will be developed into articles for inclusion in this volume, although participation in the volume is not obligatory, albeit very welcome.