Qur'an commentaries: sources, methods and hermeneutics


Workshop at AAR, 2008

Workshop at IIS, 2009

Throughout Islamic history, Muslim scholars have attempted to convey the multiple meanings of the Qur'an’s verses to their contemporaries. One standard form of exegesis is the Qur'an commentary (referred to by a variety of terms in Arabic, including tafsir and ta'wil). Qur'an commentaries do not encompass the entire exegetical enterprise, for exegesis is arguably at the heart of work in almost every genre of Islamic text. Yet the study of the one genre solely dedicated to interpreting the Qur'an is an essential component of understanding the diversity and development of Islamic thought. Recent scholarly work in the field of Qur'anic exegesis has examined individual exegetes’ interpretations, methods, and hermeneutics. But many questions remain, particularly concerning the development of the genre as a whole, and the scholarly classification of its different aspects.

Some of these questions include: how do certain methods of interpretation change or remain constant through time? In what ways does context affect the writing of exegesis? How do the exegetes classify their work, and how is it classified by the later scholarly community? To answer these questions, and thus to properly trace the development of the genre, requires a study which is both broadly based, but deeply contextualized.

Such a study is too vast for any one scholar to undertake alone, which is why the Institute of Ismaili Studies has agreed to sponsor a series of two meetings for a select group of scholars of Qur'anic exegesis. The first is a pre-conference workshop, to be held at the 2008 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR). It is co-sponsored by the Qur'an group at the AAR, and is open to all to attend. The second is a seminar to be held at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in October, 2009. It is hoped that the end result will be an edited volume focusing on the development of hermeneutics, methods, and techniques of interpretation in the genre of the Qur'anic commentary.