Stephen Burge, from IIS’ Qur’anic Studies Unit, organised a pre-conference workshop at the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting in association with the Qur’an Group of the AAR, in Atlanta, USA, on 29 October 2010. Entitled “The Meaning of the Word: Lexicology and Tafsir”, the workshop formed the first part of a project run by the Qur’an Group exploring the interaction between lexicology and the exegesis of the Qur’an.

The workshop highlighted a number of interesting areas, particularly the dynamic perspective that lexicology can throw onto the understanding of tafsir. The social contexts in which a tafsir was written was also shown to be an area that affected lexicological interpretation. It was noted that these areas need to be explored in greater detail.

IIS publications on display at the book fair

The workshop comprised two panels. One looked at methodological and hermeneutic approaches to lexicology in the Qur’an. Devin Stewart (Emory University) explored the importance of understanding rhetoric in the interpretation of the Qur’an; Herbert Berg (University of North Carolina) considered the role of Ibn Abbas in the history of tafsir, alongside the ‘School of Ibn Abbas’, questioning whether such a ‘school’ or method of interpretation really existed. Michael Pregill (Elon University) analysed the history of lexicological scholarship in Islam, highlighting the existence of lexicology as a discipline independent of tafsir and the subsequent appropriation of lexicology by exegetes in the formative period of exegesis. Travis Zadeh (Haverford College) presented a discussion on a Persian rhyming translation of the Quran and its responses to lexicological issues.

Another panel looked at the exploration of the meanings of specific words by exegetes in different exegetical environments. The first paper by Jamal Ali (Hunter College) explored the word ‘kalima’ (‘word’) in the history of Arabic lexicological and linguistic thought. This was followed by Ayesha Chaudhry (Colgate University) who explored the interpretations of ‘nushuz’ (Q. 4:34 & 4:128) in classical exegesis, and why there are differences between male and female nushuz. The last paper by Brett Wilson (Macalester College) placed exegesis in the context of a debate about modernism in the early Turkish republic concerning the interpretation of yutiqunahu in Q. 2:184.

The panels were chaired by Joseph Lowry (University of Pennsylvania) and Shawkat Toorawa (Cornell University). The workshop was well attended and generated much discussion of an underdeveloped area in the study of tafsir.