New Volume: Denkraum Spätantike: Reflexionen von Antiken im Umfeld des Koran, Herausgegeben von Nora Schmidt, Angelika Neuwirth, Nora Katharina Schmid

1669_111Spätantike‘ ist nicht nur ein hochgradig ambivalenter Begriff in der europäischen Wissenschaftsgeschichte. Lange Zeit bezeichnete er eine Epoche, die durch den Niedergang einer ehemals blühenden antiken Hochkultur geprägt war. In den letzten drei Jahrzehnten ist die Spätantike zunehmend zu einem internationalen und interdisziplinären Forschungsprojekt geworden, und ein Durchbruch zu einer inklusiveren Sicht zeichnet sich ab.

Die Autoren dieses Bandes setzen sich aus ihrer jeweiligen Fachperspektive heraus mit spätantiken Wissensformen und -beständen in der formativen Phase des Islams auseinander und führen den Lesern auf diese Weise unterschiedliche Reflexionen von Antiken im unmittelbaren und weiteren Umfeld des Korans vor Augen. Soziale Praktiken, Textkulturen und Materialitäten rücken dabei gleichermaßen in den Blick; historiografische Modelle werden hinterfragt und neu perspektiviert.

Statt ‚Spätantike‘ als eine Epoche zu fassen, die mit der Verkündigung des Korans ihr Ende findet, wird diese neu als ein ‚Denkraum‘ konturiert, in dem Religionen, Sprachen, Institutionen und soziale Praktiken in vielfältigen Beziehungen stehen. In einem so aufgespannten epistemischen Raum vollzieht sich Wissenswandel innerhalb komplexer Netzwerke. Die frühislamischen Wissensbestände werden so, anders als die Forschung zum Koran und den frühislamischen Wissenschaften lange postulierte, als Teil des spätantiken Denkraums erkennbar.

Inhalt.

 

New Program Unit for the 2015 Annual Meeting: The Qur’an and Late Antiquity

by Greg Fisher and Michael Pregill

Over the past fifteen years, there has been a tremendous upsurge of interest in the historiography of late antique Arabia. This has happened as a result both of targeted studies as well as developments in late antique historiography more broadly. New studies authored or edited by Glen Bowersock, Averil Cameron, Greg Fisher (including work with Jitse Dijkstra), Robert Hoyland, and Christian Robin have contributed to a better understanding of a number of historical issues. These include the relationship of Arabia to its neighbors; the archaeology and history of different groups of people in the Arabian Peninsula; links between different communities, especially religious communities; alliances managed by Romans, Persians, and Himyarites with Arab clients; and the development of Arab “identity” prior to the seventh century.

 

Votive stele of alabaster with Sabaean inscription adressed to the moon-god Almaqah, ca. 700 BC, Yemen; held in the Department of Oriental Antiquities, Louvre Museum, Paris. Image accessed from Wikimedia Commons.

Votive stele of alabaster with Sabaean inscription adressed to the moon-god Almaqah, ca. 700 BC, Yemen; held in the Department of Oriental Antiquities, Louvre Museum, Paris. Image accessed from Wikimedia Commons.

Over the same period, Qur’anic studies has developed in significant ways as well, particularly regarding the investigation of the literary compositions and religious discourses that may have provided the horizons and context of the emergence of the Qur’anic revelation. The Qur’an and Late Antiquity program unit, the newest in IQSA’s Annual Meeting lineup, seeks to promote knowledge of developments in Late Antique studies among scholars of the Qur’an and developments in Qur’anic studies among scholars of Late Antiquity, particularly in order to encourage better integration of these fields in the future. Our remit includes not only pre-Islamic Arabia and its immediate environs, but also the larger frame of late antique history, culture, religion, society, and politics in the Near East and Mediterranean regions as it may illuminate the background to the rise of Islam and its broad, long-term consequences.

CALL FOR PAPERS:

Chairs:

Greg Fisher, Department of History, Carleton University

Michael Pregill, Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations, Boston University

The Qur’an and Late Antiquity program unit focuses on investigation of and critical reflection on the historical context in which the Qur’an was revealed. We seek papers that illustrate significant textual parallels between the Qur’an and other literatures of Late Antiquity, especially those that contribute to a better understanding of the Qur’an’s place in its cultural, political, social, and religious environment. We also seek papers that interpret the rise of the Qur’anic community in a broader phenomenological, sociological, or historiographic context, whether that of pre-Islamic Arabian society or the Roman and Sasanian Empires that dominated the eastern Mediterranean and Near East in this period. Particular attention will be paid to such questions as processes of political consolidation and legitimation, construction of communal boundaries, and relationships between communities and polities.

For the 2015 IQSA Annual Meeting in Atlanta (November 20-23), we will sponsor two panels. First, we invite paper proposals for a panel on recent developments in the historiography of Late Antiquity as it pertains to the Qur’anic milieu in pre-Islamic Arabia or the wider context of the Roman and Sasanian dominions. This panel will be co-sponsored by the AAR Traditions of Eastern Late Antiquity group. We especially encourage submissions that attempt to achieve a broader synthesis of cultural, political, and religious trends beyond the analysis and comparison of textual corpora.

We also invite paper proposals for a panel to be co-sponsored with the SBL Religious World of Late Antiquity program unit. This panel, the first of two to be presented in consecutive years, will feature papers on the intersection of religion and violence in Late Antiquity as it pertains specifically to the Qur’an and the Qur’anic milieu. The panel takes as its inspiration Thomas Sizgorich’s groundbreaking work Violence and Belief in Late Antiquity: Militant Devotion in Christianity and Islam. We especially encourage proposals that engage Sizgorich’s work directly and explicitly, whether on a historical, thematic, or methodological level.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2015. All rights reserved.

Rethinking Late Antiquity—A Review of Garth Fowden, Before and After Muḥammad: The First Millennium Refocused

By Michael Pregill

Beginning in the 1970s, the work of Peter Brown revolutionized the way scholars approach the “fall of Rome,” the decline of Roman and Sasanian power in the Middle East, and the rise of Islam in Late Antiquity. In his classic The World of Late Antiquity, AD 150-750 and other works, Brown argued that the emergence of Islam and the establishment of the caliphal empire was not a radical disruption of the course of history, but rather represented the continuity of older cultural, political, social, and religious patterns. Despite the wide influence of Brown’s work and the general recognition of Islam’s importance in the overall trajectory of Mediterranean and even European history, substantial obstacles to a full integration of ancient, early Christian, Jewish, and Islamic phenomena into a general history of the civilization of Western Asia remain.

Although an outdated, isolationist approach to Late Antiquity primarily focusing on late Roman culture and society still dominates some quarters of the academy, many scholars have worked towards a more integrated and comparative approach to the period. The shifts have been gradual and partial. Today there are numerous scholars of rabbinics who explore the wider context of the Babylonian Talmud in Sasanian society; there has lately been a resurgence of interest in the history of the Red Sea region, including Ethiopia and the Yemen, in the centuries leading up to the rise of Islam; and over the last ten years or so, we have seen significant interest in the literary and religious parallels to the Qur’an found in Syriac Christian literature in particular. (Many of the scholars who have been responsible for the last development have generously assisted in the foundation and growth of IQSA, so this is really nothing new to readers of this blog, though developments in late ancient or Jewish historiography may be less familiar.)

Before and After Muhammad: The First Millennium Refocused

Before and After Muhammad: The First Millennium Refocused

All of these developments point to a recognition that the various cultures and literatures of Late Antiquity cannot be viewed in isolation, but rather must be approached in the wider context of the dynamic exchanges between various communities in the period, the imperial competition between the Romans and the Sasanians, and the spread and consolidation of the monotheistic or “Abrahamic” traditions.

Among the scholars who sought to adopt, refine, and develop Brown’s approach to the period, it was Garth Fowden—currently Sultan Qaboos Professor of Abrahamic Faiths at Cambridge—who produced what was perhaps the most important work in this area in the 1990s: From Empire to Commonwealth: Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity. When I was a graduate student, Fowden’s work impacted me profoundly. The book is ambitious in scope, wildly imaginative, willing to explore the period in terrifyingly broad terms, but in pursuit of a single cogent thesis: that the entire history of the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean from the second through the ninth century CE can be understood in terms of a sequence of imperial projects aiming to establish God’s rule on earth. That is, the unifying theme of the era, one that distinguishes it from the civilization of the ancient world and sets the stage for the medieval cultures of Byzantium, Western Christendom, and the Dār al-Islām, is the use of monotheism as the primary justification for statebuilding, for literally global dominion (as far as that was possible in the pre-modern world). In Fowden’s work, the use of religion to justify imperial authority becomes the thread that links Christian Rome, Sasanian Iran, and the caliphates and that allows us to see the significant continuities between them with clarity.

(Perhaps not coincidentally, the only other books I read during my Ph.D. training that exerted a similarly enduring influence on my imagination were Wansbrough’s The Sectarian Milieu (1978)—no doubt familiar to every reader of this blog—and Bulliet’s The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization (2004), which, like Fowden’s Empire to Commonwealth, is another eloquent call for historical thinking on the global scale, for transcending the narrow and artificial boundaries between the culture of “the West” and Islam.)

After a number of years dedicated to other projects, including a fascinating study on the iconography of the late Umayyad palace of Quṣayr ʿAmra, Fowden has now returned to history on the grand scale with Before and After Muḥammad: The First Millennium Refocused. Stunningly, this work is even more ambitious in scope than Empire to Commonwealth. Here Fowden once again seeks to explore the overarching continuities between Christian Rome, Sasanian Iran, and Islam but with even more attention paid to the intertwining discourses that link Greco-Roman, Syrian Christian, Jewish, Arab, Iranian, and European cultures over the course of a thousand years, centering on what he now calls the “Eurasian hinge” of southwest Asia linking the civilizations of the region. Fowden anchors his work in a rigorous interrogation of older conceptions of Late Antiquity, criticizing older scholars’ poor integration of Islam into the period, as well as the common approach of only including the Umayyad caliphate as a late antique empire. This serves to truncate the early medieval period from older trajectories of development that arguably only reached their full fruition around the year 1000. It also artificially severs the Abbasids and Iranian Islam from the prevailing cultural patterns of the Arab-Islamic world, though they are equally rooted in the legacies of biblical monotheism and Hellenism.

(teachmiddleeast.lib.uchicago.edu)

(teachmiddleeast.lib.uchicago.edu)

Fowden also locates his work in the context of contemporary debates over the relationship between Islam and the West, stating quite bluntly that “My purpose here is not to join this debate directly, but to overhaul its foundations” (2). His approach in Before and After Muḥammad builds on his earlier work, in that the cultures of the Islamic Middle East and Christian Europe are seen as halves of a larger whole. (Here I was a bit disappointed that Fowden does not engage with Bulliet’s aforementioned work The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization, which eloquently argues for an approach to Islam and the West as two halves or wings of a unified civilizational complex that only decisively split in the later medieval period. This is a perspective that is obviously quite compatible with and complementary to Fowden’s.)

Periodization, methods, and labels occupy much of Fowden’s attention here, and he spends significant time critiquing other contemporary attempts to advance beyond traditional frameworks and paradigms (82-91), adopting the new periodization of a unified “First Millennium” as his preferred heuristic lens on the period. This approach has the distinct benefit of locating Augustus at one end of the period and the emergence of the mature scriptural communities of Europe and Western Asia at the other, without privileging Europe over the Islamic world as the “true” heir to Greco-Roman antiquity or reifying anachronistic communalist boundaries between “pagans,” Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Several aspects of Fowden’s approach here depart from that of From Empire to Commonwealth. There is a particular emphasis here on various textual lineages as the foundation of cross-cultural continuity. Thus, he sees the transmission of specific canons of material as one of the primary drivers of cultural development, each moving through an initial phase of revelation to subsequent phases marked by canonization and then interpretation, with the resultant exegetical cultures dominating the cultural landscape from western Europe to eastern Iran by the year 1000. As a student of comparative exegesis (in my case, midrash and tafsir) I found the emphasis on the exegetical here particularly fascinating, though notably, Fowden is not concerned solely with scriptural canons (Tanakh, Bible, and Qur’an) but also philosophical and legal canons, placing particular emphasis on Aristotelianism as a major current of cultural continuity in the First Millennium.

Fowden’s two chapters on “Exegetical Cultures” are thus exhilarating and dizzying—charting Aristotelianism’s movement from Greek to Syriac to Arabic educational institutions, the evolution of law from the Justinianic Code to the Babylonian Talmud to the emergence of Islamic fiqh, and touching on patristic, Karaite, and Muʿtazilite scriptural exegesis for good measure. The final chapter is likewise a tour de force, surveying the culmination of the First Millennium by showing us “Viewpoints Around 1000: Ṭūs, Baṣra, Baghdād, Pisa.” The cities visited in this grand perspective symbolize, respectively, the resurgence of Iranian national consciousness with the Shāh-Nāmeh of Firdowsī; the maturation of gnostic-philosophical-spiritual currents in early medieval Islam with the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ; the emergence not just of the mature Sunni and Shii traditions but of sophisticated and distinctively Islamic modes of apprehending and engaging different faiths; and the reemergence of Europe as a meaningful center of cultural production.

Astonishingly, this work is not the culmination of Fowden’s work in rethinking Late Antiquity. Rather, he advertises this book as a prolegomenon to a new, more comprehensive project on the First Millennium. It is also the companion piece to a forthcoming work charting the evolution of philosophy from Aristotle to Avicenna. Specialists will inevitably find much to quibble with here, especially given Fowden’s propensity to working in broad swathes rather than drilling down to wrestle with thorny details. Moreover, one can imagine assigning this only to the most intrepid undergraduates, despite the major pedagogical implications of Fowden’s reflections on periodization in particular. But overall, this is synthetic historiographic work of great sophistication and lasting value, and Before and After Muḥammad deserves to provoke discussion throughout many scholarly quarters.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2014. All rights reserved