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Legacies of Learning: from Turath to Transformation

Education, pedagogy, and learning have been subjects of detailed discussions by Muslim authors from the early Islamic period to this day. This project draws on a range of historical sources in the Islamic tradition in order to investigate notions of learning and knowledge production in the medieval and early modern Islamic world.

The project aims to achieve this through an analysis of sources from disparate genres such as historiography, biography, hagiography, poetry, and training manuals, alongside texts that form the basis of intellectual historical inquiry such as religious and philosophical treatises, scientific texts, and mystical writings. By considering these writings together, the project develops an interdisciplinary framework that draws on methodologies of intellectual, social, and cultural history, applied theology, embodied ethics, and philosophy of religion.

Central to this investigation is an exploration of the lives and works of Islamic scholars, with a focus on their biographies, socio-political context, and institutional connections, as well as their intellectual work. The project draws on biographical texts in order to explore various aspects involved the production and transmission of knowledge in Islamic settings. These include bodily habits and etiquettes, material culture, devotional objects, and various media. By drawing on genres such as biography, hagiography, and training manuals, this project attempts to move beyond top down conceptions of knowledge production and investigate how knowledge production and transmission is negotiated and produced in different times, settings, and disciplines.

The scope of the project therefore encompasses periods of institutionalisation in the medieval and early modern periods, where tensions regarding approaches to knowledge production are heightened, and changes in attitudes towards learning are more prominent. These tensions are discernible in the context of the increased institutionalisation of madrasas and Sufi communities. These are points in time when Muslim thinkers considered in more detail what constitutes “legitimate” modes of learning against those that were considered non-normative or less valuable. These discussions therefore reveal areas of contention regarding knowledge production and transmission in premodern Islamic societies that offer valuable insights into premodern Islamic learning.

With a commitment to engage in public outreach, Legacies of Learning will also highlight how knowledge production and transmission in contemporary Muslim societies and spaces continues to change and adapt today. Knowledge transmission is not simply the transferal of text and ideas, it is multifaceted and includes uses of space, bodily habits and etiquette, material culture, recitation and performance, and devotional practices. It also depends on the circulation of objects, books, and people. The theoretical framework of the project will therefore offer ways to connect Islamic learning in the past with the questions that are pertinent to Muslim communities today. The insights drawn from analysing the past will therefore be brought into conversation with the various sites of Islamic learning in the present. We will therefore aim to produce content that engages Muslim communities today.

The project team

Picture of Sophie Gilliat-Ray

Professor Sophie Gilliat-Ray

Professor in Religious and Theological Studies, Head of Islam UK Centre

+44 29225 10830
Picture of Eyad Abuali

Dr Eyad Abuali

Research Associate in Islamic History and Civilisation

+44 29225 11684
Picture of Haroon Sidat

Haroon Sidat

Research Associate

+44 29208 75650

Advisory Board

The project is supported by a range of external advisors.

Dzenita KaricUniversity of Amsterdam
Nur Sobers-KhanExeter University
Liana SaifUniversity of Amsterdam
Pieter CoppensFree University of Amsterdam
Omar AnchassiUniversity of Bern
Simon LeeseUniversity of Amsterdam
Adam BursiCornell University
Dr Fella LahmarOpen University
Arnold MolLeiden University
Dr Fozia BoraUniversity of Leeds
Aslisho QurbonievThe Aga Khan University
Dr Wisam Abdul-JabbarHamad Bin Khalifa University
Dr Nadeem MemonUniversity of South Australia
Dr Justin StearnsNYU Abu Dhabi
Dr Asad Q AhmedUniversity of California, Berkeley
Dr Sonja BrentjesMax-Planck Institute for the History of Science
Dr Farah AhmedUniversity of Cambridge
Dr Hadiza Kere AbdulrahmanUniversity of Lincoln