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The Origins of Islam: New proposals

April 04, 2019From 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Schedules may change.
Casa Árabe headquarters (at Calle Samuel de los Santos Gener, 9). From 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Schedules may change. Free entry after registering.
Register using  this form.
In Spanish and English, without translation.

On April 4 at the Casa Árabe headquarters in Madrid, this seminar day will be taking place, in which the most recent theories regarding the origins of Islam as a distinct religious movement will be presented. You may now sign up.

Modern and contemporary historical and critical research focusing on the topic of the origins of Islam is characterized by an epistemological optimism that contrasts with the criticism found in the study of the proto-history of Judaism and Christianity, and the formative process of their sacred texts. This optimism is expressed mainly in the assuredness with which researchers reconstruct the biography of the prophet Mohammed and describe the creation of the holy Muslim text. Confidence in the truthfulness and accuacy of the sources available to us is based on two assumptions that are usually accepted without hesitation: first of all, that the Qur’an only contains original materials which are all reliable from a historical perspective and, on the other hand, that the most ancient historiographic materials originating from Islamic sources is, on the whole, perfectly usable to reconstruct the tale of the first days of Islam. However, very powerful arguments cast doubt on certain aspects involving the validity of these sources.

Since the 1970s, a heterogeneous group of researchers has gradually expressed doubt about these traditional theories. From different disciplines and with complementary theories, Günter Lüling, Patricia Crone, Michael Cook, John Wansbrough, Yehuda Nevo, Shlomo Pines, Yusif al-Azzi and many other authors claim that the traditional narratives on the origins of Islam and the composition of the Qur’an do not clarify exactly what took place at the times when that new religion arose. At the time, the advent of these revisionist theories caused a great commotion among Western Islamologists (a phenomenon referred to as “the shock of the seventies”) and led all at once to both much fascination and vehement rejection in academic circles.

Some scholars complain about the current scene in studies related with the origins of Islam. Whatever the case may be, today’s research on this topic seems to have no other choice but to take into account these new perspectives, accepting the fact that an approach based exclusively on traditional sources is completely insufficient for these purposes. The future of this research lies in multidisciplinary efforts with roles played by various disciplines, including philology, archeology, linguistic analysis, linguistics, literary criticism and history.

During this day of seminars, open not only to scholars but also the general public, an overview will be provided of the status of these studies, with explanations of the various most recent theories regarding the origins of Islam as a distinct religious movement. In addition to the four conferences listed below, the public is meant to participate, as well, in the form of dialogue and questions.

Organized by:

Casa Árabe and the JEWNE R&D Project, nº FFI2016-80590-Z (financed by Spain’s Ministry of the Economy and Competitiveness MINECO and EU ERDF).
The Origins of Islam: New proposals
Koran, Illuminated tailpiece for chapter 37 of the Qur'an, Walters Manuscript W.556, fol. 133a
9:30-10:30 a.m. “The formation of an Arab identity at the dawn of Islam,” given by Juan Pedro Monferrer Sala (University of Cordoba). (In Spanish)

10:30- 12:00 p.m. “The Origins and the development of the Qur’anic text,” given by Tomasso Tesei (Princeton University – Van Leer Jerusalem Institute) (In English)

12:00-12:30 p.m.

12:30-13:30 p.m. “The present and future of revisionist theories on the origins of Islam,” given by Francisco de Río Sánchez (University of Barcelona). (In Spanish).

The above schedule is subject to change.
Juan Pedro Monferrer Sala
A tenured Arabic language professor at the University of Cordoba and the director of the CNERU-Institute of Near East Studies at the same institution. He specializes in the history of the Arabic language, Christian Arabic and comparative Arabic lexicography. In addition to directing many research projects related with this topic, he has been invited by prestigious domestic and foreign institutions such as Princeton University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Tomasso Tesei
A member of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, he is currently a researcher at Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Studies. He is a specialist on the topic of Islam’s origins within the context of Late Antiquity. His recent research focuses on issues involved in the Qur’anic text. He also explores the implications ideology, imperialism and propaganda have had on Byzantine, Sassanid and Islamic societies.

Francisco del Río Sánchez
A full professor of Semitic Philology in the Department of Classical, Semitic and Romance Philology at the University of Barcelona, he has examined and catalogued the manuscripts from private libraries in northern Syria for nearly fifteen years. A director and member of different research projects in Spain and abroad, he has been a guest researcher at various universities in the Near East. At present, he is working on the topic of the survival of Judeo-Christian elements in Syria and Mesopotamia in the era of Late Antiquity.