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The Origins of Islam: Narratives of History and the Historiography of Narratives (7-8 août 2011)

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The Origins of Islam: Narratives of History and the Historiography of Narratives

A conference at Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH

Sunday & Monday, August 7-8, 2011

Sessions are Free & Open to the Public.

Hosted by David S. Powers, Cornell University
& Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth College
This conference will bring together historians of the field of Islamic Studies with scholars working today on new paradigms for understanding the emergence of Islam. Until perhaps the last quarter of the 20th century, the approach to the formation of Islam emphasized borrowing and dependence. This scholarship was Arabo-centered, treating the key religious doctrines and institutions of Islam as products of the experience of one man living in the Arabia between 610 and 632 CE, and it was unidirectional. During the past twenty-five years, Islamicists have returned to the question of origins, armed with new perspectives, languages, and methodological tools. In place of borrowing and dependence, they focus on the dynamic interaction between early Islam and its cultural environment. Without denying the importance of Arabia, they examine the formation of Islam in the context of the wider Near East in late antiquity, using not only Arabic sources but also sources written in Greek, Syriac, Aramaic, Hebrew, and other languages. In place of borrowing and dependence, the current generation of scholars highlights the complex, back-and-forth processes of transmission, reception, and adaptation that account for the incorporation of biblical and post-biblical materials into Islamic sources. Our conference will investigate continuities and changes in 19th/20th century and contemporary orientalisms, asking about the intellectual politics that both enable and derive from the highly significant shifts in political, economic, and geographic relations, including the partition of India and Palestine, the rise of oil interests in the Middle East, and the transfer of Oriental Studies from Germany to the United States, Britain, and Israel during the 1930s and 40s. By placing the contemporary in the context of the history of Islamic Studies, we would like to provide present-day scholars with critical tools to understand the origins of their own explanatory frameworks.

Conference Schedule
Sunday, August 7, 10am-12:30 pm
1930 Room, Rockefeller Center, Dartmouth College

Opening Remarks: David Powers and Susannah Heschel

Tomoko Masuzawa, University of Michigan, Islam and the Origin of Europe
Tayeb El-Hibri, University of Massachusetts, Biblical Narratives and Islamic History: The Elusive Continuity

Moderator: Benjamin Braude, Boston College

Lunch 12:30-2, Hinman Forum, Rockefeller Center, Dartmouth College
Sunday 2-4 pm
1930 Room, Rockefeller Center, Dartmouth College

 Gabriel Said Reynolds, University of Notre Dame, The Problem with Reading the Qur’an Chronologically

 Shari Lowin, Stonehill College, Earlier Doesn’t Always Mean First: Midrashic Narratives and Qisas al-Anbiya (Stories of the Prophets)

Moderator: Intisar Rabb, Boston College
BREAK 4-4:30 pm
Sunday 4:30-6:30 pm
1930 Room, Rockefeller Center, Dartmouth College

 Denise Buell, Williams College, The Historiography of Christian Origins and the Origins of Islam : Prototypes, Loaded Narratives, and Cautionary Tales

 Suzanne Akbari, University of Toronto, Exchange and the Law: Religion as Commodity in Fourteenth-century European Literature

Moderator: Jonathan Decter, Brandeis University
Monday, August 8, 9am-12 pm
2 Rockefeller Center, Dartmouth College

 Céline Trautmann-Waller, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris, Universalization of Philology? From Zunz to Goldziher

 Lawrence Conrad, University of Hamburg, ’Wonderboy’: the Childhood Formation of the Orientalist Ignaz Goldziher

Moderator: Asma Sayeed, Lafayette College

Lunch 12:00, 125 Haldeman Center, Dartmouth College
Monday 1-3 pm
1930 Room, Rockefeller Center, Dartmouth College

 Michael Pregill, Elon University, Remaking the Legacy of Israel: Tafsir and Midrash as Imperial Literatures

 David Freidenreich, Colby College, How Jewish are Muslims? Conceptions of Judaism and Islam in Medieval Canon Law

Moderator: Kenneth Garden, Tufts University

3-4:45 pm General Discussion

Moderator: Rebecca Lesses, Ithaca College
Monday 5:00 pm
Keynote Address
2 Rockefeller Center, Dartmouth College

 Natalie Z. Davis, University of Toronto, Rethinking Boundaries: Doing the History of Religion over Sixty Years

This conference is made possible by generous grants from the Fannie and Alan Leslie Humanities Center, Mary and William Barnet II 1934 Family Fund, and by the Dean of the Faculty, Dartmouth College.

For further information, please contact Susannah. or

To register to attend the conference, please contact