Conference: Re-evaluating Methodological Trajectories in the Academic Study of Islam

Hosted by: Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto and Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, Lund University

Date: 27-29th April 2023

Location: The University of Toronto, ON, Canada (In-person) • Jackman Humanities Building, 170 St. George Street, Toronto, ON M5R 2M8 (Map)

Organising Committee: Dr Seyfeddin Kara, Prof Walid Saleh, Prof Suleyman Dost and Prof Karen Ruffle

Keynote speaker: Professor Marion H Katz, New York University

This conference is jointly hosted by the Department for the Study of Religion, the University of Toronto and the Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, Lund University. It is a three-day conference and will take place between 27-29th of April 2023. It is primarily funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement, SSHRC Connection Grant and funds from the University of Toronto and Lund University. Please see below for detailed information about the conference and its theme.

It brings together diverse and exciting voices in the field of Islamic studies to challenge existing disciplinary boundaries and traditional conventions of the field. We approach Islamic studies as an integrative field, where the Muslim tradition is taken as a whole in its complexity, be it confessional, material or historical. Therefore, the conference does not privilege any approach but brings scholars from various fields and confessional specialities. We are particularly attuned to creative methods and unexplored sources investigating new questions within multiple frameworks. We are hoping to have a fresh conversation to catch up with new, invigorating scholarship in the field and take stock of the new realities imposed on us in the last two dramatic years. 

On the face of it, this would seem to be a rather natural approach if only because of Sunnism's religious, social and political achievements. Yet, given the global nature of the academic inquiry today, and the availability of a host of heretofore unknown and therefore unstudied sources, many scholars have questioned this tendency towards Sunni bias, pointing to the very fertile and rich dimensions of the Shiʿi tradition (Twelver, Ismaʿili, and Zaydi), and other historically significant expressions of Islam, such as Ibadism.  Yet this broader perspective on the Islamic tradition’s key and underrepresented sources also runs the risk of creating an academic silo in which, for example, such a major dimension of Islam as Shiʿism becomes a subfield of Islamic studies rather than actually breaking into the mainstream of Islamic studies per se. 

In the face of such a challenge, there is also a unique third position, which entails a more holistic approach to studying Islam and Muslim sources.  The point of emphasis here is to not see Sunni sources as determinative of the categories of Islamic studies or other important Muslim traditions such as the Shiʿi as a distinctive and therefore confined sub-unit of Islamic studies, but, rather, both Sunni and Shiʿi approaches (along with Ibadism) as all informative, and thus (to the extent possible) normative expressions of the Islamic tradition’s vast pre-modern traditions. Approaching the Islamic tradition in this manner is sure to yield promising results for the field, especially for the scholars of the formative period of Islam whose research has often been adversely affected due to scarcity of sources.  

This conference aims to bring a more holistic study of the formative period of Islam front and centre. “Holistic study” refers to the comprehension of various manifestations of Islam as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole. In this sense, the conference wants to illustrate, among other things, how one should not look at Islamic studies in Sunni and Shiʿi (along with Ibadism) contexts separately but see their connections, interaction and influence.

Selected conference papers will be published as an edited volume (details TBD).  Please contact the Conference Coordinators, Seyfeddin Kara: or Suleyman Dost: for further information.

For public registration, please fill out the following form:

Funding: This project is primarily funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No: 101022180 — TIQ. 

→ Poster 


All panels will convene in Jackman Humanities Building, Room 100, located at 170 St. George Street, Toronto.

April 27- Thursday

9:00: Welcome Speech

9:15-11:00: Panel 1- Islamic Studies in Global Perspective

Chair: Sajjad Rizvi, University of Exeter

  • Chiara Formichi, Cornell University; “Health, Hygiene, and Halal: fatwas and marketing in Colonial Java”.
  • Brannon Ingram, Northwestern University; “Islam and the Global Study of Religion: A View from Mid-20th Century Pakistan”
  • Youssef Carter, UNC Chapel Hill; “Islamic Anthropology Revisited: Ethnography from the Undercommons”
  • Jazmin Graves, UNC Greensboro; “Islam Writ Large, Islam Writ Local: Lived Islam in the African Diaspora in India”

11:00-11:15: Coffee Break

11:15-13:00: Panel 2- The Qur’an

Chair: Walid Saleh, University of Toronto

  • Devin Stewart, Emory University
  • Asma Hilali, Université de Lille; “The post-11 September Scholarship on Islam”
  • Tehseen Thaver, Princeton University; “Retrieving the Senses in Qur’anic Exegetical Texts”
  • Marijn Van Putten, Leiden University; “The History of the Quranic Reading Traditions through Material Evidence”

13:00-14:00: Lunch

14:00-15:45: Panel 3- Hadith: Sunni and Shiʿi Constellations

Chair: Arafat A. Razzaque, University of Toronto

  • Andreas Goerke, University of Edinburgh; “A comparison and Re-evaluation of Methods for Dating and Assessing Hadiths”
  • Ash Geissinger, Carleton University; “Late Classical Qur’an Commentary, Exegetical Authority and Gender: Al-Suyūṭī’s Durr al-manthūr as a Case Study”
  • Ed Hayes, Radboud University; “Shiʿi Hadith and Social History”
  • Seyfeddin Kara, U of T and Lund University; “Integrity of the Quran: Sunni-Shiʿi Historical Narratives”

16:30-18:00: Keynote

18:00: Dinner

April 28, Friday

9:00-10:45: Panel 4- Islamic Law Between History and Praxis

Chair: Mohammad Fadel, University of Toronto

  • Ersilia Francesca, Napoli University; “Exploring Early Ibāḍī Family Law”
  • Jocelyn Hendrickson, University of Alberta; “The Andalusi Sect: Morisco Religious Identity in Seventeenth-Century Morocco”
  • Aun Hasan Ali, University of Colorado Boulder; “The Historiography of Imāmī Law and the Imāmī Madhhab”

10:45-11:00: Coffee Break

11:00-12:45: Panel 5- Gender and Sexuality in Islam

Chair: Ari Schriber, University of Toronto

  • Serena Tolino, University of Bern; Gender and Islamic Law: what can we learn from Intersectionality?”
  • Yafa Shanneik, Lund University; “Narratives of Displacement: Iraqi and Syrian Refugees in Europe and the Middle East”
  • Shenila Khoja-Moolji, Georgetown University; “Archival Marginalia and the Lives of Displaced Ismaili Muslim Women”
  • Arsalan Khan, Union College; “Certain Faith and the Making of an Islamic Home in the Tablighi Jamaat in Pakistan”

12:45-14:00: Lunch

14:00-15:45: Panel 6- Material Culture and Islam

Chair: Suleyman Dost, University of Toronto

  • Richard McGregor, Vanderbilt University; “Text as Material Devotion in Medieval Islamic Egypt”
  • Teren Sevea, Harvard University; “Material Culture and the Study of Multispecies Islam”
  • Eleonore Cellard, Collège de France; “Copying the Qurʾān in North Africa/Andalusia in the 4th/10th and 5th/11th centuries: The Manuscripts preserved in Morocco”
  • Adam Bursi, Independent; “Place(s) of Need: Seeking Rain through Relics among Early Muslims and their Others”

15:45-16:00: Coffee Break

16:00-17:45: Panel 7- Race and Identity from Classical to Modern Islam

Chair: Natalie Rothman, University of Toronto

  • Najam Haider, Barnard College Columbia University; “Historicizing Shi‘i Identity – The Case of Musa al-Kazim”
  • Toby Matthiesen, Marie-Curie Global Fellow, Ca’ Foscari and Stanford University, incoming (from fall 2023) Senior Lecturer in Global Religious Studies at the University of Bristol; “Sectarian Orientalism: How Orientalism Adopted the Sunni Narrative of Islamic History”
  • Katherine Merriman, University of Detroit-Mercy; “Mother of the City: Sister Aisha al-Adawiya and Archiving a New Historical Narrative”

April 29, Saturday

9:00-10:45: Panel 8- Sufism and ʿAlid Devotion

Chair: Shuaib Ally, U of T

  • Cyrus Zargar, University of Central Florida; “Empathy in the Masnavi: A Virtue of the Expressive Self”
  • Ayesha Irani, University of Massachusetts Boston; “Yoga for the Bengali Darveś: Prescriptions of the Jñāna Pradīpa, a Seventeenth-Century Sufi Practice Manual”
  • Nebil Husayn, University of Miami; “A letter from ʿAlī on the history of the caliphate: A Key Source Text”
  • Vinay Khetia, Shi‘a Research Institute; “Devotional Literature and Practice in Twelver Shi‘ism: An Exploration of the Supplication of Kumayl ibn Ziyād as Attributed to ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib” 

10:45-11:00: Coffee Break

11:00-12:45: Panel 9- New Directions in Shiʿi Studies

Chair: Karen Ruffle, University of Toronto

  • Tahera Qutbuddin, University of Chicago; “Is Nahj al-balāghah a Shiʿi Book? Insidious Labels and Academia’s Myth of Objectivity”
  • Deborah Tor, University of Notre Dame; “Methodological Trends in the Study of Shiʿite History and Religion”
  • Oliver Scharbrodt, Lund University; “‘My Homeland is Husayn’: Transnationalism and Multi-Locality in Shi’a Contexts”
  • Olly Akkermann, Freie Universität Berlin; “New Perspectives in Bohra Studies: Bohra Book Treasuries in Situ”

1:00-1:45: Concluding Session