Dr Holger Michael Zellentin, University of Nottingham


Quranic studies, a vibrant field of research essential to the humanities and to contemporary culture, is deeply polarized roughly along the same lines that defined biblical studies in the past two centuries: one camp holds the Quran to be revealed verbatim, while the other camp operates within a historicizing paradigm focusing on origins and external influence. Putting it crudely, one could argue that the extreme adherents to the traditional approach do not allow any challenges to the integrity of the text and instead focus on medieval commentaries, while the extreme adherents of the revisionist approach hardly grants the text any degree of cohesion and autonomy and instead sees it as the barely cohereing imitation of specific aspects of preceding religious movements.

The key to moving the discussion forward may be found in a middle position which, on the one hand, recognizes the coherent hermeneutics and intellectual independence of the Quran, and on the other hand recognizes that the Quran stands in a demonstrable continuous intellectual tradition with previous religious movements. The fact that the Quran explicitly affirms its own traditional nature allows for such a moderate approach. As a scholar trained broadly in the history and literature of Late Antique Judaism, Christianity, and early Islam, I bring a specific perspective to the study of the Quran that allows me to argue for a new field of inquiry, focusing on “deep” continuities between Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Syriac and Arabic literature from Late Antiquity to the Quran. My innovative approach to the Quran is complemented by a simultaneous re-examination of the ethnic, ritual, and Christological concepts handled in Late Antique literature such as the Didascalia.

My research in this field began in 2006. I have presented preliminary results in a series of lectures and a conference dedicated to the subject matter of Jewish and Muslim cultural exchange which I co-organized in Berkeley from 2007 to 2010. The Quran’s claim that it is a mere “confirmation of what was before it” (tasdiq alladhi bayna yadayhi, Q. 10:37, 12:111) can indeed be justified by a close examination of the Syriac Didascalia and related documents, a fourth century church order which circulated widely throughout Late Antiquity. In this literature we find specific aspects of many Quranic phrases as well as a broad range of ritual, ethical, legal and Christological concepts which anchor the Quran securely in previous religious tradition.

I will be on research leave in the period preceding the proposed AHRC fellowship. I have completed all textual studies and much of the analysis of the collected data already, and have already partially drafted just under half of the chapters of the proposed monograph. The present proposal seeks to evaluate my research results with a cross-disciplinary perspective, through collaboration with leading academic as well as religious scholars on Quranic and Late Antique studies in Europe and the US, and to complete my monograph. I will organize a conference at the University of Nottingham and participate in a seminar under the direction of Gabriel Said Reynolds (Notre Dame). In addition, the project will bring together religious scholars working together with the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme in order to transmit the research to practitioner groups.


Dr Holger Michael Zellentin

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