Nathan Spannaus, postdoc at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, will deliver a lecture. Frank Griffel, Professor and Chair of Religious Studies at Yale, will act as respondent.
Co-sponsored by IAUNRC, REEI, and RSW.
There is a direct link between taqlid and sociohistorical circumstances. Characterized by its “ongoing conversation with forebears and contemporaries” (as Muhammad Qasim Zaman describes it), taqlid is mediated through institutions—in what and how students are taught, and in scholars’ writings, opinions and interpretations—which themselves exist and operate within a social setting: interactions with other institutional actors, the structural makeup of society, matrices of power. With this link, changes in the broader societal context can become a driver of intellectual and religious reform, of changes to taqlid and the content of scholarly discourse.
I explore these dynamics through the critique of taqlid in the reform project of Abu Nasr Qursawi (1776-1812), which was built around a broad skepticism toward received wisdom in Islamic scholarship. The Muslim communities of the Russian Empire witnessed seismic changes to their religious institutions in the second half of the 18th century, culminating in state control over the entirety of the ulama, and Qursawi, who was a prominent figure among these communities, harshly criticized his fellow scholars and many of their assumptions about the nature of their religious authority and its epistemological foundations. This critique, I argue, was precipitated by the tsarist takeover of Islamic institutions, which undermined and marginalized religious experts, thereby altering how Islamic authority was constituted and exercised and calling into question the continuity of both ulama discourses and institutional structures. Within such a setting, changes to taqlid and its modus operandi were inevitable. This is precisely what we see among Qursawi and his contemporaries, and the intellectual history of this period can help illuminate the links between scholarly discourse, religious authority, and sociohistorical context.