Conference “The Sciences of Islam, Between Repetition and Innovation: What is it to comment in Islam?”

Conference “The Sciences of Islam, Between Repetition and Innovation: What is it to comment in Islam?”

The news of this month was marked by an important event: the hosting of an international conference. It was the first time IDEO organized such a conference, and, according everyone’s feedback, it was a successful one. This newsletter is in large part dedicated to it.

Conference “The Sciences of Islam, Between Repetition and Innovation: What is it to comment in Islam?”

On January 14‒16, IDEO organized a conference devoted to the genre of commentary in post-classical Islam (6th‒13th century A.H./12th‒19th century A.D.). Opened by the President of Al-Azhar University, this conference concluded the 200 Project which began in March 2013 and aimed at the historical contextualization of the works of 200 major authors of the Arabic and Islamic heritage. The “200 Project” was funded by the European Delegation in Cairo.

The results of the “200 Project” are available on the online catalogue of our library. For each book, in addition to the classical information displayed on the left side of the screen, we present, on the right side, information regarding the works themselves: their editorial history, their cultural history (commentaries, refutations, complements, imitations…), and the relations that their authors have with other authors (masters, disciples, family…) After three years of research, we have processed around 190 authors, which represents 15% of the 200,000 bibliographical records that our catalogue contains.

The January conference aimed at continuing the work of Mellon Sawyer Seminary (University of California, Berkeley, October 12‒14, 2012) which was devoted to the commentary genre and its sub-genres (margins, glosses, notes…). Sixteen speakers presented a paper, coming from twelve countries and eight universities. They also met in small groups to share their insights. Fifty people attended the conference. Here, we will present only the questions that were posed at the end of the conference.

Two Visions of the Commentaries

It seems that there are two conflicting visions. The first vision focuses on the irreducible diversity of commentaries, according to place, epoch, relevant science, and the forms these commentaries take. This vision refuses to search for common points between them. The second vision tries to characterize periods, evolutions, and constants. On this behalf, it seems that the systematization on the Ottoman madrasas in the 8th century A.H./14th century A.D. is a turning point in the intellectual activity and the production of commentaries.

The Sociology of Teaching Commentaries

Whatever these broad visions may be, the speakers all agree that any serious study of a given commentary cannot ignore the sociological context in it was produced (sponsors/patronage, pedagogy, the authors’ motivation).

The Functions of Commentaries

The Berkley seminar studied in depth the varied functions of commentaries, in particular in philosophy. Some speakers presented texts that served a bases for pedagogical commentaries, although they contain ideas that oppose a given teaching (which could be labeled an a contrario teaching). Some speakers also insisted on a function of commentaries being that of a harmonisation between two opposing theories. Commentaries on medicine or on jurisprudence, often functioned to update the teaching of the author to work in new contexts. Lastly, one speaker highlighted a “liturgical” sufi function held by some theological commentaries in South-East Asia.

Issue 32 of MIDEO is devoted to this topic, and will publish certain papers from the conference as well as remain open to other contributions.


From January 27‒31, fr. Alberto Ambrosio, OP gave a session on Sufism to the Dominicans sisters at the monastery of Saint-Jean Baptiste in Orbey (Alsace).

On January 30th, fr. Emmanuel Pisani, OP delivered a lecture on the topic of “Is Islam Intrinsically Violent?” This lecture was delivered at the Agora-Tête-d’Or in Lyon, during a study day titled “Turn the Other Cheek? Violence & Religion” organized by the Jesuits, the Oratorians ,and the Dominicans of Lyon.


This month we received at the Scholars’ house, Mr. Zoltán Szombathy, professor at the Catholic University of Budapest, in the context of our continuing cooperation together.


Alberto Fabio Ambrosio, Quand les soufis parlent aux chrétiens. À la rencontre d’un islam fraternel, Paris : Bayard, 2016.

Alberto Fabio Ambrosio, « Libertà religiosa: Diritto di libertà interiore » in Missioni consolata 118, January-February 2016, p. 63‒67. To read the text online…


(09 January 2016)