Submitted by Tariq Jaffer on Sunday, 7/3/2016, at 11:10 AM

Areas of Specialization

The Arabic Philosophical Tradition (especially Avicenna/Ibn Sīnā); Islamic Theology (especially Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī); the Qurʾān and its Commentaries; intellectual history of the classical (ca. 900 - 1200) and post-classical (ca. 1200-1900) periods of Islamic civilization. 

Other Areas of Interest

Theories of the Qurʾān's "matchlessness" or "inimitability" (Iʿjāz al-Qurʾān); death rituals in religious traditions; anthropology of religion.


My first book project, Rāzī: Master of Qurʾānic Interpretation and Theological Reasoning (Oxford University Press, 2015), focused on Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1210), a towering Muslim intellectual whose writings mark a momentous turning point in the Islamic tradition. Rāzī was a leading representative of Sunnī orthodoxy in medieval Islam. Imbued with the heritage of Greek learning and inculcated with an Islamic education, he was the first intellectual to exploit the rich heritage of ancient and Islamic philosophy to interpret the Qurʾān; and he was the first to forge a methodology that unites reason (ʿaql) and scripture (naql).

My monograph explored Rāzī’s intellectual project, which was one of the most ambitious in the history of Islam. Its principal aim was to examine Rāzī’s boldly unconventional intellectual project and to situate it within the broader arc of the Islamic tradition. While previous scholarship in the field of Rāzī studies concentrated on ethics, logic, and epistemology, extremely little attention had been devoted to Rāzī’s magnum opus—his Qurʾān commentary—and on the pivotal role that it played in Islamic intellectual history. I focused mainly on Rāzī’s Qurʾān commentary.

My broad objectives were to explain how Rāzī used the Qurʾān to express his philosophical theology; how Rāzī resolved major methodological conflicts concerning the application of intellect or reason (ʿaql) to scripture (naql); and how he devised rules and principles of Qurʾānic interpretation by assimilating methods and ideas from diverse intellectual currents into Sunnī theology and exegesis. My ultimate goal was to chart the process through which Rāzī appropriated ideas from Aristotelian-Avicennian philosophy (as well as Muʿtazilism) and naturalized them into Sunnī theology and exegesis. 

The American Academy of Religion generously granted the book the Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion (Textual Studies) in 2015. I am continuing to work in the field of Rāzī studies by examining his innovations in theology and exegesis from new angles. 

Current Projects

Covenant and Creation in Islam. I am currently writing a three part article that traces the theme of “covenant” and related concepts in Islamic intellectual history—a theme that the Islamic tradition shares with other cultural and religious traditions that emerged within the Near East and that later emerged within the Reformed tradition of Christianity. An overview of covenant theology in Islam and several initial discoveries that I have made will appear in a festschrift for a senior colleague under the title, "Is there Covenant Theology in Islam?"

Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī on Intuition: The History of an Aristotelian-Avicennian Philosophical Idea in Islamic Theology. This paper contributes to our understanding of the complex and protracted process through which Ashʿarī-Sunnī theologians appropriated methods, ideas, and concepts from Ancient Greek and Islamic philosophy and subsequently deployed them to explain religious phenomena. It focuses on the Aristotelian notion of  “intuition” that Avicenna (d. 1037) introduced as the lynchpin of his comprehensive philosophical system, and which Rāzī and other leading Sunnī theologians introduced into their worldview that recognized, equally, the authorities of human reason and revelation. By charting this salient aspect of the process of appropriation and naturalization, my ultimate aims is to explain the innovative ways that Ashʿarī-Sunnī theologians subjected supernatural phenomena (including miracles, revelation, and prophecy) to the critique of human reason and brought explanations of such phenomena into line with Aristotelian-Avicennian logic, epistemology, and cosmology. 

Bāqillānī and the Ashʿarī-Sunnī Tradition on the Problem of Miracles. (More words coming soon) 

The Absence of Islamic Faith: An Essay. (More words coming soon.)   

Death Rituals in Islam: An Ethnographic Study. I am currently writing a brief ethnographic study that aims to document how Muslim immigrant communities in New York City understand themes surrounding death. The study explores beliefs concerning several issues: salvation/soteriology, the symbolic meanings of funerary rites such as Qurʾānic recitation over the deceased and the ritual cleansing of the deceased, attitudes towards the veneration of the dead and tomb visitation, and relationships between the living and the dead. The study casts light on the ways that Muslim communities fused traditional Islamic practices with local and civil customs to form rituals that are distinctive to American Islam; and in understanding how immigrant Muslim populations enact the prescriptions of traditional Islamic ritual law.