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Chair of Islamic Studies – Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Seesemann

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Completed projects

Negotiating the Social Relevance of Religious Knowledge (2019-2022)Hide

Negotiating the Social Relevance of Religious Knowledge: Muslim Scholarship and Islamic Law in the Pre-Modern Sahara, 1600-1800

Interim professorship, April 2019-March 2022

PD Dr. Ismail Warscheid

My research explores the history of Muslim scholarship and Islamic law in the western parts of the Sahara during the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries, a period of North and West African history that remains vastly understudied. From the later Middle Ages onwards, the spread of Islamic learning and Islamic legal institutions had a transformative impact on Saharan agricultural and pastoral societies. Recent research has highlighted how Muslim scholars in oases or among nomadic groups assumed a pivotal role in promoting literate forms of cultural communication and expression. It has also been shown that the theological and legal models elaborated by Muslims jurists contributed in a decisive manner to the racialization of relations between sedentary Sahelians and Saharan nomads. Relying on unedited fatwa collections and other Arabic manuscripts from Southern Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, and Niger, my project attempts to bring together these two strains of inquiry by adopting a trans-regional comparative perspective that combines methodologies from intellectual and social history. My aim is, on the one hand, to show how a shared intellectual space emerged in the Sahara, connecting various autonomous scholarly communities, and that this space yielded specific academic dynamics. On the other, I assess the social relevance of knowledge production in the region: how did the work of Muslim scholars contribute to shaping forms of societal order in areas that fell outside the scope of direct administrative state control and whose inhabitants governed themselves through institutions based on community autonomy, lineage structure and clan solidarity? Although I am mainly concerned with Islamic legal thought and practice, I see the florescence of fiqh studies in the pre-modern Sahara as a part of a larger acculturative process based on the popularization of three main disciplines of Muslim scholarship: law, theology (kalām), and Sufism (taṣawwuf). The interaction between these three fields of knowledge and its social implications provide the overarching framework for my project.

Sheikh Yusuf al-Dijwi (2018-2020)Hide

Sheikh Yusuf al-Dijwi (1870-1946): Intra-Muslim Controversies in the Twentieth Century Middle East

Fritz Thyssen Foundation, 2018-2020

Dr. Ahmed Khaled Ayong

Epistemologische Grundlagen der Differenzen innerhalb des sunnitischen Islam (2011-2015)Hide

Epistemologische Grundlagen der Differenzen innerhalb des sunnitischen Islam: Traditionalisten, Reformer und Islamisten im heutigen Afrika

DFG, 2011-2015


  • Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Seesemann

Weitere Mitarbeiter

  • Prof. Dr. Noah Salomon (2013)
  • Dr. Britta Frede (2011-13)

What is knowledge (ʿilm), and what is the "right way" to acquire it? These questions are the focus of the research project. Comparative empirical studies among various Sunni currents in Mauritania and Sudan will be used to explore the question of differences with regard to epistemological foundations for the transmission of knowledge. First, the common categories of "traditionalist," "reformist," and "Islamist" will be used as a starting point, and this
differentiation will be examined from an epistemological perspective. A second aspect will be the consideration of gender-specific characteristics in the transmission of knowledge. Do these exclusively concern content or can differences in the meaning and method of knowledge transfer also be identified here? The aim of this project is to gain a deeper understanding of the different forms of contemporary Sunni Islam in Africa.

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