News story

IIS Publishes The Spirit and the Letter: Approaches to the Esoteric Interpretation of the Qur’an

5th October 2016

The IIS is pleased to announce the publication of The Spirit and the Letter: Approaches to the Esoteric Interpretation of the Qur’aninfo-icon, edited by Annabel Keeler and Sajjad Rizvi. This publication is the fifteenth volume in the Qur’anic Studies Series.

This volume is the first to focus specifically on esoteric interpretation as a phenomenon in the field of Qur’anic exegesis and to show the plurality of ways it has been manifested in different Muslim traditions. Covering a period extending from the third/ninth century to the present, The Spirit and the Letter includes chapters on philosophical and Shi‘i exegetes, such as Ibn Sina (d. 428/1037) and Mullainfo-icon Sadra (d. 1045/1636), in addition to studies of a range of Sufi perspectives, from Sulami (d. 412/1021) and Qushayri (d. 465/1072) to Ruzbihan Baqli (d. 606/1209), as well as representatives of the Ibn ‘Arabi and Kubrawi schools.

Considered together, the range of studies in this volume enables readers to learn what these approaches have in common and how they differ, and how the hermeneutics and content of exegesis are affected by doctrinal and ideological perspectives of various traditions and periods. Furthermore, they deepen our understanding of what actually constitutes esoteric interpretation and the need to look beyond the letter to the spirit of the Qur’anic word.

The volume contains chapters by leading scholars: Bakri Aladdin, Mahmut Ay, Paul Ballanfat, Meir M. Bar-Asher, Gerhard Böwering, Amin Ehteshami, Janis Esots, Peter Heath, Annabel Keeler, Pierre Lory, Toby Mayer, Martin Nguyen, Sajjad Rizvi, Kristin Sands, Sara Sviri and Richard Todd.

Reviewing the publication, Leonard Lewisohn, a Senior Lecturer in Persian at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies from the University of Exeter, commented:

“This is the first major work on the key mystics and theologians who composed esoteric commentaries on the Qur’an. Fifteen erudite contributions by some of the most eminent authorities in the field of Muslim philosophy, Shi‘i exegesis, Ismaili thought, Akbarian theosophy and Sufisminfo-icon, explore over a millennium of esoteric commentators and commentaries on the Qur’an. Accompanied by an introduction that exhaustively examines the various intellectual trends, theological schools and theosophical terminology relating to mystical exegesis of the Qur’an. ‘The Spirit and the Letter’ provides the most accessible treatment of the inner dimension of Muslim scriptural hermeneutics written to date.”

The publication is based on a European Science Foundation Exploratory Workshop on the Esoteric Interpretation of the Qur’an, which was co-sponsored by The Institute of Ismaili Studies and the European Science Foundation. It was held at the University of Cambridge in 2006, under the auspices of the Centre of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies of Cambridge University.