Profile of the Institute
The Institute for the Study of Islamic Culture and Religion is committed to a self-reflective, inter-denominational Islamic Theology. We want to contribute to the discourses on academically and socially relevant issues by developing our own perspectives, which are made transparent through the disclosure of our own premises and assumptions. This model, which actively endorses the methodological and theoretical postulates of scientific pluralism and also acknowledges the diversity of everyday lives in complex societies, has been developed through a long process of discussions and interactions among the members of the Institute.
Structure of the Institute
The Institute has its beginnings in the Endowed Chair for Islamic Religion donated by the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) in 2002. It was initially placed in the Department of Protestant Theology. In 2005 and 2009 respectively, the endowment was expanded to include two additional chairs. On June 17, 2009, these chairs were transferred to the newly established Institute for the Study of Islamic Culture and Religion as a part of the Department of Languages and Cultural Studies. From the beginning, the objective of the Institute was to engage in an inter-theological academic discourse and to educate and promote young researchers. Mutual understanding of world religions as attempted and promoted in our work requires first and foremost a scholarly orientation in research and teaching which conducts and reflects scholarly research on Islam in the context of a pluralist scientific discourse. The next step in this process of scholarly exploit is the reflection about the impact of the research results on the constitution of Muslim subjectivity. It is this latter reflection of the referential dimension of our work that constitutes the major difference to other Islam-related disciplines, such as Oriental Studies (Orientalistik) or Islam Studies (Islamwissenschaft). In view of this primarily discursive theological orientation, the Institute is committed to an inter-denominational reflection of the pluralist traditions of Islamic scholarship.
On January 29 2010, the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat) published its Recommendations for the development and expansion of Islamic Studies/Islamic Theology within the public university system, which basically confirmed the already existing objectives of the Institute. The recommendations focus, inter alia, on the question of how religious pluralization in Germany and the presence of Islam and its theological traditions can be accounted for on an academically recognized level in research and teaching at universities.
Following the recommendations of the Council, in 2010, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF) decided to support the establishment of centers for Islamic Theological Studies at several locations by advancing research professorships and junior research groups. According to the BMBF guidelines, the centers are envisaged to become internationally recognized places of Islamic theological research that educate and promote scholars of Islamic Theology to be later employed at schools and universities. The goal is to train teachers of Islamic religious education at schools and to ensure the possibility of well-founded theological studies in the public university system. Meanwhile, centers for Islamic Theological Studies have been established at four different universities (Frankfurt/Giessen, Münster/Osnabrück, Erlangen-Nürnberg and Tübingen), along with different designations and subdivisions of the discipline as well as different emphasis on the scientific profile of each location.
In 2012, through the joint support of the BMBF and the State of Hessen, the Centre for Islamic Studies in Frankfurt/Giessen was founded as a cooperation project between the Goethe University of Frankfurt and the Justus Liebig University of Giessen. In its threefold structure, the Center combines and coordinates the teaching and research activities of the three chairs of the Institute for the Study of Islamic Culture and Religion at the Goethe University (Qur’anic Exegesis, Intellectual History of Islam, and Culture and Society of Islam in Past and Present), the Chair of Educational Science with a Focus on Islamic Religious Education and its Didactics (Frankfurt), and the Chair of Islamic Theology and its Didactics (Giessen). In addition, the center provides a framework for cooperation with neighboring disciplines such as the Christian Theologies, Jewish Studies, Religious Studies, and other cultural and social sciences as well as with the different traditions of Islamic Theology in the Islamic world.
Since the revelation of the Qur’an has a linguistic character and the Qur’an therefore represents the manifestation of the communicative intention of God, the Arabic language as well as its understanding and interpretation are of crucial importance for all Islamic theological disciplines. From the very beginning of Islamic scholarship, Muslim scholars strived to deduce God’s intention from the Qur’anic verses and to formulate respective legal provisions for the emerging Muslim community. The analysis of language provided an objective foundation for consensus building among scholars, and a behavioral norm was valid and qualified for a consensus only if it was rationally plausible for the scholars and the society in general. The discipline of kalām took the Qur’an as the basis of its reasoning, assessed it rationally, and strove to defend it against objections from other religions in the intellectual debates that began in the 8th century. In this framework, as well as in other Islamic disciplines concerned with methods and scholarly foundations of knowledge, the discipline of logic was of crucial importance. Thus, many Islamic scientific disciplines emerged from a rational approach by Muslim scholars to the Qur’an in its different aspects.
These approaches, developed by scholars in specific environments, were themselves subject to the conditions of their respective contexts. Therefore, a detailed discussion of the historical and contemporary contexts of Islamic thought is indispensable for a reflective examination of Islam today. The significance of contextuality in current Islamic Theology should be considered on other levels as well: In addition to the contextual conditions of the historical knowledge production, the current contexts and the positionality of the researching subjects of Islamic Theology themselves as well as the positioning toward the issue of contextuality within the fields of Islamic knowledge also have to be taken into account.
Debates on claims of normativity and truth are becoming a central component of a pluralistic public sphere where normative foundations and assumptions are subject to open discussion. It is also in this regard that Islamic Theology, with its core teachings and assumptions about the True and the Absolute, can make significant contributions to ongoing intellectual debates.