AVACGIS Visiting Scholar Lectures: Raissa von Doetinchem de Rande and Sami Erdem

Monday, April 30, 2018 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM
Johnson Center, Meeting Room G


Raissa von Doetinchem de Rande (Princeton University)

“An Exceptional Sage and the Need for the Messenger: The Politics of Fiṭra in a 12th-Century Tale”

The Qurʾān claims God created all human beings upon the fiṭra (30:30), without specifying exactly what that means. Especially in the modern period, scholars and lay people alike have filled this concept with their manifold desires, seeking to anchor such ideas as natural law, human rights, or a primordial monotheism in the pre-modern tradition.

In this talk, I investigate the use of the term fiṭra (pl. fiṭar) at a very particular historical and intellectual point, namely in Ibn Ṭufayl’s (d. 1185) philosophical tale Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān. I show that at a handful of crucial moments in the story, fiṭra appears in an unusual context: the intellectual capacity of human beings. Specifically, attention to fiṭra points us to an unbridgeable gulf between the few and the masses that affects their relation to human sociality and its religious and political establishment. While the claims of revealed religion and philosophy appear compatible in theory, the policy recommendation at the end of the tale is one of different paths lived out separately. Attention to fiṭra hence appears to illuminate why the author wrote his tale for the court. For through it we see Ibn Ṭufayl temper the threat of a nascent Aristotelian philosophy in Andalusia in two ways: by strongly affirming the masses´ need for the messenger and by reducing the philosopher’s revolutionary potential to nothing since he is both a hermit and a failed teacher.

Unlike prevalent conceptions of fiṭra as an egalitarian concept, its use in the context of a varying intellectual capacity in Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān thus has surprising implications for the depoliticization of the esoteric philosopher and the importance of the qurʾānic message to society.  

Dr. Sami Erdem (Marmara University, Turkey)

“Perceptions of the Mecelle (Ottoman Civil Code) Through a Study of English Literature”

In this presentation, Dr. Sami Erdem will make a panoramic evaluation of works in the English literature about the Mecelle, the first civil code based on Islamic law promulgated during the later period of the Ottoman Empire. The presentation will look at the general characteristics of the perception of the Mecelle through examples from texts of the early period that contain comprehensive information about the Mecelle, specifically in the framework of the literature produced until the 1950s. Dr. Erdem will then compare the content of the Mecelle entry in the first and second editions of the Encyclopedia of Islam as two examples that reflect the development and change of the Mecelle interpretations in the literature.

About the speakers

Raissa von Doetinchem de Rande is a fourth year Ph.D. student in Princeton University's Religion Department. She obtained a B.A. in Theology from the University of Oxford in 2012, a M.A.R. in Ethics from Yale in 2014, and a M.A. in Religion from Princeton in 2017.

Her dissertation investigates the politics of fiṭra among central figures of Islamic intellectual history from al-Farābī to Ibn Taymiyya, as well as, the implications of their arguments for the broader study of Islamic ethics today. In 2017-2018 she was a visiting Ph.D. student at the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University where she worked on the first chapter of her dissertation.

Sami Erdem is an Associate Professor in the Islamic Law department of Marmara University’s Faculty of Theology, Istanbul and is currently Senior Visiting Fellow at the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies. During his time at the Center, Erdem will be completing his research on “Perceptions of the Mecelle (Ottoman Civil Code) Through a Study of English Literature” and begin working on a new research topic, "Conceptions of Ijtihad in Late Ottoman Legal Thought". While at the Center, Dr. Erdem led the planning and organization of the first graduate student colloquium on Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies co-sponsored with the Diyanet Islamic Research Institute in April 2017. His academic interests include late Ottoman law, Mecelle, codification of Islamic law in 19th and 20th centuries, caliphate, ijtihad and fatwa in modern times.