Qurʾānic Exegesis

Arabic-Ottoman Translations of Works of Qurʾānic Exegesis (tafsīr) as an Expression of the Inner-Islamic Transfer of Knowledge in the Eastern Mediterranean between 1400–1750

Project Leader: Philip Bockholt
Doctoral Researcher: Ahmet Aytep

Ahmet Aytep’s research in this project focuses on Arabic-Ottoman translations of works of Qurʾānic exegesis (tafsīr). As one of the most significant religious genres in Islamic culture, Arabic and Persian tafsīr works were translated into Ottoman Turkish several times and circulated widely in the Islamic lands. Therefore, this research project aims to determine how tafsīr translations operated as a vehicle of vernacularisation within the transfer of religious knowledge and their role in the formation and consolidation of the Ottoman mentality and identity. 

By combining approaches from Middle Eastern studies, translation studies and material philology, this research will comprehensively explore the various, diverse facets of tafsīr translations. First, the project will investigate translation as a conceptual framework by examining the various translation approaches and terminologies employed in these texts. Second, it will consider translation as a dynamic process, focusing on the complex relationship between the original text and its translation(s). In so doing, it will examine whether the structure and the content are retained or changes such as adaptations or manipulations are made while investigating the presence of recurring patterns associated with specific regions and periods. Third, it will analyse translation(s) as a product, addressing the roles and involvement of different actors in the translation and transmission of these texts. In addition to a philological approach, a particular emphasis is also placed on the systematic evaluation of paratextual elements such as colophons, reading notes, ownership notes and seals, as well as visual features such as layout structure. Thereby, each manuscript will be considered as an independent artefact in an effort to contextualise each example philologically, historically and prosopographically. This comprehensive and comparative analysis of manuscripts will shed light on the socio-cultural status of actors, literary-cultural trends and readership dynamics, as well as the book production and reading culture in the Ottoman Empire.

The first phase of this research involves an extensive survey of both Turkish manuscript libraries and manuscript libraries in the previously Ottoman-administered regions of Egypt and the Balkan states. The primary objective of this stage is to identify the source corpus. Initially, this research will focus on three translations of Abū al-Layth al-Samarqandī’s (d. 373/983) Arabic tafsīr work.

The project is part of the Cluster of Excellence "Religion and Politics. Dynamics of Tradition and Innovation" at the University of Münster.

Link to the project page of the Cluster of Excellence