Subproject B04

Enactments of Authority: Rhetorical Strategies in Jewish and Islamic Legal Texts

The project places its focus on a comparison of Islamic fatwa- and Jewish responsa-literature. Both genres can be regarded as functional equivalents of one another to a certain extent: they are both comprised of scholarly responses to mostly legal and ritualistic problems that are presented be laymen, courts or other scholars. Islam issues fatwas already in its earliest phases and the Jewish responsa-literature also dates back to more than 1300 years. Both religious traditions accumulated series of such fatwas or responsa, which sometimes also include recommendations on how to compose such legal reviews.
The comparison undertaken in this project does not aim so much at the legal, but rather at the literary dimension of these documents. Rhetorical strategies, created by authors of fatwas and responsa in order to generate authority, are in the focus, including literary figures and tropes, stylistic means and specific lines of argument. At the same time, the project looks at types of intertextuality, as in quotations or other references, as well as non-linguistic aspects such as performance, when it comes to norms of behavior and communication between laymen and scholars.
The project rests on the premise that the number and form of those strategies used in the texts is fundamentally influenced by the institutional frames of the specific legal discourses. Important factors for this might be certain legal schools or other hierarchical structures within these discourses, as well as the relation of scholars to state powers or structures of religious productions of knowledge. A hermeneutical approach to sources of law might also be another of those factors. These frames are not identical in the Jewish and Islamic traditions, which is why the PIs assume that these traditions have rendered different rhetorical strategies. However, it is true for both traditions that these overarching factors are never constant, but conditioned by geographical particularities and historical processes of change. Thus, the Jewish-Islamic comparison equally entails comparative spatial and diachronic perspectives. A special focus of this project lies on the change rhetorical strategies undergo towards modernity, as this moment in time significantly changes other external factors. This thematic emphasis extends towards the second and third funding periods. The onset of modernity places both globalization and the development of new media in the research interest as special factors for the composition of fatwas. At the same time, one can observe a variety of Jewish centers that establish new genres, which seem very closely related to classical responsa-literature in their reflection of halacha.
The project pursues a new research approach in both Jewish and Islamic studies: on the one hand, it provides a new systematic approach towards the literary dimensions of fatwas and responsas. On the other hand, the PIs introduce a multiple comparison, as they compare legalistic literary production through different ages and regions that are also determined by different religious traditions.