Current Research Projects
The theological attempt to enquire after the One God is crucial. It is of key importance to specifically explicate the unique Oneness of God; firstly from the point of view of the conflicting positions of Muʿtazila, Ašʿarīya and Māturīdīya, and secondly in the context of present discourses. This leads to new issues but also to new solution approaches, both in terms of methodology and in terms of contents. How can we conceive of the absolute and difference-less Oneness of God in Islam, and how can we outline it in a reasonable way – also in contrast to a Trinitarian concept of God?
Faith constitutes the religion of Islam. In this respect, the question of what this faith is and thus what its constitutive subject matter encompasses is of immense importance. What must be believed in without question defines adhering to Islam as a specific religion, meaning that faith (īmān) and simultaneously its subject matter (arkān al-īmān) become the authorities of differentiation regulating religiosity as such. Putting the diverse Islamic positions on doctrines of faith in their historical context on one hand and systematising them on the other represent an essential research focus. In this context, questions regarding the relationship between faith and action as well as faith and reason are raised.
> Theology of Revelation (ḥaqā᾿iq at-tanzīl)
Islam is a religion of revelation. While the Qur’ān is considered to have been revealed, the understanding of what exactly the Qur’ān is, and therefore what exactly this revelation means, has been controversially discussed within the Islamic history of ideas. On one hand, the general, even instruction theory-based narrative that the Qur’ān is God’s absolute word indicates the problem of understanding revelation as the relationship between conditional and unconditional; on the other hand, it remains unclear what is ultimately said or thought with this phrase. How can we come to a systematic grasp of the Qur’ān’s claim to unconditionality, in a way which lives up to the demands of reason and does not harm God’s absolute Oneness? While Islam does not see God as having become human, He is also not ‘inlibriate’ in the Qur’ān, in a way that would allow us to say: God has become a book. But then how can we understand revelation in Islam? How can we appreciate the Qur’ān in its historicity while still understanding it in a meta-historical sense as God’s revelation? What exactly is the genuinely Islamic stance here?
> Aesthetic Theology
How does theology relate to aesthetics; how does truth relate to beauty? The Qur’ān as an oeuvre represents the ultimate theological authority, and its inimitable character is predominantly demonstrated by the aesthetic character of its instruction. In the act of reciting the Qur’ān, sense and sensuality are generated as one indivisible unity. The Qur’ān occurs in an aesthetic way and creates an environment for resonance; as a piece of writing, the Qur’ān is also realised through calligraphy and ornamentation, given that it derives from a divine original, is so-to-speak written with a divine quill. In this sense, the Qur’ān achieves the status of an open piece of art, of a divine trace. “All art worthy of the name”, Matisse once said to Charbonnier, “is religious … If it is not religious, it is only a matter of documentary art, anecdotal art ... which is no longer art.” As it were, ornamentation as the sublime achievement of Islamic art is driven by the longing of the mortal to represent what cannot be represented.
> Islamic Philosophy of Religion
The research project analyses the relationship between and interplay of philosophy and religion in Islamic thought. In this context, it is not just necessary to identify the historical genesis of the Islamic Philosophy of Religion with its manifold perspectives; the project first and foremost pursues the question of how we can understand a genuinely Islamic Philosophy of Religion in terms of methodology and content in a contemporary academic discourse. What is philosophy’s and therefore the philosopher’s position in the religion of Islam? What is an adequate definition of philosophy, and what is an adequate definition of religion we can base our reasoning on? What is Islamic philosophy? Or to be more precise: what is the Islamic aspect of this philosophy? Also: what is religion in the framework of Islam? What is the inner imperative of the Islamic Philosophy of Religion? If we nowadays claim to be engaging in a genuinely Islamic Philosophy of Religion, as religions as such face the challenge of finding direction in their thoughts in today’s post-metaphysical and postmodern days – just because we cannot find topical reasoning, neither henological nor based on substance metaphysics -, then we need to undertake the intellectual effort to find philosophical grounds for the religious reasoning which can be employed these days without anachronistically bidding goodbye to any discourse because of an obsolete understanding of history. It follows that Islamic Philosophy of Religion can face the challenges of our times from an ethical point of view, in addition to metaphysical and epistemological questions, in order to advance significant questions in the fields of animal ethics, bioethics and business ethics with its own positions.
> Systematic Research Focus
o Philosophical foundations of religiosity/faith/theology
Islamic Philosophy of Religion (historical and systematic)
o Transformation and reception processes in Islamic philosophy
o Criticism of religion/ criticism of philosophy
o Metaphysics and criticism of metaphysics
o Philosophy of revelation
o Philosophy of freedom
o Islam and Postmodernism
Interreligious dialogue / religious pluralism / atheism
> Mysticism / Taṣawwūf
> Epistemological Foundations of Dynamic Mysticism
While Islamic mysticism is about a double return of human beings to themselves based on the plain absolute truth, the path of taṣawwuf has both an epistemological and an ontological dimension. In this context, we can understand mystical experience in its topological disposition as phenomenology of realisation, i.e. mysticism reveals the genesis of realisation in its evolution step by step up until absolute knowledge (gnosis). Here, we may speak about a genuinely dynamic mysticism in Islam in the sense that it represents a synthesis of vita activa and vita contemplativa, an indivisible correlation. In this respect, the steps of realisation represent an inner path; the path of realisation seems to be accomplished in a structure/framework of the self. The spiritual cannot be found outside of us, in the other, in the alien, but within ourselves. Dynamic mysticism combines epistemology, psychology and ethics. Rationality and intuition, thought and experience, realisation and perception relate to each other in a dynamic fashion. Pursuing the foundations of this process of realisation is the objective of this research project which mainly draws from the following scholars of Islamic Mysticism:
> Muḥammad al-Ġazālī (died 1111)
Muḥammad al-Ġazālī may be perceived as a representative of dynamic mysticism in the sense that he bases his elaborations on three constituting aspects of mysticism: ‘mystical taste’ (ḏawq), ‘experience of the soul’ (ḥal) and ‘change of characteristics’ (tabaddul aṣ-ṣifāt), which refer to ‘epistemological’, ‘psychological’ and ‘spiritual-existentialist’ aspects. According to al-Ġazālī, the conception of dynamic mysticism primarily draws strength from realisation; in addition, it draws from overcoming the self and therefore represents an ambitious spiritual project which does not end in an absorbed meditative (passive) state or in rapt ecstasy but leads – precisely through ‘true knowledge’, intensifying religious awareness and perfecting character traits – to an active and ethically participative life.
> Farīd ad-Dīn at-ʿAṭṭār (died 1220)
While taṣawwūf (Islamic mysticism) deals with the ways in which human beings may find and understand God, the Islamic mystic Farīd ad-Dīn ʿAṭṭār, in his epic poem Manṭiq uṭ-ṭair (The Conference of the Birds), describes the birds’ journey to their king (Simurgh). All birds of the world gather and decide to make their way to Simurgh. Their journey is characterised by the mysteries of the inner, and they cross the seven valleys, i.e. the seven levels to finding knowledge. Their journey is set out topologically and demonstrates the genesis of knowledge in its formation up to the point of absolute insight. The most important realisation the thirty birds (si murgh) come to at the end of their journey is that in sighting Simurgh, they see themselves, and when sighting themselves, they see Simurgh; and when sighting both at the same time, they only see one Simurgh. The soul’s ocean flows into God, and God’s ocean can be found in their own souls. The spiritual path to knowing God leads to their own soul. Surprised, they must realise that, to use the Prophet’s language, knowing God essentially means to know ourselves. What makes ʿAṭṭār an outstanding representative of dynamic mysticism is that he lends an anthropological twist to the highest level of insight; one which is unique in terms of intensity and drama within world literature.
> Maulānā Ǧalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī (died 1237)
For the great Islamic mystic Maulānā Ǧalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī dynamic mysticism becomes real by means of dialectical love. While longing in the sense of lacking the loved one’s presence is the experience which is generally described by mysticism, revelation and faith, in the sense of devotion, are the most intimate representation of the latter in Islam. For Maulānā Ǧalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī, the relationship between God and humanity is vitally characterised by love. Maulānā recognises Islam as the religion of the loving. In carrying out love, the loving one finds to themselves, “I seek to coin an allegory about this burning love: you are a fire, gleaming in what is hidden in me.” (Divan, poem 2087). Love does not let the loving one disappear but makes him come back – into the world. The path to knowledge in love’s stride transforms the loving one, makes him a different one, so that he realises, “I no longer fit myself // My house is filled with him.” (Divan, poem: 576).
> Muhammad Iqbal (died 1938)
In order to come to an adequate definition of dynamic mysticism, Muhammad Iqbal uses the Prophet Muhammad’s (s) Ascension to Heaven and hence his return from this experience of unity as example. Muhammad Iqbal refers to returning to the world and the simultaneous realisation that all of creation is of spiritual nature as “prophetic mysticism”. “The Prophet’s return is creative. He returns to incorporate himself in the passing of time, focusing on controlling the power of history and thus creating a new world of ideals” (The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, p. 152). He deems an active life to be inseperable from a contemplative life and vice versa. For him, mysticism means awakening, as this experience is linked to the wish “to see religious experience transformed into a vivid power in this world” (The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, p. 152 ). In this context, Muhammad Iqbal’s operational key term of dynamic mysticism is the term ‘life’ (zendagī). At one point, he writes, “What goes beyond the contemplation of win and loss is life // Sometimes living, sometimes giving in to life means life.”
> PhD Projects
> Daniel, Roters, M.A.
Title: Suffering in Islam – From Theodicy to Theoanthropodicy’
The working title of the thesis is ‘How to Deal With Suffering in Islam – From Theodicy to Theoanthropodicy’. It aims to provide a theological reflection of the question of theodicy from an Islamic point of view. While theodicy with its questions of divine justice in the face of suffering and evil has at times only featured as a side issue in Islamic tradition, at most serving as a popular argument in the age-old controversy surrounding the issue of determination or free will of human beings vis-à-vis God, the objective should now be to discuss suffering and evil on earth in a way which neither questions God nor bans human beings from the responsibility they have been endowed with in their role. Judaism and Christianity have seen debates about the impropriety or admissibility of theodicy. In particular following the Holocaust, various stances were put forward from a point of view of philosophy of religion and theology. However, Muslims also suffer and have suffered in the past; so how can Muslims deal with suffering? Which significance and which meaning do terms such as suffering and compassion, doubt and devastation, patience and steadfastness, testing, temptation and challenge, faith in God and confidence play in this context? Has the issue of theodicy had its relevance to Islamic theology or is it of relevance now, or is not rather the case that this question, which Büchner terms ‘the rock of atheism’, falls back on humanity in Islam in the sense of an anthropodicy – the question of justification of human beings in the face of God; and does this not mean that the question put to God becomes a question put to humanity, culminating in a reaffirmation of our own created nature and responsibility?
> El Maaroufi, Asmaa, M.A.
Title: Fundamental Guidelines of Animal Ethics in Islam
In society, intensive farming, animal testing and genetic manipulation on animals have repeatedly raised questions about morals and ethics, and the wish has been expressed to come up with solutions. In this context, we also witness a necessity to elaborate theological approaches to the issue of humanity’s responsibility vis-a-vis animals from an ethical and moral point of view. This doctoral thesis will discuss fundamental guidelines of animal ethics that can be derived from the (primary) sources of Islam. A special focus will be on identifying similarities as well as differences between humanity and animals and on drafting fundamental ethical guidelines for dealing with them. Faced with modern challenges, the aim is to contribute to a theological, responsible and Islamic ethical approach.
> Al-Daghistani, Raid, M.A.
Title: The Epistemology of the Heart – The Cognitive Aspects of Islamic Mysticism
This doctoral thesis aims at researching insights drawn from mystical experiences within Islamic-religious tradition. As mysticism not only represents the inner dimension of religion but also the core of religiosity, mystical experiences have direct access to the ultimate reality. Indeed, one of the most important aspects of mystical experience is thus precisely its cognitive dimension. As a consequence, this thesis focuses on analysing meta-rational levels of realisation, their conditions, functions and ways of expression. Such analyses necessarily involve transcendental anthropology, spiritual psychology and mystical epistemology. The spiritual history of Islam offers a wide range of propositions and accounts of mystical experiences; however Western, i.e. German-language scholarship so far lacks a detailed analysis of them. It follows that this project also represents an attempt to grab hold of the mystical, i.e. ‘the mysterious’, from a theoretical and rigorously academic point of view.