Islamic Studies Ashʿariyya
Ayman Shihadeh
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 July 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0099


The Ashʿarī school, a chief representative of Sunni theology, is the most widespread and influential theological school in premodern Islam, and stil+l exerts considerable influence, mostly implicit, on contemporary Islamic thought. Emerging within a Muʿtazilī-cum-traditionalist theological milieu as a school of kalām by the efforts of its eponymous founder Abū l-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī (d. 935), Ashʿarism developed to comprise a diverse spectrum of currents, including the philosophical, traditionalist, and mystical. Although expounded by a core of specialist theologians, Ashʿarism has enjoyed a huge following among Sunni scholars who specialize in other disciplines and whose scholarship it often shaped and informed. As it would thus be extremely difficult to cover all that pertains to Ashʿarism and Ashʿarīs broadly conceived, the present bibliographic entry only includes sources dealing primarily with theological topics. As this entry makes evident, the study of Ashʿarism is still underdeveloped, and the coverage sometimes starkly uneven.

General Overviews

In the absence of any extensive book-length overviews, the student of Ashʿarī history should, for the time being, be content with introductory and, in some respects, sketchy and rather outdated discussions in more general textbooks on Islamic theology. Nagel 2000, Watt 1985, Gardet and Anawati 1970, and al-Shāfiʿī 1991 are among the most widely read. Ess 1991–1995 offers an extensive exploration of the period immediately predating al-Ashʿarī.

  • Ess, Josef van. Theologie und Gesellschaft im 2. und 3. Jahrhundert Hidschra. 6 vols. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1991–1995.

    A magisterial study of Islamic theology in the 2nd–3rd centuries AH (8th–9th centuries AD). Although the Ashʿarī school falls beyond its chronological scope, this work nonetheless forms an essential source on the context and background of, and the precursors to, the school founder Abū l-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī.

  • Gardet, Louis, and Georges C. Anawati. Introduction à la théologie musulmane: Essai de théologie comparée. Paris: Vrin, 1970.

    Originally published in 1948. A general survey that concentrates on the development of the place, role, and form of theology in Islam and compares that to Christian theology. Still useful, although rather out of date.

  • Nagel, Tilman. The History of Islamic Theology from Muhammad to the Present. Translated by Thomas Thornton. Princeton, NJ: Marcus Wiener, 2000.

    English translation of Geschichte der islamischen Theologie, first published in 1994. A recent general history of Islamic theology that takes account of its wider intellectual and sociopolitical context. Ashʿarism is treated in chapters 5–6.

  • al-Shāfiʿī, Ḥasan Maḥmūd. Al-Madkhal ilā dirāsat ʿilm al-kalām. Cairo: Maktabat Wahba, 1991.

    A useful general text, in Arabic, on the history of Islamic theology, including the Ashʿarī school.

  • Watt, Montgomery W. Islamic Philosophy and Theology: An Extended Survey. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1985.

    An introductory textbook on the history of Islamic theology containing a brief overview of the Ashʿarī school.

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