Islamic Studies Qurʾan and Contemporary Analysis
Salwa El-Awa
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 November 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 November 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0284


Contemporary analysis of the Qurʾan is marked by a significant turn from source- and historical-critical into textual analytical approaches, allowing more than ever before for the literary and linguistic components of the text to be uncovered using systematic applications of the methodology derived from contemporary literary theory and linguistics. Such textual approaches existed in the classical Islamic period, such as in works of Ibn al-Anbari, ar-Rummani, Abu Bakr al-Bāqillānī, ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī, and al-Shāṭibī. While maintaining the Islamic theological principle of the Qurʾan’s divine inimitability, those authors analyzed the text from their contemporary literary and linguistic viewpoints. Alternatively, early Western works, dating back to the earliest translations of the Qurʾan into Latin in the 12th century by Robert of Ketton, were marked by polemical attitudes and attention to debating the message of the Qurʾan from Christian theological viewpoints. In the early 20th century, while reformists Muḥammad ʿAbduh and Rashid Ridda in the Middle East called for moving the stagnant waters of Islamic scholarship at the time to produce relevant modern interpretation of the Qurʾan, Western scholars continued to build on the efforts of 19th-century scholars such as Geiger, Hirschfeld, Weil, and Nöldeke, among others, to establish the sources of the Qurʾan’s Judeo-Christian materials through philological and biblical research, and to reproduce a revised Qurʾan based on the chronological order of revelations. However, in the second half of the 20th century, a considerable shift in approach took place, with contemporary scholars such as Montgomery Watt (b. 1909–d. 2006), Kenneth Cragg (b. 1913–d. 2012) and others calling for a change in Western academic attitudes in writing about Islamic topics. While older diachronic source- and historical-critical approaches did not entirely lose their appeal in the postmodern era, which can be seen particularly since the 1980s in the works of Griffith, Reynolds, Neuwirth, Sinai, Witztum, Crone, and Zellentin, the new more text-oriented synchronic approaches analyze the text of Qurʾan as used by Muslims from thematic, structural, linguistic and literary points of views. On the way to a more objective and increasingly systematized approach to the study of the Qurʾanic text, several complementary and competing theories are utilized, either developed within Qurʾanic studies or borrowed from linguistics, literary criticism, and critical discourse analysis approaches. Also, many scholars adopted a combination of historical and textual approaches in attempts to reach deeper and more contextualized understanding of this complex text. Areas such as the thematic unity of the text, coherence and textual relations, and literary analysis of various aspects of the text and its language and linguistics are gaining increasing popularity in recent publications among scholars both in the East and in the West.

Overviews of Approaches

A large number of works are dedicated to identifying the variety of approaches to the Qurʾan that have gained increased interest in recent years. Hawting and Shareef 1993 is a collection of essays offering insights into the varied methodologies of analyzing the Qurʾanic text with some comparisons between traditional and contemporary approaches. Boullata 2000 provides an overview of contemporary approaches, with a variety of essays adopting textual, structural, thematic, and literary approaches. Taji-Farouki 2006 examines a representative selection of controversial modern and postmodern hermeneutical approaches to the Qurʾan by Muslim intellectuals across the world, highlighting the challenges and struggles those approaches face in engaging directly with the text in the contexts of modernity and globalization. Works such as Saeed 2005 and Cancian 2019 provide overviews of contemporary approaches developing in certain parts of the Muslim world such as Indonesia and Iran. McAuliffe 2001–2006 is a comprehensive collection of articles on a very wide range of questions about the Qurʾanic text and history and is a good starting point when searching for key issues, authors, or sources. McAuliffe 2006 and Rippin and Mojaddedi 2017 complement one another with a wide selection of essays representative of the key methods of analysis in contemporary Qurʾanic studies. Robinson 2003 [1996] is a key work for students and researchers looking for an example of one in-depth contemporary analysis of the Qurʾan from several angles chronologically and textually. For more key references, encyclopedia, handbooks, and companions that offer insights into the issues of interest in those approaches, see the separate Oxford Biographies in Islamic Studies article “Qurʾan”.

  • Boullata, Issa J. Literary Structures of Religious Meaning in the Qurʾān. Richmond, UK: Curzon, 2000.

    Fifteen essays by influential authors representing examples of the dominant approaches to literary analysis in contemporary Qurʾanic studies.

  • Cancian, Alessandro, ed. Approaches to the Qurʾan in Contemporary Iran. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019.

    A collection of seventeen essays looking at various approaches to reception of the Qurʾan in contemporary Iran with special attention to three fields: authority, legitimacy, and cultural manifestations.

  • Hawting, G. R., and Abdul-Kader A. Shareef. Approaches to the Qurʼān. London: Routledge, 1993.

    Thirteen essays analyzing the Qurʾan as a literary text, as a text in context, as a thematic unit and as a more widely contextualized text within historical, biblical, and legal frameworks.

  • McAuliffe, Jane Dammen. “Western Scholarship and the Qurʾan.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Qurʾan. Edited by Andrew Rippin, 235–251. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    Fourteen essays on a number of issues by prominent Qurʾan scholars. Key to understanding the different contemporary approaches to the Qurʾan. Access to full book or individual chapters available online.

  • McAuliffe, Jane Dammen, ed. Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. 6 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2001–2006.

    Written by a selection of scholars representing a wide variety of contemporary approaches, the six-volume encyclopedia is an essential first point of reference for students and researchers on the key issues in the study of the Qurʾan. A new online-only version of this work is edited by Johanna Pink and can be accessed online.

  • Rippin, Andrew, and Jawid Mojaddedi. The Wiley Blackwell Companion to the Qur’ān. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118964873

    This is a second edition of the 2006 book edited by Andrew Rippin. It was completed by Mojadeddi after Rippin passed away in 2016.

  • Robinson, Neal. Discovering the Qurʾan: A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text. 2d ed. London: PCM Press, 2003.

    An in-depth analysis of the Qurʾan from several angles of paramount interest to contemporary Qurʾanic studies. The first edition of this book was published in 1996.

  • Saeed, Abdullah, ed. Approaches to the Qurʾan in Contemporary Indonesia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    A compilation of eleven essays on various issues stemming from contemporary Indonesian approaches to the Qurʾan. The essays cover a range of legal, interfaith, and gender issues as well as methodological, exegetical, and creative approaches to the text.

  • Taji-Farouki, Suha, ed. Muslim Intellectuals and the Qurʾan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

    Eleven essays by Eastern and Western Muslim scholars and intellectuals on postmodern critical approaches to interpretation of the Qurʾan.

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