Tag Archives: Encyclopedia of Islam

So you have a research project – where to start?

When you’re beginning a research project from scratch and you don’t have enough background information, the best place to start are the well-known reference and introductory works on the subject.

These types of work have many titles: encyclopedias, companions, textbooks, dictionaries, bibliographies, lexicons, introductions, primers, handbooks, key to… etc.

Encyclopedias are usually the best place to start, as they have the most detailed level of research among reference works. Articles within them are supposed to be “a repository of all known facts,” i.e. a current overview of everything known on a given topic. They distill vast bodies of secondary research into a small space to make it easier for you to see the big picture.

Encyclopedias tend to range from very broad (i.e. Encyclopedia of Islam) to more specialized and specific (i.e. Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World). If you don’t know a lot already, you want to begin with the general topics and work your way into more specific materials. Imagine you are trying to find a little café in New York City. First, you might need to look at a map of the whole city, then at a map of Manhattan, then of a map of Uptown, and then a map of the subway. Same thing with encyclopedias and references.

While encyclopedias ought to be neutral, scholarship often advances from a relative viewpoint. You might notice that some encyclopedias lean towards various positions. That’s why it’s always a good idea to refer to multiple reference sources.

Sometimes the field of scholarship advances quickly and a new work appears at the time the reference encyclopedia was published. Keep in mind that recently published sources might not account for a year or two of secondary literature published after its writing. Even old encyclopedias have value as you can trace the intellectual history of a concept.

Take note, however, that reference works are usually not cited in academic papers. They’re mostly used for getting you up to speed on a topic.

Today, the most important references are online. My particular favorite is Oxford Islamic Studies, but all of them are generally good resources. Here are some of the go-to references in Islamic Studies:

Take a look at our Middle East Studies Research Guide for even more!

Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī : philosopher, mystic, and theologian

Abu Hamid al-GhazaliRecently the Arab Crossroads department hosted an exciting talk by our professor of philosophy Kalle Taneli Kukkonen about the ethics of Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (1058–1111), arguably the most famous and influential Muslim philosopher, theologian, jurist, and mystic of all time. The library is equipped with numerous scholarly resources for students interested in researching al-Ghazālī’s life and thought.

You can begin your search with the Encyclopedia of Islam and Oxford Islamic Studies.

Next, you can look into al-Ghazālī’s autobiography Al-munqidh min al-ḍalāl (Deliverance from Error), translated and annotated by Richard Jospeh McCarthy.

Maybe you’d like to explore the controversy that erupted between al-Ghazālī and his contemporary Ibn Rushd, known in the West as Averroës. We have the English-Arabc parallel text of Tahāfut al-falāsifah (the Incoherence of the Philosophers).

Or perhaps you’d like to examine al-Ghazālī’s magnum opus, Iḥyāʿ ʿUlūm al-Dīn (Revival of the Religious Sciences). We have the original Arabic as well as many high-quality translations of several of its chapters published by the Islamic Text Society.

As always, let us know if you need any help!

All about Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam

Rumi SufismSufism is the mystical and spiritual branch of Islam with roots in early Islamic history and it is widely practiced today in many countries. Our faculty previously hosted Zachary Wright from Northwestern University in Qatar to talk about the Tariqa Muhammadiyya, a Sufi movement in the 18th century Islamic world.

Would you like to know more?

You can start with some primers like Sufism: The Essentials by Mark Sedgwick and The Cambridge Companion to Sufism, or check out the articles on Sufism in The Encyclopedia of Islam and Oxford Islamic Studies Online.

Need something more advanced?

We have texts on Sufism practiced in different areas such as Sufism in Europe and North America, specific types of Sufism like the Shambhala Guide to Sufism, and much more.

In particular, you can look for primary sources like Principles of Sufism by Aishah bint Yusuf Ba’uniyah published in translation with Arabic text by NYU press, a great bilingual reader if you want to learn some classical Arabic!