Tag Archives: Jewish Studies

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!

A look at knowledge in Islam during #UAEReads

Lots of booksThis year was declared the year of reading in the UAE, with a national campaign to promote literacy, books, and intellectual curiosity among the populace. You can follow the campaign on social media visa the hashtag #UAEReads.

Islamic civilization and cultures have many precedents and a rich history from which to draw support for such educational initiatives. It is widely believed that the first verse of the Quran to be pronounced was: Read! (Surat al-‘Alaq 96:1)

According to the late professor of Arabic literature at Yale University, Franz Rosenthal, knowledge was one of the key ideas motivating the development of Muslim traditions. In his classic work, Rosenthal writes:

For ‘ilm [knowledge] is one of those concepts that have dominated Islam and given Muslim civilization its distinctive shape and complexion. In fact, there is no other concept that has been operative as a determinant of Muslim civilization in all its aspects to the same extent as ‘ilm. This holds good even for the most powerful among the terms of Muslim religious life such as, for instance tawhid “recognition of the oneness of God,” ad-din “the true religion,” and many others that are used constantly and emphatically. None of them equals ‘ilm in depth of meaning and wide incidence of use. There is no branch of Muslim intellectual life, of Muslim religious and political life, and of the daily life of the average Muslim that remained untouched by the all-pervasive attitude toward knowledge as something of supreme value for Muslim being. ‘Ilm is Islam, even if the theologians have been hesitant to accept the technical correctness of this equation. The very fact of their passionate discussion of the concept attests to its fundamental importance for Islam.

Rosenthal, Franz. Knowledge Triumphant. Boston: Brill, 2007. p. 2.

We have access to many scholarly resources in the library that explore this topic from a variety of angles. Here is just a quick sample list:

As always, we’re happy to help you find more!