Georgetown University Backdrop

Theology in Arabic

The Berkley Center and Georgetown’s Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies partnered during the 2021-2022 academic year to offer a series of seminars on theology in Arabic.

We are delighted to continue our seminars during the 2022-2023 academic year, inviting internal and external scholars and doctoral students to share their work with us via Arabic theological texts in translation. These recurring seminars are intended to foster a deeper understanding of theology directly from works in Classical Arabic.

Georgetown students and faculty are invited to participate in reading Arabic theological texts in translation through these seminars, which will function as reading groups with an emphasis on exposure to theological reasoning and the personal voice of the authors from original Arabic texts. As familiarity with key topics develops, so too will familiarity with Arabic in its shared theological vernaculars across world religions: i.e., on the basis of terminology and overarching themes, and as a vehicle of personal expression.

2022-2023 Seminars

  • ​October 28, 2022 | A Ninth-Century Muslim Theologian on Maintaining God-Consciousness
  • November 18, 2022 | Al-Jahiz on Divine Adoption in Jewish and Christian Scripture
  • February 24, 2023 | An Ashʿarite’s Denial of Incarnation and a Coptic Christian’s Response: Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī and al-Ṣafī ibn al-ʿAssāl on Indwelling and Uniting
  • March 31, 2023 | Yaḥyā ibn Jarīr on Jesus' Perfecting of the Law of Moses
  • April 14, 2023 | A Classical Islamic Appreciation of the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali
  • April 28, 2023 | Classical Islamic Conceptions of Human Flourishing: Al-Māwardī (d. 1058) on Human Virtues, Divine Transcendence, and Just Governance

Dr. Rodrigo Adem, Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies
Friday, October 28, 2022, 2:00 p.m.
Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Conference Room
RSVP Required

Al-Ḥārith al-Muḥāsibī (781-857 CE) was an early systematizer of Islamic theology, ethics, and spirituality. This seminar will present selections and translations from his original writings in Arabic dedicated to the various steps and obstacles in the path of maintaining God-consciousness.

Dr. Nathan Gibson, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Institut für den Nahen und Mittleren Osten
Friday, November 18, 2022, 12:00 p.m. EST
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RSVP Required

Arabic readers remember the ninth-century prose master Abū ʿUthmān ʿAmr b. Baḥr al-Jāḥiẓ (776–868/869 CE) primarily for two things: his delightful cultural insights and his adroit, idiosyncratic argumentation. In his risāla or “epistle” called The Refutation of Christians (Al-Radd ʿalā al-Naṣārā), he brings the two together in a cultural and theological critique of Christians in Abbasid Iraq. This lecture will include Arabic readings and translations from a portion of al-Jāḥiẓ’s Refutation featuring early translations of biblical verses in Arabic and dealing with the question of whether God can adopt a human son.

Salam Rassi, Lecturer in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh
Friday, February 24, 2023, 12:00 PM ET
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In Ashʿarite thinker Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1209)’s refutation of Christianity, he rejects the notion of God’s indwelling (ḥulūl) and uniting (ittiḥād) with the humanity of Jesus. Employing Avicennan modalities of contingency and necessity, he argues against God’s inherence in a physical substrate and the possibility of two things uniting in any true sense. He follows earlier kalām refutations of Christianity and updates them with arguments from the Avicennan philosophy of his day. In his rejoinder to al-Rāzī, al-Ṣafī ibn al-ʿAssāl (d. mid-thirteenth century), a Coptic Christian who wrote in Arabic, utilizes aspects of Avicennan syllogistic to expose weaknesses in al-Rāzī’s argumentation. Like al-Rāzī, al-Ṣafī weaves older traditions with contemporary methods of reasoning about God. This seminar will draw attention to a technical idiom shared between Christians and Muslims who theologized in the Arabic language.

Dr. Diego Sarrió Cucarella, Pontificio Istituto di Studi Arabi e d’Islamistica (PISAI)
Friday, March 31, 2023, 2:00 PM EST
Zoom only
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A native of Takrīt, the West Syrian physician and scholar Yaḥyā ibn Jarīr (d. after 1079) wrote a number of books on different areas, including sexual health, astrology, mathematics and history. This lecture will present readings and translations of his Kitāb al-murshid (The Guidebook), a voluminous theological compendium dealing with doctrinal issues and with matters of sacramental and ecclesial practice. Yaḥyā devotes several chapters of this work to discussing the relationship between the Law of Christ and the Law of Moses. The discussion is set against the backdrop of the Islamic claim that Muḥammad’s religion had nullified and replaced the prior dispensations.

Dr. Rodrigo Adem, Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies
Friday, April 14, 2023, 3:00 PM ET
CCAS Boardroom, ICC 141
RSVP Required

Join us for a reading of eleventh century polymath Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī (d. 1048) and his interpretive rendition of the Yoga Sutras of the renowned Indian sage Patañjali into classical Arabic. We will take this text as an occasion to better understand the circumstances of how this Muslim scholar translated the concepts of yoga philosophy into the philosophical lingua franca of his time, and what the circumstances of such intellectual exchange mean to us today.

Mohamed Lamallam, Georgetown University, Ph.D. candidate
Friday, April 28, 2023, 12:00 PM ET
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RSVP Required

Written about four decades after his first ethical and political treatise, al-Māwardī’s (d. 1058) Tashīl al-Naẓar wa-Taʿjīl al-Ẓafar fī Akhlāq al-Malik wa-Siyāsat al-Mulk (Facilitating Administration and Hastening Success in the Ethics of the Ruler and the Management of the Realm) is a mature articulation of al-Māwardī’s ideas on society, ethics, politics, and the place of religion in sociopolitical organization. This talk examines how al-Māwardī develops his ideas about the polity—and its origins and purpose—and the conception of human flourishing that undergirds his ethical and sociopolitical thought. Through Tashīl al-Naẓar, al-Māwardī represents a culmination of the Arabo-Islamic classical debates on governance both within religious disciplines and beyond. Tashīl al-Naẓar is thus a central treatise that shows how Arabic was used as a vehicle of thinking on governance and how al-Māwardī himself conceives of the roles of virtue, ethics, and religion in bringing about his imagined ideal order.

Past Seminars

  • October 2021| Bishop Thawdūrus (Theodore) Abū Qurra on Free Will 
  • November 2021 | Free Will in the Theology of Ibn Rushd (Averroes)
  • March 2022 | Free Will in the Theology of Maimonides (Rabbi Mūsā b. Maymūn) 
  • April 2022 | On The Triune Nature of God
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