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Historian of Islamic Thought Sabine Schmidtke Appointed to Faculty at Institute for Advanced Study

Sabine Schmidtke Appointed to Faculty at IAS
June 16, 2014
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PRESS CONTACT: Christine Ferrara, (609) 734-8239

Leading scholar of Islamic intellectual history Sabine Schmidtke, whose innovative and insightful work has shaped new understanding of the classical and post-classical Islamic world, has been appointed Professor in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, with effect from July 1, 2014.

Schmidtke, who is a former Member (2008–09, 2013–14) in the School, is Professor of Islamic Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin and is also the founding Director of the University’s Research Unit on the Intellectual History of the Islamicate World, as well as an associate member of the Laboratoire d’études sur les Monothéismes, Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) in Paris. Schmidtke succeeds Patricia Crone, Andrew W. Mellon Professor since 1997, who will become Professor Emerita. Schmidtke will continue the important work begun with the 1990 appointment of the late Oleg Grabar (1929–2011), whose work had a profound and far-reaching influence on the study of Islamic art and architecture, and furthered by Crone, who established at the Institute a powerful current of critical studies in early Islamic thought as well as political and religious history. As Professors at the Institute, Grabar and Crone focused on the premodern period and illustrated the critical importance of the Near East, and in particular on the cultural, religious and intellectual history of Islam, in historical studies.

As one of the most prolific scholars of her generation, Schmidtke brings a creative and intensive approach, most notably with manuscript texts, which has revealed new and transformative connections across Islamic culture and history. Nicola Di Cosmo, Luce Foundation Professor in East Asian Studies in the School, noted, “By challenging traditional disciplinary boundaries and by applying rigorous philological methods to the understanding of disparate but interconnected traditions, Sabine Schmidtke has opened new horizons to the study of the philosophy and intellectual history of Islam, not just by her own discoveries, but also by posing the foundations for innovative interpretations and future breakthroughs in a thriving field of Islamic studies.”

Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director of the Institute and Leon Levy Professor, added, “We are very excited to welcome Sabine Schmidtke to the Faculty of the Institute. Sabine’s impressive dexterity as a scholar and communicator, dynamic leadership and collaborative spirit will greatly deepen and enhance the range of Islamic studies pursued at the Institute, and will also contribute significantly to this important and growing field.”

Schmidtke’s own reaction to the appointment was to say, “I am very honored to be given the opportunity to continue my research on the intellectual history of the Islamic world in this unique institution with its long history of fruitful intellectual exchange and in the community of its extraordinary Faculty and Members.”

Schmidtke’s research has transformed perspectives about the interrelations and connections among different strands of intellectual inquiry, across time, place, religions and philosophical schools. She has played a central role in the exploration of heretofore unedited and unknown theological and philosophical writings and is regarded internationally as a leading philologist. Over the past fifteen years, Schmidtke has applied rigorous study to the edition and critical analysis of manuscripts in Arabic, Judeo-Arabic and Persian and her work extends from Arabic-speaking countries to Israel, Iran, Russia and Turkey. Through the study of manuscripts found in Iran and Turkey, she has uncovered essential aspects of the influence of Jewish philosophers on late medieval Arabic and Islamic philosophy, and her study of Arabic and Judaeo-Arabic manuscripts has enabled her to recover works considered lost. Schmidtke has utilized these texts to situate their authors within a largely forgotten tradition of Islamic theology, particularly evident in her first book, The Theology of al-ʿAllāma al-Ḥillī (1991), which combines detailed manuscript studies with a profound knowledge of theology of the eleventh through fourteenth centuries, through which she both explicates al-Ḥillī’s theology and explains it within the competing traditions of earlier generations of theologians, Twelver Shīʿīs as well as Sunnīs. Her ability to provide broad, synthetic surveys of important areas of study beyond the specific confines of Islamic philosophy and discursive theology is evident in a number of critical essays such as “The History of Zaydī Studies: An Introduction,” published in Arabica (2012), a study that explores two centuries of scholarship and literature on Zaydism, and Die Bibel in den Augen muslimischer Gelehrter, published as Einstein Lectures in Islamic Studies, no. 1 (2013).

Schmidtke has published a range of monographs, such as Theologie, Philosophie und Mystik im zwölferschiitischen Islam des 9./15. Jahrhunderts: Die Gedankenwelt des Ibn Abī Ǧumhūr al-Aḥsāʾī (2000), A Jewish Philosopher of Baghdad: ʿIzz al-Dawla Ibn Kammūna (d. 683/1284) and His Writings (with Reza Pourjavady, 2006) and Rational Theology in Interfaith Communication: Abu l-Ḥusayn al-Baṣrī's Muʿtazilī Theology among the Karaites in the Fāṭimid Age (with Wilferd Madelung, 2006), which address rational theology in Islam, especially Muʿtazilī and Shīʿī, and its repercussions on Jewish intellectuals. In addition to her research on various intellectual strands in the medieval world of Islam, Schmidtke has devoted numerous studies to the historiography of the modern discipline of Islamic studies, such as her annotated edition of Correspondence Corbin-Ivanow: Lettres échangées entre Wladimir Ivanow et Stella et Henry Corbin, 1947-1966 (1999).

Schmidtke is currently working on the history of Islamic thought in the post-classical period (13th to 19th centuries), with a focus on reconstructing the textual heritage and the intellectual import of the Islamic intellectual world, from Iran and Central Asia to Turkey and Spain. The project is based on the volumes that she has or is about to publish, including the forthcoming “Doctrinal History of Imāmī Shīʿism” (with Hassan Ansari) and “Islamische Theologie: Eine Einführung.” In addition, she is engaged in a comprehensive study of the Muslim reception of the Bible, a topic on which she has published extensively over the past five years. Schmidtke’s edited and co-edited works provide a sense of the range of her research interests, including The Yemeni Manuscript Tradition (in press), Theological Rationalism in Medieval Islam: New Texts and Perspectives (in press), Jewish and Christian Reception(s) of Muslim Theology (2014), The Bible in Arabic among Jews, Christians and Muslims (2013), The Neglected Šīʿites: Studies in the Legal and Intellectual History of the Zaydīs (2012), Contacts and Controversies between Muslims, Jews and Christians in the Ottoman Empire and Pre-Modern Iran (2010), A Common Rationality. Muʿtazilism in Islam and Judaism (2007), and Speaking for Islam: Religious Authorities in Muslim Societies (2006). Among her forthcoming edited or co-edited works are “Accusations of Unbelief in Islam: A Diachronic Perspective on Takfīr” (Brill), “Oxford Handbook of Islamic Philosophy” and “Oxford Handbook of Islamic Theology.” Schmidtke is prolific in generating editions of manuscript texts, with about eighteen volumes published and four or five in the process of being published.

In addition to the caliber and depth of her pioneering research, Schmidtke’s leadership in the field is reflected in the many significant international projects for which she has served as the principal investigator, promoter and coordinator, in collaboration with other scholars. Projects in which she has played a central role include: a European Research Council senior grant on “Rediscovering Theological Rationalism in the Medieval World of Islam” (2008–2013); “Interreligious Polemics in the Ottoman Empire and Pre-Modern Iran” (2006–2008), through the Gerda Henkel Foundation, which also supported Schmidtke's membership in 2008–09; and a study of Muʿtazilite manuscripts (2003 to the present), through the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.

Born in Germany, Schmidtke received a B.A. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1986), an M.A. from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (1987) and a D.Phil. from the University of Oxford (1990). From 1991 to 1999, she was a diplomat at the German Foreign Office. Schmidtke served as Lecturer in Islamic Studies at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Bonn from 1997 to 1999, where she also received her Habilitation (1999). She was Visiting Professor of Islamic Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin from 1999 to 2001, after which time she became Professor. In 2011, Schmidtke founded the Research Unit on the Intellectual History of the Islamicate World, which she still directs. Since 2013, Schmidtke has served as founding Academic Director of the trilateral M.A. program Intellectual Encounters of the Islamicate World, which is a cooperative initiative of the Freie Universität Berlin, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Al-Quds University (Palestine).

Schmidtke and her work have been recognized by numerous awards and fellowships. In 2002, Schmidtke received the World Prize for the Book of the Year of the Islamic Republic of Iran for her work Theologie, Philosophie und Mystik im zwölferschiitischen Islam des 9./15. Jahrhunderts: Die Gedankenwelt des Ibn Abī Ǧumhūr al-Aḥsāʾī (2000). She also was awarded the Prize for Scholarly Achievement in the Study of Twelver Shīʿism conferred by the Written Heritage Research Centre (2006) and the Dahlem Research School Award for Excellent Supervision (2011). In 2013, she received a Reinhart Koselleck Grant, awarded to outstanding researchers with a proven scientific track record, for a project entitled “The Other Renaissance: Greek Philosophy under the Safavids (16th–18th centuries CE).” In addition to her two visits as a Member at the Institute for Advanced Study, Schmidtke has held many overseas fellowships at institutions such as the Leiden University Centre for the Study of Islam and Society, the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Tel Aviv University, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, the Scaliger Instituut and the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Schmidtke serves as Editor-in-Chief of Intellectual History of the Islamicate World and Biblia Arabica: Texts and Studies and is on the editorial and advisory boards of many leading publications and organizations in the field.

About the Institute for Advanced Study

The Institute for Advanced Study is one of the world’s leading centers for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry. The Institute exists to encourage and support curiosity-driven research in the sciences and humanities—the original, often speculative thinking that produces advances in knowledge that change the way we understand the world. Work at the Institute takes place in four Schools: Historical Studies, Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Social Science. It provides for the mentoring of scholars by a permanent Faculty of approximately 30, and it ensures the freedom to undertake research that will make significant contributions in any of the broad range of fields in the sciences and humanities studied at the Institute.

The Institute, founded in 1930, is a private, independent academic institution located in Princeton, New Jersey. Its more than 6,000 former Members hold positions of intellectual and scientific leadership throughout the academic world. Thirty-three Nobel Laureates and 40 out of 56 Fields Medalists, as well as many winners of the Wolf and MacArthur prizes, have been affiliated with the Institute.