Three-day Workshop held at Institute of Islamic Studies, Freie Universität Berlin
When working with manuscripts, we are confronted with quite a number of challenges. Besides
simple issues of accessibility or paleography, the state of auxiliary tools (catalogues, databases, etc.)
is still in a germinal stage and leaves much to be desired. Building up a corpus by tracking down,
accessing, selecting, and analyzing relevant texts, can at times be a daunting task. Once the corpus is
set, the “real work” begins – we need to make sense of it: How do the works/manuscripts relate to
each other? How, where, when, and how widely have they been distributed? Who has produced and
who has used them? In what way and in which context did usage take place? What, in general, is the
historical relevance of the book or the group of works in question? How do we tackle the everpresent
issue of survival bias? How do we deal with various forms of autographs? What
advantages/disadvantages does focusing on a particular work, author, genre or paratextual element
In recent years, scholars have increasingly begun to engage with manuscripts not only as containers
of text, but also as witnesses to the contexts they originally hail from. Taking up these and other
current lines of thought and the above-mentioned questions, this workshop aims at putting the
corpus – the fundament on which any manuscript research rests – at the center. In so doing, we want
to provide a space for exchanging ideas, discussing challenges, and exploring solutions to problems
we face in our projects.
We are delighted to present Noah D. Gardiner (University of South Carolina) as our special guest and
we would like to thank the Dahlem Humanities center for generously funding his stay within the
Dahlem Junior Host Program.
23 October, 04:00 – 06:00 pm, public lecture by Noah D. Gardiner: “Manuscripts, reception
networks, and Islamic intellectual history: The case of the occult sciences”, Holzlaube,
24 October, 02:00 – 06:00 pm, workshop session I, Holzlaube, Room 1.2058
25 October, 11:00 – 01:00 am, workshop session II, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Haus Potsdamer
Laurenz Kern, Research Associate and Lecturer, Institute of Islamic Studies, FU Berlin
Benedikt Reier, Doctoral Fellow at the BGSMCS, Berlin
The first meeting will consist of a public lecture by Noah D. Gardiner at the Institute of Islamic
Studies. Prof. Gardiner will speak about his research on al-Būnī (d. 622/1225), his new project on the
14th and 15th century occult renaissance in Cairo and other Mamluk cities, and the issue of reception
in the context of medieval Islamic manuscript culture.
In the second meeting, we will discuss questions such as the ones outlined above, building on a
selection of readings as well as the participants’ individual research projects.
The third meeting will take place at the Staatsbibliothek. We will have a hands-on session in which
we will examine a selection of manuscripts together and discuss their paratextual and codicological
features in light of the overall theme of the workshop.
A list of further readings for the two sessions will be circulated after the deadline for application.
Déroche, François. Islamic Codicology: An Introduction to the Study of Manuscripts in Arabic Script.
London: Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation, 2006, pp. 311-344.
Gardiner, Noah. “Forbidden Knowledge? Notes on the Production, Transmission, and Reception of
the Major Works of Aḥmad Al-Būnī”, Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies 12, 2017, pp. 81–
PhD candidates and post-doctoral researchers working on or interested in manuscripts.
Prof. Noah D. Gardiner:
Noah D. Gardiner is a scholar of Islamic thought and culture with particular research interests in
Sufism, esotericism and the occult sciences, manuscript culture, and the Arabic-speaking
Mediterranean of the 12th-15th centuries C.E. Much of his present research concerns the spread and
development of the “science of letters and names” (ʿilm al-huruf wa-al-asmaʾ), a body of mysticomagical
thought on the relationship between divine speech and manifest reality that, with various
caveats, can usefully be described as an Islamic Kabbalah. Broadly speaking, and with regard to both
premodern and modern Islamic contexts, he is interested in the ways that ideas and practices move
from the fringes to the mainstream (and sometimes back again), and in Muslim thinkers’ various
strategies for assimilating or excluding “foreign” discourses. Even more broadly, he is interested in
the role of “the book” in religion—as material artifact, transcendent text, and everything inbetween.
Noah completed his Ph.D. in 2014 in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of
Michigan. His dissertation, “Esotericism in a manuscript culture: Ahmad al-Buni and his readers
through the Mamluk period,” concerned the seminal Sufi occultist Ahmad al-Buni. Drawing on a
survey he conducted of hundreds of manuscript-copies of al-Buni’s works, he traces how al-Buni’s
controversial teachings on the science of letters and names percolated through late-medieval Muslim
society at the hands of various reading communities, moving from closed circles of Sufi readers to
the courts of ruling elites. The dissertation was awarded the 2014 Bruce D. Craig Prize for Mamluk