The Genre Boundaries of Qurʼānic Commentary
Most 20th-century surveys of Qurʼānic exegesis, whether produced in Muslim or non-Muslim academic environments, remain remarkably uniform. Several widely available texts demonstrate this symmetry, circumscribing the subject field of tafsīr within well-defined parameters. A few volumes can serve as representative examples. Ignaz Goldziher's Die Richtungen der islamischen Koranauslegung, first published in 1920, has held its place as the standard Western survey of Islamic scriptural exegesis. In 1381/1961, Muhammad Husayn al-Dhahabī published his al-Tafsīr wa-l-mufassirūn (“Commentary and Commentators”), a work that quickly became the standard secondary source for contemporary tafsīr studies throughout the Muslim world. Does the exegetical activity to be found in other forms of Islamic literature simply echo that of the musalsal commentary traditionTafsīr as a genre and tafsīr as an intellectual exercise of the Muslim religious imagination are not necessarily coterminous categories? Despite the countless shelves of published commentaries and the many collections of tafsīr manuscripts that await editing, medieval exegesis of the Qurʼān cannot be caught and contained within these boundaries.
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