Within the framework of 21st century debates on women imams and female religious leadership in Islam, Dr. Calderini will analyze the interaction and juxtaposition of opinions between, on the one hand, exponents of contemporary religious and legal authority and, on the other, influential scholars, activists and lay interpreters. While such voices acquire authority in different ways, they all resort to an acknowledged authoritative past. They quote and variously interpret otherwise little known 9th century legal scholars such as al-Muzani and Abu Thawr, provide English translations of selected hadiths and of Arabic terms for diverse audiences, whose familiarity with the above is at best limited.

Is this variety of voices representative of what Fazlur Rahman called “a spectacularly wild growth of interpretation”? Does it reflect fragmentation or “democratization” of religious authority? And what of the classical sources selected? How accurate is the understanding of the context in which they emerged? These are some of the questions Dr. Calderini will address and explore in her talk focusing her analysis on an online collection of legal opinions on female prayer leadership.

Simonetta Calderini is Reader in Islamic Studies at Roehampton University London; her PhD in Isma‘ili cosmology and spiritual authority was from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and her Post-doctoral Research Fellowship from the Oriental Institute, University of Naples (Italy). She also studied in Egypt and Tunisia.

She is the author of several publications including (co-authored with Dr. D. Cortese) Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam, Edinburgh: EUP and OUP; “Classical sources on the permissibility of female imams: an analysis of some hadiths about Umm Waraqa”, in V Klemm et al (eds), Sources and Approaches across Near Eastern Disciplines, Leuven: Peeters, 2013, 53-70; “Contextualizing Arguments about female ritual leadership in classical Islamic sources”, Comparative Islamic Studies, 5,1 (2009), 5-32. She published on Isma‘ilism, classical and modern tafsir, Islam and diversity, gender and women in modern and medieval Islam. She is currently working on a book entitled Women as Imams: Classical Islamic Sources and Modern Debates on Leading Prayer, to be published by I.B. Tauris. She has recently broadcast on BBC radio 3 an essay on Sitt al-Mulk, a powerful and controversial 10-11th century Fatimid princess.

Recorded on April 24, 2014

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