You are here:

TUTOR: Prof. Alastair Hamilton (Senior Research Fellow)

GUEST LECTURER: Prof. Jan Loop (University of Copenhagen)

The object of this course is to give a broad idea of the production and reception of translations of the Qur’an in early modern Europe. Although there were relatively few translations made directly from the Arabic that appeared in print between 1500 and 1800, not only have a great many manuscript translations come to light, but those translations from the Arabic that were indeed published were themselves translated into other languages. The commercial success of these editions indicates the immense interest in the sacred text of Islam throughout the Western world. Arabic copies of the Qur’an, moreover, were in demand among manuscript collectors, and were treasured as curios and objects of beauty. The manner in which the Qur’an was tackled by its translators, and the way in which it was received by the authorities, the reading public and the collectors of curios and codices, touch on numerous aspects of Western culture and history – Christian relations with the Islamic world, the missionary movement, confessional polemics, censorship, nationalisms, Arabic studies, manuscript collecting, and many others. In the eighteenth century we see some major changes in the approach to the Qur’an – an increasing tendency to see it in the context of the eastern poetry which was being introduced to the West, to regard it as a work of literature rather than as a sacred text, to stress its qualities both literary and moral, and sometimes to use it as an anti-Christian weapon at a time when thinkers of the Enlightenment were proving increasingly critical of the Western Churches.

SCHEDULE: 16-20 JANUARY 2023, 11:00-13:00
Venue: Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
[please note, this course will not be available online]

Class 1 (16 January 2023, 11.00-1.00) - WHY TRANSLATE THE QUR’AN?

A general introduction to the course. An analysis of the various arguments offered in Bibliander’s text. The missionary objective. The fear of the Turks. The Qur’an as a manual of Islamic law and a repository of historical information. The Qur’an as a manual for studying Arabic and the increasingly practical uses of Arabic for trade etc. The Qur’an as a heretical Christian text. The virtues of the Qur’an.

Class 2 (17 January 2023, 11.00-1.00) - HOW TO TRANSLATE THE QUR’AN

The use and acquisition of the tafsīr, the Muslim commentaries on the Qur’an. The advice of native-speakers, often Muslim converts to Christianity or Arabic-speaking Christians. The use of earlier translations. The question of whether Muslim commentaries should be used or whether the Qur’an should be translated without the use of commentaries – the opinions of Michaelis and Reiske. The alleged polyvalence of the vocabulary used in the Qur’an. How can its characteristics be conveyed in translation? Should it be translated in verse? The views of Boysen and Hammer.

Class 3 (18 January 2023, 11.00-1.00) - CENSORSHIP, OPPOSITION AND RECEPTION

How was censorship applied? The cases of the Basel Qur’an (1543) and of Du Ryer’s French translation (1647). Compromises and rhetorical declarations of hostility to Islam. Translations involved in contemporary political struggles – the case of the English translation of Du Ryer (1649). How might a translation of the Qur’an be used? The case of the Italian translation, Alcorano di Macometto, published in Venice (1547). The Anti-Trinitarians. The illustrated Qur’an – the Dutch translation of Du Ryer (1696). The competitive spirit of nationalism.

Class 4 (19 January 2023, 11.00-1.00) - THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

The influence of Marracci’s translation. The introduction of Eastern poetry in the West - the Bible regarded as poetry. Enlightened and positive views of the Prophet and the Qur’an (Sale and Savary). The Prophet appreciated as a legislator and the founder of a rational religion. The Enlightened critique of Christianity. The Prophet as a hero - Gibbon.

Class 5 (20 January 2023, 11.00-1.00) - THE QUR’AN AS A MANUSCRIPT AND MATERIAL OBJECT

Collecting the Qur’an. The Qur’an as an object in early modern cabinets and museums. The Qur’an as a gift among Christian Europeans. Europeans copying Qur’an manuscripts. The interest in the material aspects of Qur’an manuscripts; the beginning of Arabic codicology, and the study of Arabic paleography and calligraphy among Europeans.


  • Standard: £140
  • Warburg staff & fellows / external students: £130
  • SAS & LAHP students: £115
  • Warburg students: £80