The literal meaning, between Christian worlds and Muslim worlds (7ᵗʰ‒15ᵗʰ centuries)

Conference organized at the Dominican Institute of Oriental Studies (Cairo)

February 15ᵗʰ‒17ᵗʰ, 2024

By pointing the finger at the “literalism” or “fundamentalism” of this or that religious movement, current events willingly bring to the forefront the notion of the literal meaning of sacred texts, whether it is claimed as the only authentic meaning or denounced as an oversimplification. The apparent simplicity of the literal meaning, presented as the obvious meaning of a text, beyond any interpretation or hermeneutic approach, is nevertheless called into question by studies of linguistics, which have long shown that it is a constructed meaning, whose definition always presupposes a hermeneutic framework, even if it is implicit1.

With regard to the hermeneutics of the holy texts of Christianity and Islam, it is through medieval debates that these frames of reference, which have already been the subject of numerous studies, were established. For the Christian West, from the pioneering works of Henri de Lubac2 and Beryl Smalley3 to the rich synthesis of Gilbert Dahan4, the history of the progressive conception and canonization of multiple meanings is now known, showing in particular the essential role played by the historia (or littera): far from being the forgotten element of medieval Latin exegesis, it is, on the contrary, affirmed not only as the foundation of the spiritual senses, but also as a rich sense in itself, which can be analyzed at different levels. This harmony elaborated by scholarly hermeneutics does not prevent the existence of spiritual movements with a claimed strict literalism. This richness of studies on Latin hermeneutics contrasts, however, with their weakness with regard to other Christian worlds, notably the Byzantine universe.

The Islamic field, in spite of a large number of studies, seems to have resisted synthesis so far. It is true that the literal meaning of sacred texts is the subject of distinct disciplinary approaches, particularly in legal theory (uṣūl al-fiqh)5 and in theology, which helps to explain the diversity of technical terms that can designate the literal meaning (ẓāhir, ḥarfī, lafẓ, naṣṣ). Above all, there are deep divisions at stake, which may be confessional (the fruitful dialectic between the external meaning, ẓāhir, and the internal meaning, bāṭin, a structuring element in Shiism6, is the object of strong criticism in Sunnism) or methodological between the different legal and theological schools (the question of the literal meaning is central in the major controversy that opposes ḥanbalism to muʿtazilism and then to ašʿarism7).

The rich work carried out on either side of the religious frontier hardly meets each other. However, medieval Christian and Islamic hermeneutics share essential sources in the heritage of Hellenistic civilization and the practices of interpretation of Judaism. Having faith in a God who reveals Himself through the word, the two religious traditions also share important issues, although they approach revelation in very different ways. The existence of a sometimes intense intellectual circulation between the two civilizations in many other areas further justifies the value of a rigorous comparative approach that would shed light on both fields of study.

This comparative approach does not, however, aim to highlight simple convergences or reciprocal influences. It is not certain that the literal meaning used by the two traditions can be the object of a single definition, in different theological and hermeneutical frameworks; perhaps the notion does not even cover similar realities: comparative study can serve to clarify these distinctions, and thus to account for the complexity of the notion of literal meaning. The conference does not aim to deal with all the topics related to literalism, but rather to clarify the meanings of the literal meaning. The expected proposals will therefore focus on the place of this literal meaning in hermeneutic questioning.

The conference deliberately covers a vast chronology, the boundaries of which have value in both fields: the seventh century corresponds to the beginning of Islam, but also to that of the High Middle Ages —a naturally less absolute beginning, so much so that the patristic roots remain active and essential. As for the fifteenth century, which ends in the Christian world on the threshold of the Reformation and the new hermeneutic questioning it implies, it also marks the end of the classical period in the Islamic world, leaving the Ottoman and Safavid civilizations in particular to other studies.

The comparative approach of the conference implies a real effort of understanding between scholars working on usually watertight fields. This is why the speakers will commit to send in their interventions one month before the conference, and to prepare a well-argued reaction to two interventions that they will have read beforehand.

Papers will be given in English.

The conference will take place from February 15ᵗʰ to 17ᵗʰ, 2024 in Cairo. Proposals for papers should be sent (, ) before June 30ᵗʰ, 2023. The papers will be published in the Mélanges de l’Institut dominicain d’études orientales.

  1. See for instance J. R. SEARLE, « Le sens littéral », in Langue française, n°42 (1979) pp. 34-47.
  2. H. DE LUBAC, Exégèse médiévale. Les quatre sens de l’Ecriture, Paris, Aubier, 1949-1964, 4 vol.
  3. B. SMALLEY, The study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, 3e ed., Oxford, Blackwell, 1983 (original ed. : 1952).
  4. G. DAHAN, L’exégèse chrétienne de la Bible en Occident médiéval (XIIᵉ-XIVᵉ siècle), Paris, Le Cerf, 1999.
  5. In this important field has been published the only synthesis available to date: R. GLEAVE, Islam and Literalism: Literal Meaning and Interpretation in Islamic Legal Theory, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2012.
  6. CH. JAMBET, Le Caché et l’Apparent, Paris, L’Herne, 2003.
  7. See in particular J. VAN ESS, Theologie und Gesellschaft im 2. und 3. Jahrhundert Hidschra, Berlin/ New York, De Gruyter, 1991, vol. 4.

60 Years of Nostra Aetate

New Perspectives on the Dominican Engagement for

A Catholic Dialogue with Jews and Muslims

 January 19-21, 2024, in Trier (Germany)

Call for papers

As “one of the final surprises of the Second Vatican Council”1 (Maurice Borrmans), its comparatively short declaration of Nostra Aetate “on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions” (1965) marks a paradigm shift in the attitude of the Catholic Church towards other religions. Despite numerous theological – from today’s perspective – shortcomings of the Declaration, it represents a different, appreciative perception of other religions, especially Judaism and Islam, and thus laid the basis for a modern theology of religions from a Catholic perspective.

It is indisputable that various religious, among them Dominicans, played a significant role in drafting the Declaration.2 Less known is their intensive, sometimes decades-long theological and/or practical work of preparation, which they carried out through personal encounters with Jews and Muslims as well as through their academic study of Judaism and Islam, paving the way for Nostra Aetate. In contrast, other members of the Order were critical of this engagement and attempted to prevent such a far-reaching declaration of the Council, but ultimately failed because of the Council Fathers’ call for an ‘aggiornamento’ in the Church.

The theological and dialogical preconditions for an inter-religious opening in the first half of the twentieth century until the end of the Council in 1965 will be the topic of an international conference at the Faculty of Theology in Trier, Germany, in cooperation with the Emil Frank Institute and the Institute for Research on the History of the Dominican Order in German-Speaking Lands (IGDom). Focusing on Dominicans, the conference will examine the direct and indirect contribution of members of the Order – i.e. sisters, brothers, and lay people – to the paradigm shift in Jewish-Catholic as well as Muslim-Catholic relations.

Based on hitherto unexplored sources (letters, reports, chronicles, theological works etc.), which are preserved in public and private libraries as well as in archives, the topic will be discussed in different contexts (social, ecclesiastical, political) and regions (countries, provinces of the Order). Our goal is to critically examine the inter-religious engagement of the members of the Order in the first half of the twentieth century as a prerequisite for the declaration of Nostra Aetate, for the purpose of identifying desiderata and stimulating future research in this field.

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the promulgation of Nostra Aetate on October 28, 2025, a publication of the most innovative papers is planned in the series of “Quellen und Forschungen zur Geschichte des Dominikanerordens – Neue Folge”, with the publisher de Gruyter.

The organizers of the academic conference are issuing a call for papers that focus on one of the following three levels:

1. Individual members of the Dominican Order such as:

  • Georges Chehata Anawati OP (1905-1994)
  • Paolo Vieri Andreotti OP (1921-1995)
  • Kevin William Barden OP (1908-2004)
  • Serge de Laugier de Beaurecueil OP (1917-2005)
  • Pierre Benoit OP (1906-1987)
  • Dominique Boilot OP (1912-1989)
  • Marie-Dominique Boulanger OP (1885-1961)
  • Marie-Dominique Chenu OP (1895-1990)
  • Francesco Benedetto Cialeo OP (1901-1985)
  • Marcel-Jacques Dubois OP (1920-2007)
  • Bernard Dupuy OP (1925-2014)
  • Willehad Paul Eckert OP (1926-2005)
  • Paulus Engelhardt OP (1921-2014)
  • Sebastianus Van den Eynde OP (1893-1960)
  • Claude Geffré OP (1926-2017)
  • Giuseppe Girotti OP (1905-1945)
  • Bruno Hussar OP (1911-1996)
  • Antonin Jaussen OP (1871-1962)
  • Jacques Jomier OP (1914-2008)
  • Jean-Paul Lichtenberg-Lantier OP (1926-1972)
  • Jean Pierre de Menasce OP (1902-1973)
  • Félix Morlion OP (1904-1987)
  • Carolus Pauwels OP (1903-1965)
  • Giorgio La Pira OP (1904-1977)
  • Cyprian Rice OP (1889-1966)
  • Reginaldo Santilli OP (1908-1981)
  • Rose Thering OP (1920-2006)

2. Groups of Dominicans (communities, convents, institutions) such as

  • Antagonists vs. protagonists within the Order “dialogue pairs”
  • Dominicans as participants in the Seelisberg Conference of 1947
  • École biblique et archéologique française, Jerusalem
  • Convents (e.g. in Algiers, Baghdad, Beirut, Casablanca, Istanbul, Mosul, Multan, Rabat, Shiraz, Tehran)
  • Institut dominicain d’études orientales, Cairo
  • Maison d’Isaïe, Jerusalem

3. Journals such as:

  • L’Afrique dominicaine, Algiers, 1936-56 (renamed Les Cahiers religieux d’Afrique du Nord, 1956-61, Aujourd’hui, 1964-66)
  • Blackfriars, 1920-64 (renamed New Blackfriars, 1964-)
  • Cahiers du Cercle thomiste, Cairo, 1934-52
  • Istina, 1954-
  • Lumière et vie, 1951-2013
  • Mélanges de l’Institut dominicain d’études orientales, 1954-
  • Revue biblique, 1892-

Please email an abstract of your paper, up to 300 words, and a short academic CV to by September 30, 2023 (subject heading: Trier Conference 2024).

Conference date: Friday, January 19, through Sunday, January 21, 2024.

Conference venue: Haus der pastoralen Berufe (Conference hall II), Jesuitenstraße 13, 54290 Trier, Germany.

Conference languages: English, French, German (no interpretation provided).

Organizers: Elias H. Füllenbach OP (IGDom) / Dr. Dennis Halft OP (Faculty of Theology in Trier, Emil Frank Institute).

1. M. Borrmans, “L’émergence de la Déclaration Nostra Aetate au Concile Vatican II,” in: idem, Dialogues, rencontres et points de contact entre musulmans et chrétiens dans une dimension historique, Milano 2007, 32-64, here 32.

2. See M. Attridge, D. Dias, M. Eaton, and N. Olkovich (eds), The Promise of Renewal: Dominicans and Vatican II, Adelaide 2017.

Call for applications for the IDEO-IFAO pre-doctoral or doctoral scholarship 2023‒2024

Place, service

The French Institute for Oriental Archeology (IFAO) and the Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies (IDEO) are partnering to fund a 10-month pre-doctoral or doctoral scholarship from September 1ˢᵗ to June 30ᵗʰ, 2024. This scholarship includes accommodation at IDEO and two hours of private Arabic classes per day, five days a week, during this period.

Status, service

The scholarship is in one of the research fields supported by the IDEO’s members in Cairo and also studied at the IFAO, and should allow to work on a classical Arabic corpus: philosophy, Islamic theology or grammar and linguistics. The selected candidate will receive a monthly amount of 750 €, plus accommodation at IDEO and Arabic lessons. She or he must be enrolled in a French university. She or he must already be covered by a social security and health plan including repatriation assistance.

Main missions

The purpose of this scholarship is to help its beneficiary to constitute a corpus as part of the doctorate and to strengthen her or his linguistic skills in classical Arabic. A candidate who is not yet enrolled in a doctoral program should take advantage of this year to apply for a doctoral contract from her or his university, from the network of French schools abroad, or for international mobility from the INSHS.

Main skills

At the time of submitting application, the candidate must hold at least a Master 1 Degree in one of the fields mentioned above. There are three possible cases:

  • the candidate is enrolled in a Master 2 program, the scholarship is conditional upon proof of obtaining the Master 2 degree when arrival to Egypt.
  • the candidate holds a Master 2, the scholarship year can be a break between the Master and the doctorate.
  • the candidate is already enrolled in a doctoral program, the scholarship year can be a break in a doctoral contract or be integrated into an ongoing doctoral program without a contract.
  • She or he must have sufficient knowledge of Arabic equivalent to a European B1 level.


The application should be sent by email before April 30ᵗʰ, 2023, to the following email address

The application file will include:

  • A research project justifying the candidate’s motivation and the way in which she or he adds this scholarship to her or his curriculum (4,000 characters maximum).
  • A shortened CV.
  • A written production (M1 or M2 thesis, doctoral project, master validation assignment including a bibliography).
  • A recommendation letter from two instructors (one for the research field, the other one for the language). These recommendation letters should focus in particular on the way in which the scholarship fits into the curriculum and the ability of the candidate to make progress in Arabic.

Applicants will be notified of the outcome by the end of May 2023.

For more information, please contact:  or 

Reciting in the early Islamic Empire

The history of reciting the Quran has been rarely studied. This volume comprises most of the papers presented at the Third IDEO Conference held in Cairo in October 2020 on reciting in the early Islamic empire. It offers a space for reflecting on the different types of reciting in the Middle East from the late sixth to the ninth century C.E., including ‘Islamic religious’ contexts (Quran, Hadith), ‘non-Islamic religious’ contexts (Zoroastrianism, Syriac Christianity), and ‘secular’ contexts (graffiti). These types of recitation serve as a starting point for a reflection on the literary genres of the texts recited, on the recitation techniques, as well as on the agents of recitation and the socio-political contexts linked to the act of reciting.

Click here to read it online (full text free edition)…

Introductory course in Arabic language and Islamic studies

Learn Arabic and Islamic Studies for a “culture of encounter”?

It is possible this summer 2023 in Cairo at the IDEO

For the summer of 2023, IDEO is offering Dominican friars in philosophical or theological training a one-month course in Cairo to learn about Arabic and Islamic Studies. This internship should open the brothers during their formation to the reality of the Islamic world in its beliefs and in its life, and contribute to the indispensable construction of a culture of encounter, “an intrinsic requirement for experiencing the joy of the Truth in community” and for “deepening its meaning and practical implications” (Veritatis Gaudium 4.b).

From a methodological point of view, we propose to start from an initiation to the Arabic language in order to show its own logic and its theological dimension. It is thus through linguistic means that the students are introduced to Islamic Studies.

The internship lasts four weeks: each week is composed of five days of classes (Monday to Friday); each day is broken down into five hours of classes: three hours in the classroom and two hours with an individual tutor. During the month, a weekend in Luxor will be organized as well as cultural visits in Cairo.

The session is preceded by a moodle of 14 lessons to learn the basics of reading and writing. Successful completion of the moodle is a prerequisite for participation in the Cairo course. The links to the moodle will be sent to the student upon receipt of his application.

The cost of the training (courses, full board, week-end in Luxor, visits to Cairo) is covered by an IDEO scholarship program. However, it is up to the provinces to pay for the airfare and the brothers’ daily expenses on site. For the provinces where the price of the ticket would be too expensive, it is possible to ask for an exceptional help from the IDEO (please contact us).

Dates: Arrival on July 15 or 16, 2023 in Cairo. Beginning of the courses on July 17th. End of the course on August 11th. Departure on August 12 or 13.

Application procedure: The application must be sent to the IDEO management before March 15ᵗʰ, 2023 (). It consists of a letter of motivation from the student, the results of his studies, and a letter of recommendation from the director of studies or the Regent. The student receives confirmation of his participation in early April 2023. It is up to the student to take the consular steps in case he needs a visa and to pass the moodle on the basics of Arabic reading and writing.

Manifestazioni spirituali nell’Islam

Giuseppe Scattolin & Riccardo ParediManifestazioni spirituali nell’Islam. Antologia di alcuni testi fondamentali del sufismo classico (secoli I/VII‒VII/XIII) tradotti e commentati, Ediz. Integrale, Officina di Studi Medievali, 2021.

In questa Antologia sono racchiusi i testi fondanti della più importante corrente spirituale in seno all’Islam, il Sufismo. Attraverso le parole dei Sufi stessi e la loro instancabile ricerca del Divino, il lettore potrà “gustare” in prima persona le esperienze e la saggezza di questi asceti e mistici vissuti tra il I/VII e il III/IX secolo. Alcune brevi introduzioni storiche permetteranno di immergersi nel contesto politico-religioso del tempo, mentre un ampio apparato di commenti, note e osservazioni semantico-filologiche offriranno diverse chiavi di lettura di questi testi, spesso spiritualmente e linguisticamente densi. Fondamento di questa Antologia è la volontà di mostrare quanto i valori costituitivi dell’esperienza Sufi siano condivisi dalle religioni abramitiche e non solo, e la loro attualità e vitalità. Un cammino nelle profondità interiori e nelle altezze divine della mistica del dialogo, sperando di aggiungere così un tassello a quella necessità di “ecumenismo mondiale” e di “fraternità universale” auspicata di recente da due riferimenti religiosi come Papa Francesco e l’Imam di al-Azhar Ahmad al-Tayyeb.

Click here to buy the book online…

A little yesterday

Ilyass Amharar & Jean Druel, “‘A little yesterday’: The canonical text of Sībawayhi’s teaching confronted to two unedited manuscripts of the Kitāb”, in: Manuel Sartori & Francesco Binaghi (éd.), The Foundations of Arab Linguistics V, Brill, 2022, p. 37‒51.

Canonical degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies

Subject: five scholarships for Arabic and Islamic Studies (2023‒2026)

The Dominican Institute of Oriental Studies was founded in 1953 in Cairo in order to study Islam and the Arab Muslim civilization scientifically. Our mission is to study Islam theologically and to engage in theological dialogue with Muslims.

In the current context characterized by the omnipresence of Islam, it seems necessary to us to offer to the provinces who would be interested the opportunity to train a brother in Islamic Studies in order to give him skills on the Islamic heritage in link with contemporary questions. This will enable him to answer to the challenges of our time, whatever the continents.

We are offering a three-year study program to prepare a new generation of Dominicans.

At the end of their training, the brothers who will be entrusted to us will have a canonical degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies of 120 ECTS.

They will be fluent in Arabic and empowered to either teach in our theological faculties or continue their studies for a PhD degree.

Scholarships for the program can be offered. They cover international travel, the tuition fees and full board at our priory of Our Lady of the Rosary in Cairo. For all scholarship applications, each province or vice-province contributes by a minimum of €700 to €1,700 per year to the brother’s health insurance plan, depending on the level of protection desired.

The academic year starts on September 1ˢᵗ, 2023.

Spem Miram Internationalis scholarship applications must be sent before March 1ˢᵗ, 2023 to and to the IDEO’s director on . We are at your disposal to help you with the administrative procedures.

Year 1 and year 2

The first year gives the student the basics of the Arabic language so that he can read and write in Arabic, define the morphology of words, identify the grammatical structure of an Arabic sentence, and begin to deal with Islamic texts.

The texts in their graduation make it possible to save in the memory both the vocabulary and the turns of phrase in Arabic. The brother acquires an understanding of written texts, but also the basic vocabulary of the press, radio and television.

He is accompanied in his learning by a personalized tutor in order to help him assimilate Arabic words according to their roots, to stimulate and check his memory.

At the end of the first year, he should be able to read literary and classical texts and to understand their general meaning. He is able to express himself in Arabic.

The aim of the second year in Cairo is to allow students to immerse themselves in classical Arabic and to acquire the basics of the main Islamic sciences through the study of source texts. We carry out a systematic work on the lexicon, in order to distinguish the different Islamic movements and the particularity of their approaches.

In addition to classical Arabic classes, students receive formation in Christian liturgy and are tutored in reading in order to go through the history of Islamic thought. During this year, students are expected to identify an author or a question raised or addressed by an author that they would like to develop in a MA thesis.

Finally, students receive formation in interreligious dialogue in form of courses or seminars.

Year 3

Year 3 focuses on more systematic work in Islamic theology and philosophy. The number of courses is reduced in order to allow students to define a text, to translate it, to place it in time and in the history of Islamic doctrines, to identify a problematic, in order to write a thesis of 80 pages. The student is accompanied in this exercise by a supervisor. He is invited to participate in the weekly seminars of the IDEO’s research team.

Acquisition of skills

At the end of the three years, the following skills are acquired:

– knowledge of the structure of the written literary Arabic language that allow the student to read and understand, without undue difficulty, complex ancient and contemporary literary and religious texts;

– basic scientific knowledge in the most important Islamic sciences;

– acquisition of a scientific method of comparative study of the Scriptures and the theological thought of Christians and Muslims;

– ability to perform a proper analysis of the complexity of the classical and contemporary Islamic world;

– ability to critically elaborate his own thinking on the Islamic religion and on Muslim-Christian relations;

– ability to act competently in the field of Muslim-Christian dialogue;

– know how to write and discuss in an organized and methodological way a theological thought from an Arabic text;

– be able to do a PhD in Islamic Studies or theology of religions.


The student must hold a canonical bachelor’s degree and have obtained at least the Magna Cum Laude grade.

In the case that he finishes the last year of bachelor study and doesn’t yet hold his certificate, he will present the results of the last year of his schooling when submitting his file.

He must have sufficient knowledge of English or French to follow the courses in Islamic Studies and those on dialogue.

He will write a cover letter.

It is up to the Regent of Studies to include a recommendation letter in his file.

Application file for the Spem Miram Internationalis scholarship

The training program can benefit from a scholarship application to Spem Miram Internationalis. In this case, it should be sent to and before March 1ˢᵗ, 2023.

Application form for the Spem Miram Internationalis scholarship pre-filled in French