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Islamic Preaching and Rhetorical Theory

So far, research on Islamic sermons has mostly focused mostly on the preaching practice from an anthropological perspective; much less importance has been payed to the theory lying behind the practice. While anthropological research has provided a lot of important insights, and nonetheless a number of questions is still under investigated the project focused on preaching theory and rhetorical theory in contemporary Islamic preaching on the Example of Egypt.

A first main focus of this subproject was the theory lying behind this preaching practice, and the relation of practice and theory. The case of Egypt provided an interesting example for this as the beginning of the last century theoretical rhetoric manuals have started to play an important role, increasing particularly in the second half of the 20th century. These manuals rely importantly on Greco-Roman rhetorical theory, and therefore provided interesting objects of transcultural research. Not only they show how the rhetorical tradition of a “different” cultural context has been received and elaborated upon. But they also show the blending of different conceptions, and the discussion of partly diverging rhetorical concepts. Particularly interesting from a transcultural perspective, these manuals also reflect discussions around the reception of what has sometimes been perceived as an explicitly “foreign” tradition and thus also encountered with considerable skepticism. The project was able to document and contextualize different aspects of this transcultural dynamic, contributing to close an important gap, not only in Islamic studies but also in rhetorical research, as so far only very few studies on contemporary Arabic Islamic rhetoric and preaching exist. The main foci have been laid on the conceptualization of rhetoric, the role of emotions in preaching, and the structuring of rational argument. Furthermore, instructions provided by preaching manuals regarding the performance built the bridge to practice:

The focus on rhetorical theory served as a basis for investigating aspects from Islamic preaching practice which were so far under researched. This included particularly the performance of contemporary Islamic sermons. In a preaching landscape which has in the last decades been deeply influenced by the New Media, also mosque preaching has not remained unchanged. The central focus therefore laid on the changing practice of preaching, highlighting the so-called “traditional” preacher’s coping with the emergence of an Islamic preaching which is different not only in form but also in content, and therefore started to question hitherto established balances. This regards questions of authority, but also the role of the Islamic preaching in Egyptian everyday life. As the project could show, the allegedly traditional preachers are under different regards at a close look much less traditional than they are usually depicted as. The staggering of inherited aesthetic preferences for instance, and the nowadays increasingly questionable role of the traditional religious scholar, has in some cases lead to a skillful playing with different role conceptions, which have been read as deconstructing the traditional role.


Principal Investigator

Jan Scholz

Student Assistants

Hibatallah Hamdan
Nadia Herichi