HDS 3370

Knowledge and Authority in Muslim Societies

Ousmane Oumar Kane


This seminar will investigate the ways in which the production of knowledge affects the construction of authority in the Islamic world. It will look at how various forms of religious knowledge are acquired, legitimated, transmitted and/or contested within Muslim communities. Several types of knowledge will be: exoteric knowledge based on the Koran and other Islamic sciences, mystical knowledge as developed by the Sufis, and talismanic knowledge. Ulama trained in the exoteric sciences derived their authority from the conventional knowledge of the Koran, and religious sciences. Sufi masters derived theirs from their purported ability to explain the hidden meanings of the Koran, to provide spiritual training and guide the disciple in the path toward spiritual fulfillment. Finally, the credibility of talisman makers rested largely on their ability to use religious texts for purposes such as healing and bringing luck. Of course, the boundaries between these figures of authority are not rigid and some of them may engage in the activities of the other. The first part of the seminar will focus on pre-colonial Muslim societies and the second part on the impact of Western hegemony on the transmission of knowledge and construction of authority in the postcolonial Islamic world. Seminar participants will compare and contrast historical and contemporary experiences of transmission of knowledge and production of authority in various parts of the World of Islam and investigate the historical linkages between these regions.

Enrollment Limited: Limited to 20 students. Instructor's permission required.
Open to BTI Students: Yes
Jointly offered as Islamic Civilizations 172

Course website


0.50 credits
Spring 2015
Fri 2pm-4pm
Rockefeller Hall Room 117

Relationship to Program Requirements

Program Requirement Area / Category / Art / Designation
MTS Area(s) of Focus
  • Islamic Studies
  • Religion, Literature, and Culture
  • Religion and the Social Sciences
MDiv Distribution Category/ies
  • Islam
MDiv Art(s) of Ministry
  • Public Leadership, Community Organizing, and Planning
  • Preaching and Worship
Language Course Designation(s) None