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Faber Lecture: “The Changing Face of Early Islamic History”

Fred M. Donner, University of Chicago

April 14, 2022 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · A71 Louis A. Simpson Building

Program in Medieval Studies, Eberhard L. Faber 1915 Memorial Fund in the Humanities Council

Reception to follow

The way the rise of Islam was viewed a half-century ago was transformed profoundly by the insights of a number of scholars (several of them associated with Princeton). The work of Peter Brown, Albrecht Noth, Michael Cook, Patricia Crone, Günter Lüling, and many others, much of it appearing in the 1970s, shaped different aspects of this profound change and led to the gradual abandonment of old paradigms, an evolution that is still ongoing. The talk will try to assess which changes seem likely to endure for the long term, and to suggest where further changes in received views may be emerging.

Fred M. Donner  attended Princeton University (BA Oriental Studies, 1968; PhD Near Eastern Studies, 1975), with additional study at the Middle East Centre for Arab Studies in Shimlan, Lebanon (1966-67, for Arabic language), and the Friedrich-Alexander Universität in Erlangen, Germany (1970-71; Orientalische Philologie).  He did military service from1968-1970, and was assigned for duty in Germany with the US Army Security Agency.  He taught Islamic and modern Middle Eastern history at Yale University (1975-1982) and, since 1982, has been at the University of Chicago (NELC and The Oriental Institute), where he teaches courses on early and medieval Islamic history, Islamic law, and Arabic palaeography and epigraphy.

Donner’s early research focused on relations between pastoral nomads and settled society in the Near East, and over the years has shifted to Islamic historiography, Qur’anic studies, Arabic papyrology, and the origins of Islam.  His major publications include The Early Islamic Conquests (Princeton University Press, 1981); Narratives of Islamic Origins: the beginnings of Islamic historical writing (Darwin Press, 1997); and Muhammad and the Believers: at the origins of Islam (Harvard University Press, 2010); he has also authored several dozen scholarly articles on early and medieval Islamic history, Qur’anic studies, etc.  (see c.v. for complete list).  He co-edited, with Antoine Borrut, a volume entitled Christians and Others in the Umayyad State (2016) and is currently co-editing (with Rebecca Hasselbach-Andee) a volume to be called Scripts and Scriptures: Writing and Religion in Arabia, ca.500-700 C.E (to appear 2018 or 2019).

Donner has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities (1978-1988), the American Center for Oriental Research in Amman, Jordan (Spring, 2001), the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2007-2008), the Stanford Humanities Center (Marta Sutton Weeks Fellow, 2014-2015), the American Council of Learned Societies (2018-2019) and the American Academy in Berlin (Spring 2019).  He was President of Middle East Medievalists (1990-1992) and President of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (2012). He currently serves on the Board of the International Qur’anic Studies Association (IQSA).  In 2012, he was inducted as a life member of the Scientific Committee of the Tunisian Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters “Beit el-Hikma.”

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