Literary Authority in West African Islam (Charles Stewart)

Literary Authority in West African Islam (Charles Stewart)
Contributed By: events coordinator
Organizing Institution: Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA)
Contact Name: Rebecca Shereikis
Contact email: [email protected]
Start Date: May 24, 2022 (1:00pm)
End Date: May 24, 2022 (2:00pm CT)
Cost: Free
University Library – Evanston – Illinois – United States

This is a hybrid event.

No registration is needed to attend in person.
Location: Forum Room (2nd Floor), University Library, Evanston Campus

Register here to attend by Zoom.

Literary Authority in West African Islam

Join ISITA for a talk by Charles Stewart (professor emeritus of history, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).


Ten years ago, Charles Stewart and Bruce Hall published a paper* outlining a “Core Curriculum” they argued was common to teaching and learning across Muslim communities in West Africa. This talks revisit that article using a sample of manuscripts from West African manuscript libraries that is nearly three times larger (43,000 manuscripts) than the original one. Its findings: (1) nearly all the works and authors originally cited as the core of teaching in West Africa are confirmed, and (2) the larger sample expands that core of most-commonly found texts to 204 authors and 323 works. These texts make up about thirty percent of all authored manuscripts accessible through the West African Arabic Manuscript Database, and, arguably, across West Africa’s Arabic manuscript culture. Twenty percent of those works were written by West African scholars. In addition to providing a template for writing an intellectual history, this compilation of literary authority documents the emergence of an autonomous Arabic culture in the nineteenth century in West Africa.

*Bruce S. Hall and Charles C.  Stewart, “The historic ‘Core Curriculum’ and the book market in Islamic West Africa,” in Graziano Kratli and Ghislaine Lydon (eds.), The Trans-Saharan Book Trade (Leiden: Brill, 2011), pp. 107-174.

About the speaker

Charles Stewart is a professor emeritus of history at the University of Illinois and served as ISITA’s director of programming from 2014-16. An expert on the history of Islam in Mauritania and Arabic written traditions in Arabic in the broader West African region, Stewart compiled volume V in the “Arabic Literature of Africa Series,” titled The Writings of Mauritania and Western Sahara (Brill, 2015). This two-volume annotated bibliography contains entries on 10,000 manuscripts written during the past 350 years by 1,900 authors. Stewart is the creator of the first computer-based cataloging system for Arabic manuscripts in West Africa accessible online as the West African Arabic Manuscript Database.

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