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Manstetten, Paula Caroline (2018) Ibn ʿAsākir’s History of Damascus and the Institutionalisation of Education in the Medieval Islamic World. PhD thesis. SOAS, University of London. DOI:

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From the tenth century onwards, the Middle East saw the rise of specialised educational institutions, most importantly the madrasa. Before, Muslim scholars had for centuries convened in study circles in mosques, houses, and other multi-functional venues. In the last three decades, modern historiography has often downplayed the impact of the madrasa, claiming that Islamic education remained informal, unsystematic, and a personal affair. In contrast, this thesis argues that various aspects of Islamic education became more formalised and institutionalised over the course of the medieval period and that these processes had been underway long before the appearance of the madrasa. Focusing on the case of medieval Damascus, I approach the subject through a close reading of Ibn ʿAsākir’s twelfth-century History of Damascus – an 80-volume biographical dictionary written in the same decades in which the first madrasas appeared in Damascus – alongside comparisons with other dictionaries and topographical works. Biographical dictionaries were the main sources in which scholarly communities collected and preserved data about themselves and their peers, making them the ‘archives’ of these communities. Rather than merely extracting data from them, I put these sources at the centre of the investigation, exploring their functions and tracing how historical changes are reflected in biographies. Based on Ibn ʿAsākir’s inclusion of ḥadīth citations and detailed data on transmission relations, I trace the institutionalisation of the isnād in the context of post-canonical ḥadīth transmission. By examining how Ibn ʿAsākir portrays educational venues in his biographies, I assess their significance before and after the rise of the madrasa. Lastly, I show how Mamlūk-era sources projected the more institutionalised character education had acquired in their period backwards into the twelfth century, thus ‘creating’ institutions retrospectively.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Hugh Kennedy
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 11 May 2020 15:32

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