Malcolm H. Kerr Dissertation Awards

Ahmed El Shamsy

Harvard University

2009 Winner (Humanities)

From Tradition to Law: The Origins and Early Development of the Shafi’i School of Law in Ninth-Century Egypt

Dr. El Shamsy’s dissertation provides a comprehensive account of the emergence of the Shafi`i madhhab, or school of Sunni Islamic law, an account that understands this emergence as a complex historical phenomenon. In so doing, he not only provides a wider explanation of the general process by which all four surviving Sunni madhahib emerged, he also challenges the interpretations of existing scholarship, some of which date back to the 19th century, of the nature and origins, as well as the dating, of these schools.

The committee found Dr. El Shamsy’s research impressive, thorough, and based on a wide array of original Arabic-language manuscripts and texts, as well as an impressive number of secondary sources on topics ranging from Islamic law to theories of cultural memory and textual criticism. Committee members described his dissertation as “pathbreaking”; “readable, complex, and engaging”; and a “thorough, erudite study” that “reads extremely well – like a good story.”

2009 Committee

Michael R. Fischbach, Randolph-Macon College (Chair)
Julianne Hammer, George Mason University
Allen Hibbard, Middle Tennessee State University

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