“To do research in Germany is an irresistible temptation” – 5in10 with Samer Rashwani
Samer Rashwani is a Post-Doc-Fellow at the Center for Islamic Theology at Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen. His main research interests are Qur’anic Studies: Classical and modern Qur’anic exegesis, philology of the Qur’an, Islamic Law and Modern intellectual developments in Islam.
Samer Rashwani studied Islamic Sciences at Damascus University (BA, 1997). In cooperation with a group of young intellectuals from different countries of the Arab World, he laid the foundation for a new forum of critical Islamic thought (al-Multaqa al-Fikri/Intellectual Forum for Innovation) in 1998. He moved to Egypt to complete his Qur’anic studies at the University of Cairo (MA 2003, PhD 2007). Rashwani has been a lecturer at the Faculty of Sharia (Universities of Damascus and Aleppo) since 2007.
What was surprising to you when you were a child? What is it that you always wanted to know about the world?
As a child I grew up in turbulent circumstances, I was always wondering about the meaning of existence, namely, human existence. How did we come into being and for what purposes? I wanted to understand the nonsense behind the world I lived in, and the human suffering I experienced. The religion, and later philosophy, provided me with the first answers. This is could be what lead me, later, to studying theology.
How would you explain your current research to a stranger in an elevator?
As a Quranic scholar I am mainly interested in analyzing the structure of the Quranic sura. I understand the sura as an Egyptian pyramid, whose uniqueness can not be reduced to its constituent stones, not even to the structure itself, but also to the intellectual paradigm, symbolic functions and codified massages behind that marvelous overall structure. The Quranic sura is a discourse of multiple layers and complex stanza forms, and my mission is to decode this complexity and to open new horizons of interpretation.
Which stations of your academic journey were extremely formative to you?
The most fruitful period in my life was in bachelor years, when I left my home town and had the whole time of the world to satisfy my thirst for knowledge. Two main things contributed to developing and extending my horizons at this time: The national library where I used to spend most of the daytime browsing through books of every possible discipline: theology, history, literature, art, philosophy, sociology, psychology and politics. It was the time of pure knowledge. The open and long debates and discussions with close friends, other students, or rarely instructors over every possible theme have also played an important role in developing my mentality and argumentation techniques.
How is it to do research in Germany?
To do research in Germany is an irresistible temptation. The plethora of research programs, the open-minded scholarly atmosphere and the pluralistic society are of the great benefits of doing research in Germany. This wealthy combined with personal curiosity could, however, be distracting of accomplishing one’s own scientific work, unless one controls and economizes his research.
If you had one wish, what would you wish for the further development of your subject?
It would be very fruitful for developing my approach to have the chance to study systematically the biblical criticism, and its later manifestation in literary criticism. In this context, I am also interested in understanding how the modern mind functions when it is confronted with classical text in comparison to the classical mind. In other words: how our paradigms and “Weltanschauungen” affect our interpretation of the religious and classical literature.
Samer Rashwani has been a EUME-Fellow from 2011 to 2013. Europe in the Middle East – the Middle East in Europe (EUME) is a multi-disciplinary research program at the Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien.