Cambridge Qurʾān Seminar (CQS)
Inaugural Meeting, 16 May 2014: The Cambridge Qurʾān Collection
The Qurʾān has been central to Cambridge Arabic studies from the establishment of the Sir Thomas Adams’s Chair of Arabic in 1632, the year after the Cambridge University Library received its first bequest of a Qurʾān. That benefaction by the Cambridge Semiticist and Arabic lexicographer, the Rev. William Bedwell formed the foundation stone of the Islamic Manuscripts Collection and was accompanied by his gift of a type font for printing Arabic. Also in 1632, this twinned interest in the codicological and philological history of the Qurʾān – joined too by Bedwell’s distinctive theological discourse – received further impetus with the acquisition by Cambridge of the Erpenius manuscript collection and its rich Qurʾānic material, facilitated by Abraham Wheelock, the first Sir Thomas Adams’s Professor of Arabic and also the University Librarian. After this dynamic start, the Cambridge Qurʾān collection continued to grow, with notable additions thanks to Edward Henry Palmer (1882), Agnes Smith Lewis (1895) and others.
In 2012 Professor James Montgomery was elected The Sir Thomas Adams’s Professor of Arabic. This occasion, combined with the digitization of the earliest Qurʾāns in the Cambridge University Library, offers the opportunity to embark on a new venture in keeping with this Cambridge tradition: the inauguration of the Cambridge Qurʾān Seminar. The Islamic Manuscripts Collection includes fragments of 47 Qurʾāns copied in the second to fourth centuries AH / eighth to tenth centuries AD. It includes, for example, part of the earliest known Qurʾān with a definite provenance and a terminus ante quem: a note on every recto side identifies it as an endowment (waqf) of Amajūr, governor of Damascus between 254 and 264 AH (AD 870-878).
Given the significance and range of the collection, the Cambridge Qurʾāns deserve to be known to a wider scholarly audience. The early Qurʾāns in particular offer a wealth of palaeographic styles and ornamental features for study. The CQS will be dedicated to presenting the manuscripts in their wider codicological and historical contexts, while showcasing the very distinctive features of particular manuscripts, their scripts and ornament. The seminar is also intended to highlight the wider relevance of the Cambridge Qurʾān Collection for philologists, art historians and historians of Middle Eastern culture.