Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World

Islamic Studies in Scotland: Retrospect and Prospect

November 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of William Montgomery Watt's Inaugural Lecture as the first Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies in Scotland. Based at the University of Edinburgh's Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies until his retirement in 1979, Watt was a towering figure in Islamic Studies scholarship. Yet much has changed since Watt's day, and this special event therefore sought to both reflect back on Watt's contribution but also assess developments in Islamic Studies scholarship since Watt's seminal contributions.

Professor Carole Hillenbrand, Professor Fred Donner and Dr Richard Holloway were invited by the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and the Alwaleed Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary Word to deliver public lectures on Watt as a man and a scholar, as well as the development of Islamic Studies over the last half century.

Below you will find video recordings of Professor Hillenbrand's, Professor Donner's and Dr Holloway's public lectures along with written transcripts of each. Simply click on the relevant links to access the resources.

 Welcome and Introduction

Uiversity of Edinburgh Senior Vice Principal Charlie Jeffery and Head of the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Edinburgh, Dr Tony Gorman, welcome everyone to this special event marking the 50th anniversary of Professor Montgomery Watt's Inaugural Lecture as the first Chair of Arabic and Islamic Studies in Scotland.

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'Montgomery Watt: The Man and the Scholar' 

Professor Carole Hillenbrand

Professor Carole Hillenbrand, Professor Emerita of Islamic History, University of Edinburgh.

Prof Hillenbrand reflects on Prof Watt’s role in the development of Islamic Studies in Edinburgh during his time in the Department until his retirement in 1979, and his later writings, both published and unpublished, before developing an overall assessment of his scholarly achievements, not just about early Islam but including his more popular writings on a range of topics about Islam, both medieval and modern, and those interfaith issues which preoccupied him both personally and academically.

Carole Hillenbrand is an Honorary Fellow in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies in the University of Edinburgh, where she taught for many years. Educated in the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Edinburgh, she was awarded the King Faisal Prize for Islamic Studies, for her book The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives in 2005, and has served as Islamic Advisory Editor for Edinburgh University Press since 1999. She was awarded an OBE for her services to Higher Education in 2009. 

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Professor Fred Donner

'The Study of Islam’s Origins since W. Montgomery Watt's Publications'

Professor Fred M. Donner, Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago.

Prof Donner, author of Muhammad and the Believers (Harvard University Press, 2010), discusses Prof Watt's work and the assumptions underlying it before discussing what might be called the ‘revisionist wave’ that arrived in the 1970s and the challenges this revisionism raised. He then moves on to discuss the discovery of new evidence and how that has changed the picture, concluding with a review of the current situation with regard to the study of Islam's origins, including some words on recent research on the Qur'an text.

Fred M Donner is Professor of Near Eastern History in the University of Chicago. Educated at Princeton, with periods of study in the Lebanon and Germany, he is the author of The Early Islamic Conquest (1981), and Narratives of Islamic Origins: the beginnings of Islamic historical writing (1998).

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'Committed Openness: a Glance at William Montgomery Watt’s Religious Life'


Dr Richard Holloway FRSE

In concluding the evening, Dr Richard Holloway reflects on Prof Watt’s contribution to the discussion of wider religious questions in Scotland, through both his publications and his role as a priest of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Dr Richard Holloway, FRSE is a Scottish writer and broadcaster and was formerly Bishop of Edinburgh in the Scottish Episcopal Church

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