Professor Nicolai Sinai Receives £1.5m European Research Council Grant to Fund ‘Qur’anic Commentary: An Integrative Paradigm’


We are delighted to report that Pembroke Fellow and Professor of Islamic Studies, Professor Nicolai Sinai, has received a major grant of over £1.5m from the European Research Council (ERC) to fund a project titled Qur'anic Commentary: An Integrative Paradigm (QuCIP).

The project will deliver the first historical-critical commentary in English on a large portion of the Qur’an, covering the first four chapters or surahs. These include surahs 2–4, the three longest and most complex compositions in the Islamic scripture. The project will last for five years (commencing October 2018) and will involve three post-doctoral positions in addition to Prof. Sinai, who is responsible for overseeing the project and writing the commentary. Dr Marianna Klar (currently at SOAS) will be contributing to the project by undertaking research on the Qur’an’s literary structure, and two other post-doctoral scholars will be authoring monographs on Qur’anic law in a late antique context and on aspects of the Islamic reception history of surahs 1–4.

The project’s ambition is to present a pioneering proof of concept for an integrative commentarial approach that does justice to three core dimensions of the Qur’an. These aspects include: the text’s compositional structure and rhetorical features; processes of literary growth and redactional expansion; and the theological concerns that shape the Qur’an’s appropriation of antecedent ideas, traditions and literary forms. The project will both draw on pre-Qur’anic Jewish and Christian literature and on classical Islamic scholarship, which will be utilised as a valuable repository of close scriptural reading.

Prof. Sinai’s research interest in Qur’anic studies covers topics such as the Qur’an’s literary dimension, its engagement with earlier (Christian, Rabbinic, Arabian) traditions, and Islamic scriptural exegesis. His most recent monograph is an introduction to the Qur’an, The Qur'an: A Historical-Critical Introduction (2017), and he also has a strong interest in medieval Arabic philosophy. We caught up with Prof. Sinai to find out more about how the project relates to his current research. He commented: ‘This project seems a logical next step to try to exemplify my general approach to the text by processing a substantial part of it in philological high resolution, so to speak.’

Each year the ERC Consolidator Grants are awarded to outstanding researchers of any nationality and age, with at least seven and up to twelve years of experience after PhD, and a scientific track record showing great promise. This year’s recipients are a wide-ranging, richly diverse group and can be viewed on the ERC website.

Commenting on this year’s recipients, President of the ERC, Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon said: ‘The funding will encourage these mid-career scientists to explore further the unknown and develop their most daring ideas at their own initiative.’