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Professor Abdulkader Tayob

Islamic Studies, Religion and Public Life

Prof. Abdulkader Tayob

Holder of NRF Chair Islam, African Publics, and Religious Values

Prof Abdulkader Tayob holds the chair in Islam, African Publics and Religious Values at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He has published on Islam in South Africa, modern Islamic Thought and Islam and the History of Religions. He has led a number of research initiatives and projects, and convened numerous workshops and conferences.

He completed a PhD (1989) at Temple University (Department of Religion, Philadelphia, USA) with a dissertation entitled: Islamic Historiography: The Case of al-Ṭabari's Ta'rīkh al-rusul wa 'l-mulūk on the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad.


While writing and researching on modern articulations of Islam, I have realized that I was often adjusting and tweaking the theoretical terms and models that I was taking from the study of religions. I found Weber, Durkheim and Chidester insightful, but not sufficient for a deeper appreciation of Islam. Addressing this gap, I have returned to my doctoral study, and brought intellectuals from that tradition into conversation with some of the key thinkers in modernity. In a number of publications and keynote presentations, I have experimented with putting Williams James side by side with al-Ghazzali on the self, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein in conversation with al-Mawardi and other medieval Aristotelians on ethics, and modern Muslim educationists through the eyes of Jalal al-Din Rumi.

Using this innovative approach, my work has offered insights on religion and violence, biographical trajectories of activists, and ethical engagement. My approach provincializes the Western canon with terms that emerge in a different intellectual tradition, in the process enriching both. The idea is not to replace one hegemony with another, but to ask questions of the Muslim corpus that has escaped an essentially contextualist framework that dominates the study of Islam in the academy.

This new theoretical horizon offers a way out of the Eurocentric focus in the academy that has been under sustained attack but which thus far has offered few avenues for novel enquiry. I am committed to the intellectual effort of pushing the boundaries of the social and human sciences in a direction that forges new ways of thinking about religion as a category, and about religions as global phenomena. I draw on my expertise of the Islamic discursive tradition in ways that go beyond reducing Islam to its local specifics, and which push beyond the tendency to universalize western theoretical models.

I am also doing research on Religion Education in South Africa. This project proceeds from the observation that the teaching of religion occupies a prominent but contested place in modern society. It pervades popular culture, dominates religious practices, and is contested in school curriculums. Using a variety of innovative methodologies and theoretical vantage points, I am mapping the teaching of religion in Southern African liberation narratives, in schools, and in the life trajectories of teachers and educators.


Recent Publications

  • 2019. “Religion as Discourse: Conversion and Commitment to Jihād in South Africa.” In Ways of Knowing Muslim Cultures and Societies - Studies in Honour of Gudrun Krämer, edited by Bettina Gräf, Birgit Krawietz, and Schirin Amir-Moazami, 181–96. Leiden: Brill. ISBN: 978-90-04-37754-7
  • 2018. Decolonizing the Study of Religions: Muslim Intellectuals and the Enlightenment Project of Religious Studies. Journal for the Study of Religion 31/2: 7–35. ISSN 2413-3027
  • 2018.  The Representation of Religion in Religion Education: Notes From the South African Periphery. Education Sciences 8, no. 146 (2018): 12pp. DOI: 10.3390/educsci8030146
  • 2017. Epilogue: Sermons as Practical and Linguistic Performances: Insights from Theory and History. Journal of Religion in Africa. ISSN 0022-4200; DOI 10.1163/15700666-12340096
  • 2017. “The National Policy on Religion and Education and Religious Dress Observances in South African Schools.” In Religious Pluralism, Heritage and Social Development, edited by M. Christian Green, Rosalind I.J. Hackett, Len Hansen, and Francois Venter, 171–86. Stellenbosch: SUN MeDIA. 978‑1‑928314‑27‑1. DOI 10.18820/9781928314288/11
  • 2017. “Religion and Life Trajectories: : Islamists Against Self and Other.” In Dynamics of Religion, Past and Present, eds. Christoph Bochinger and Jörg Rϋpke, pp. 155-169. Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter GmbH. ISBN:  978-3-11-045092-7
  • 2015. Reforming Self and other. Critical Muslim, 15, July-Sept, 59-72.


Important links:

Academia site (which includes a large number of publications)
Online CV