A Learned Society in a Period of Transition

The Sunni ʿUlamaʾ of Eleventh-Century Baghdad

By Daphna Ephrat

Subjects: Middle East Studies
Series: SUNY series in Medieval Middle East History
Paperback : 9780791446461, 246 pages, August 2000
Hardcover : 9780791446454, 246 pages, August 2000

Table of contents

A Note in the Transliteration, Periodization, and Dates
List of Abbreviations
List of Illustrations



The Framework of Inquiry
Institutionalization and Social Change
The 'Ulama' and the Problem of Self-Presentation
A Note on the Sources


1. The City


The Coming of the Turks
The Appearance of the Madrasa


2. Formation


The Baghdadi 'Ulama' and Worldwide Scholarly Networks
From Journey to Schools


3. Learning


Travel and Worldwide Scholarly Connections
Patterns and Frameworks of Study


4. Forms of Social Affiliation


The Halqa
The Madhhab


5. Mechanisims of Inclusion and Exclusion


Entry to the Ranks of the'Ulama'
Founding a School: Career Options
Career Patterns
Accession to Teaching Positions


6. Place and Role in the Public Sphere


The Religious Elite and the Ruling Authorities
The Madhahib as Social Solidarity Groups
Pious and Charismatic Leaders





Appendix A: Scholarly Families of 11th-Century Baghdad
Appendix B: Professors in the Madrasas of Baghdad (459/1066-559/1163)
Appendix C: Qadis and Khatibs of Baghdad (409/1018-549/1154)


Index of Proper Names
General Index

Addresses the social significance of orthodox Islam during the medieval period in Baghdad.


This book develops a new approach to the process of institutionalization and its social significance by focusing on Baghdad during the Sunni revival. Ephrat asserts that the Sunni revival was a period during which the fluid society of the "learned," the 'ulama', emerged as a more defined and exclusive group. By unveiling the world of learning beyond its legal and organizational structures, this book explains how the Baghdadi 'ulama' constructed their social bonds and identities.

Daphna Ephrat is Assistant Professor in the Department of History, Philosophy , and Judaism at the Open University of Israel, and teaches undergraduate courses in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew and Tel-Aviv Universities. She is the coauthor, with Nehemia Levtzion and Daniella Talmon-Heller, of An Introduction to Islamic Religion.


"The nuanced but careful way in which this book uses biographical sources allows a great advance in our understanding of social history during the time covered." -- Roy P. Mottahedeh, Harvard University

"Ephrat's arguments that madrasas were not particularly important in the formation and solidarity of legal systems, that social networks and shared values were more important for that, and that there is no evidence that madrasas trained bureaucrats or had an established curriculum are revisionist and will be controversial (in the best sense)." -- Michael G. Morony, University of California at Los Angeles