PhD Abstract- I have finished!

Saturday, March 9, 2019

My PhD has been accepted and passed!

The Abstract: In the Arabic version of the account of Jesus’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus engages in a struggle or jihād. This use by Christians of what today is a highly controversial Islamic term that is usually associated with terrorism appears incongruous. The Christian Arabic translator’s choice of jihād to mean an inner spiritual struggle raises many questions about the pre-Islamic Christian understandings of the concept especially among Syrian ascetics. It also suggests a greater level of Christian-Muslim interaction than often accepted. Given that jihād is used here and in several other verses in the earliest ninth-century Arabic Bibles and continuously till today, this indicates that the historic breadth of meaning inherent in the word jihād is wider than just an external expression, as is commonly understood in the media. Muslims assert that this breadth existed from the earliest days of Islam and that jihād in itself does not always mean external acts of violence but encompasses inner spiritual struggle. In the case of Jesus, Christian ascetics, and Sufis, the word more commonly denotes a metaphorical inward spiritual struggle against temptation, rather than outward violence.
The main focus of this thesis is a comparative analysis of the inner struggle metaphors in mostly pre-Islamic Syrian Christian ascetic authors, compared with early Sufi writers. I investigate the wider range of terms associated with this imagery such as fight, battle, sword, shield, race, fortress, wounds, conquering, capturing, and guarding, and not just the term jihād or its Syriac equivalent. I conduct a metaphor analysis of the idea and images of spiritual struggle in seven Syrian Christian and two Muslim authors. This shows that at the level of language and metaphor, and in relation to anthropology and worldview, there is much correlation between pre-Islamic Syrian Christian and Sufi conceptions of inner struggle. This has major significance for how early Christian-Muslim relations should be understood, and also should impact how Islam is interpreted today.
My research clarifies the meaning of jihād as understood in early Sufism through analysis of its metaphorical usage in Arabic. I also compare this to the usage of equivalent Syriac words which were used by Christians living in close proximity to early Islam both chronologically and geographically. This fills an important gap in the research on how spiritual struggle was understood in the social context around the emergence of Islam. It also provides valuable information for the debate on the nature of Islam, especially with respect to the relative roles of spiritual struggle and violent warfare, by identifying the original shared cultural framework for the use of the spiritual struggle metaphor and the term jihād.

Severus paper published

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I have a paper on asceticism in Severus published in a Brill volume.
A pre-pub version is available;

Aphrahat and Augustine: Resurrection asceticism and Eastern hope

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A paper I gave 3 years ago has been published:
I have not made any posts here for a year! due to trying to complete the PhD soon- I am now on the last lap :-)

Ghazali resources

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Ghazali resources: Some exceptionally good resources at  Revival of the Religious Sciences and Islamic Texts Society.

Parole de l'Orient

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

All of Parole de l'Orient is available here:

Arabic keyboard layout, useful dictionaries etc

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

There are lots of good Arabic resources around but sometimes they take a long time to find!

1. Arabic keyboard layout- the normal MS one is useless, so many prefer the one used by the excellent (and free) Shibboleth software (which is excellent for Arabic, Syriac, Hebrew and about 15 other exotic languages). So to add a new keyboard layout follow the instructions at: using the unicode info at:

2. Online Arabic Dictionaries-quite a variety to choose at: Lexilogos. Plus there's lots of vocab and learning resources there too.

3. Arabic-English parallel texts- top quality books with important Arabic texts: Uni Chicago press/BYU books.

Learning Syriac

Thursday, June 26, 2014

After the initial  stage of learning some basic Syriac, what is the best way to develop vocabulary and acquire (as opposed to memorise) grammar? For me it is using the Peshitta analysis tool at:
Truly a brilliant resource for Syriac research, and works for learning Syriac- just work on a chapter a day.