In this series of four blog essays, Rob Gleave and Kumail Rajani of the University of Exeter, UK, introduce the digital database of Twelver Shīʿī legal theory writings – the Twelver Uṣūl Bibliography or TUB.
The Twelver Uṣūl Bibliography (henceforth TUB) is the brainchild of Robert Gleave. When his Law, Authority and Learning in Imami Shiʿite Islam (LAWALISI, ERC advanced grant: 695245) project received an extension, Gleave decided to conduct a comprehensive biobibliographical survey of the Twelver uṣūl works along with a dedicated team of postdoctoral researchers. Over a period of more than twelve months Robert Gleave, Kumail Rajani, Pooya Razavian, Omar Anchassi, Belal al-Abbas, Hassan Baloushi, George Warner, and Mostafa Movahedifar contributed to the project in various capacities and for various time periods. The TUB team successfully managed to identify 1804 Twelver uṣūl works which includes 130 edited, 1634 manuscript-only, and 40 non-extant titles.
TUB is an online database of 6495 web pages that contain detailed information of 1804 titles, 797 authors, 232 editions, and 3662 manuscripts of Twelver uṣūl works.
Each of these pages contains further catalogue details such as date, time period, region, publisher, and genre alongside much other relevant information on a given title and its author. The Semantic wiki style of the database has facilitated not only the examination of the data, but also investigation of the relationship between the data. Thanks to Semantic MediaWiki – the open-source extension of MediaWiki – TUB is an intelligible and interactive platform. Through several spinoff extensions such as Semantic Search, TUB offers exciting possibilities for arranging, managing, classifying, and engaging seamlessly with the data.
TUB is hosted on the University of Exeter’s server and, therefore, access is currently limited to team members. Our future plans include hosting the database on an independent server and making it open access. We are currently in the process of publishing the entire bibliography in a single volume. The formats of the online database and publication, however, will be very different. The online TUB is expected to be an ongoing project with regular updates when new information comes to light. The TUB volume, on the other hand, will contain not only chronologically arranged appendices and research articles that demonstrate the utility of the data in our research works, but also genre-specific chapters that enable a reader to gain a critical insight into Twelver uṣūl scholarship. A typical TUB database entry looks like this:
As you see, this page contains a list of all the uṣūl works composed by Mullā Fayḍ al-Kāshānī (d. 1091/1680) along with his biographical information. By clicking on any of the 8 titles, one will obtain detailed bibliographical information of that specific work. For instance, the page of al-Uṣūl al-aṣīla looks like this:
As you observe, this page offers not only detailed bibliographical information of the title, but also lists 2 editions and 5 earliest existing manuscripts (in this instance, at least 3 manuscripts are from the author’s own lifetime). The details of each of these editions and manuscripts can further be accessed by visiting their dedicated pages displayed in the blue hyperlinks. For instance, the pages of the first edition and the earliest available manuscript are as follows:
Each of the 1804 titles (edited, manuscript-only and non-extant) are further divided into one of the 10 genres of Twelver uṣūl writings: monograph, treatise (risāla), commentary (sharḥ), gloss (ḥāshiya), marginal notes (taʿlīqa), summary (khulāṣa/mukhtaṣar), refutation (radd), versification (manẓūma), lecture notes (taqrīrāt) and translation. Whereas monographs, treatises, versifications, and lecture notes are independent compositions, commentaries, glosses, marginal notes, summaries, refutations and translations have a close relation with a base text. In order to establish computational network between these works and their respective base texts, they are linked together in each of the pages. Although the terms sharḥ (pl. shurūḥ), ḥāshiya (pl. ḥawāshī), and taʿlīqa (pl. taʿlīqāt) are often used interchangeably in the secondary literature, we have, for the purpose of this database, been using the following working definitions:
- Commentaries (sharḥ (pl. shurūḥ)): detailed explanations and critique of the author’s text (typically) in its entirety;
- Glosses (ḥāshiya (pl. ḥawāshī)): elucidations and critical engagements with the ambiguous or commentary-worth passages of the text;
- Marginal notes (taʿlīqa (pl. taʿlīqāt)): hints and insights on very selective phrases of the text.
These definitions might appear arbitrary – but then again there is no consensus within the tradition as to which text should be called a sharḥ or a ḥāshiya or a taʿlīqa. Moreover, we also want to make it clear that our assignment of different genres to each of the non-extant and manuscript-only titles is not based on an extensive study of these texts. Rather, our categorization is based on the information available to us in the catalogues, biobibliographical sources and (quite often) our own best judgment. The category of any work may change as research into individual works and their content progresses – TUB is an ongoing project, not a finished product.
In reference to the genres of uṣūl works, taqrīrāt appears to be unique to Twelver legal traditions. Taqrīrāt are lecture notes of a scholar-student attending the highest-level lectures (bahṭh al-khārij/dars-i khārij) of a grand mujtahid. These lectures are extra-textual, that is, the teacher does not teach a text (they might use a text in order to follow a particular structure, but the ideas are their own). The mujtahid – often marjaʿ – shares his opinions and arguments, and the student takes notes. These notes are referred to as taqrīrāt, that is, dictations. By producing taqrīrāt, the scholar-student is making an implicit claim of their ability to comprehend and articulate their teacher’s positions and, thus, demands a certificate of ijtihād. In theory, several students attending these lectures will make notes but the ones which best represent the teacher’s opinions gain recognition and reputation.
There are some 40-odd non-extant titles, but the breakdown of extant works (both edited and manuscript-only titles) in each of the genres is as follows:
The Semantic Search enables us to extract the TUB data arranged in a desired order and classification. The chart below illustrates the production of different genres of Twelver uṣūl writings from 5th/11th to 14th/20th century. It highlights, for instance, that commentary writing was popular between 6th/12th to 9th/15th century compared to composing treatises, but the situation is reversed in the next four centuries in which treatise writing gains popularity.
To sum up, TUB offers exciting possibilities for tracing Twelver uṣūl scholarship across time, not to mention establishing networks and connections between different genres and works. This kind of analysis will help uncover aspects of Twelver uṣūl tradition that were obscured or forgotten due to the widely scattered and inaccessible nature of the data. TUB collects, arranges and presents this on a single interactive platform which, we hope, will assist researchers to navigate through the mammoth Twelver uṣūl works efficiently and effortlessly.
 The phrase “manuscript-only titles” may appear confusing or misleading. By “manuscript-only titles,” we mean those works which are not yet edited and exist in manuscript form only. We had to choose this rather strange name in order to distinguish them from manuscripts of the edited titles which are also surveyed and listed in the database.
(Suggested Bluebook citation: Kumail Rajani, Introducing the Twelver Uṣūl Bibliography, Islamic Law Blog (June 15, 2023), https://islamiclaw.blog/2023/06/15/introducing-the-twelver-u%e1%b9%a3ul-bibliography/)
(Suggested Chicago citation: Kumail Rajani, “Introducing the Twelver Uṣūl Bibliography,” Islamic Law Blog, June 15, 2023, https://islamiclaw.blog/2023/06/15/introducing-the-twelver-u%e1%b9%a3ul-bibliography/)