It is not very elegant to state that a conference we organised was successful. But it was. It is not because of us, but rather down to the excellent papers given and the animated discussions that followed them. Once again, we wholeheartedly thank all the participants, coming from leading institutions in Denmark, Hungary, Iran, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, for their contribution.

While organising this conference, we decided to let the scholars we invited choose any topic within the general topic of Legitimate and Illegitimate Violence in Islamic Thought. I think it proved to be a good decision. The versatility of the talks mirrored better the multifacetedness of this question than any pre-established structure could have revealed. We listened to theoretical analyses problematising the notion of violence in the context of Islam and discussing the methodology of its study, as well as papers offering much enclosing outlines, but mostly case studies that gave insight into highly important general issues.

The subjects presented ranged from the immanent will of legitimisation lying behind specific acts of violence committed by urban masses to the meticulous categorisations of the šarīca by the culamā’, from al-Andalūs to South Asia and from al-Qur’ān to al-Qācida and to contemporary bloggers. The abstracts of each paper are available now on our website, here.

This conference was designed to ring the bell and announce the opening of the project but it turned out to sound a true carillon. In the field of Islamic studies we are like the explorers of a continent whose coastlines are mapped but the inlands are still mostly blank. The topic of violence is a deep but not easily navigable river with uncountable tributaries leading us to the very heart of Islamic and Islamicate civilisation. How should we proceed in the exploration of this complex irrigation system?

It is obvious that in this field every new study calls for dozens or hundreds of others to be written. Some domains have been barely touched, such as the concepts and attitudes to violence expressed in literature or in the fine arts. Little has been told about the changes in the views of the Umma on violence during its historical evolution. We also need more comparative studies of thinkers of violent and quietist phases and groups. Few speakers investigated the reply of contemporary “mainstream” Muslim scholars to the ideology of the militants. We will also have to consider what we mean by Islamic or Islamicate, not in order to try to give inflexible definitions or categories but to understand the influences and interactions between Islamic thought and others.

The remaining 27 months of the project cannot be enough to create a systematic and all inclusive account of these subjects. Nevertheless, we hope to publish a series of books to be composed of independent scholarly studies on specific topics forming together a much needed introduction to the field. Many of the papers presented in this conference and in the coming workshops and conferences will be hopefully be arranged in these volumes examining Violence in “Early and Classical”,  “Late Medieval and Early”, and “Modern and Contemporary” Islamic Thought".  The precise formats will emerge as we develop our analytical framework.

Our next step will be to invite eminent scholars to develop a conference dedicated first to the early and classical periods, and more intimate gathering workshops dedicated to other periods. Details will be announced in the coming months.  The shape of the volumes will emerge over the next year, but in any case we intend to have, by the end of 2012, a corpus of papers published which will make help us design our response to the interconnection between violence and Islamic thought.

It is a very ambitious goal, and we are well aware of the difficulties as well as of our responsibility due to the significance of the project. Nevertheless, this first conference encouraged us that there is a critical mass of scholars engaging in this topic which will enable us to move at a slightly quicker pace than one might normally expect from academics.  We have started to create a network of outstanding scholars that will be a sure source of the success of this plan. As always, we welcome all constructive ideas and suggestions.

Istvan Kristo-Nagy and Robert Gleave, Exeter, October 2010.