Gulnaz Sibgatullina (University of Amsterdam): The 18th-century Qur’an translations into Russian: The modes of rendering and reading

This paper will contribute to the discussion on retranslation by analyzing the cases of repeated renderings not of the source text, but of other translations. With a specific focus on the Qur’an translations into Russian produced throughout the 18th century, I will elaborate on the goals, producers and readers of these indirect translations. The texts that I draw on to develop my arguments are three translations of L’Alcoran de Mahomet (Du Ryer) and a rendering of The Koran (Sale).

Analysis of the socio-political and cultural context in which these texts in Russian were produced enables understanding of dominant translation ideologies of that period. In particular, the paper will discuss the ideas on (in)fidelity of translation and (in)significance of the original text. Russian translators, who were partially the product of and undoubtedly contributors to the Enlightenment thought circulation, participated in defining degrees of translatability of the Holy Scriptures.

This paper will present some of the preliminary considerations on how translations of the Qur’an in the 18th-century Russia have shaped the notions of “religion”, “secular” and “sacred”. These renderings of the Qur’an were not only an attempt to understand the Muslim Other – both a citizen and enemy of the Empire. These translations, I argue, also pursued the goal of integrating Russia into “civilized” Europe, through secularization and recognition of non-Christian belief systems. Retranslation, thus, represents a continuous rapprochement towards an idealized image of progressive Europe, as well as a negotiation of the place that Russia occupies in relation to that image.

About the speaker

Gulnaz Sibgatullina is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Amsterdam. Her current project focuses on the Qur’an translations produced in the Russian Empire in the 18th-19th centuries. She holds a PhD from Leiden University (2019) and an MA degree from Moscow State Linguistic University (2014). During her graduate program, Gulnaz was a visiting fellow at the University of Edinburgh and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include sociolinguistics of the Russian language, ideologies of translation and discursive construction of religious, ethnic and national identities.