Politics of Scripture. Discussions of the Historical-Critical Approach to the Qur'an
My thesis analyzes the political nature of contemporary Qur'ān scholarship. Based on both Western and Arab treatments of the Qur'ān I demonstrate that scriptural discussions are used to negotiate societal and political concerns. In particular, I examine how the historical-critical approach to the Qur'ān—developed and canonized in a Western academic context—is debated by Muslim thinkers, principally in Lebanon. I argue that the methodological discussions about the Qur'ān disclose strong convictions about society and religion. To work out the politics of scripture is meant to prepare the groundwork for a research dialogue – a rapprochement – between western and Islamic qur'ānic studies.Proponents of historical-critical method often consider it universally applicable – as a remedy for the partialities of tradition and a vehicle of “progress.” They interpret any opposition in binary categories: modern-premodern, outsider-insider, or objective-subjective. Regarding the Qur'ān as a political object, however, sheds new light on these discussions. In order to understand the sometimes strong reactions to historicizing the Qur'ān my thesis examines how modernity, history and the “progress” and reform of Muslim societies are linked by its proponents. Taking critique of historicizing hermeneutics seriously challenges particular structures of authoritative knowledge on which the construction and professionalization of the western hermeneutical tradition rest.I demonstrate that to read the Qur'ān as literature or as a historical document does not merely hinge on method or the ontological status of the Qur'ān, but equally on conceptions of human nature. Dissonances concerning epistemology and human ontology lead to different views of the Qur'ān as well as to differing sensibilities vis-à-vis historical critique. Contemporary Qur'ān hermeneutics have political dimensions; not only because they refer to a text that is authoritative for a religious community, but also because they convey visions as to how one imagines the polis, and what makes humans truly human. Qur'ān hermeneutics convey different visions of society and negotiate how religious subjectivities are conceptualized. The struggle for different hermeneutics can also be understood as a conflict over the monopoly of interpretation and redraw the lines of what is considered legitimate interpretation in both western and Islamic qur'ānic studies.
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