How to Read the Qur'an: A New Guide, with Select Translations

By Carl W. Ernst | Go to book overview

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The History and Form of the Qurʾan
and the Practices of Reading

Situating the Qurʾan in History

The Problem of the Historical Understanding of the Qurʾan

The Qurʾan is most frequently approached as a religious text that makes authoritative claims, which are to be either rejected or accepted. Certainly there are religious contexts where such an approach makes sense, whether it be in Muslim circles where reinforcement of Islamic religious teachings is the aim or in non-Muslim religious groups where the message of the Qurʾan is fiercely opposed. Yet there are other ways of approaching the Qurʾan as a literary text embodied in concrete historical situations; it is the argument of this book that situating the Qurʾan in history with literary analysis is the most appropriate method both for the modern university and for the emerging global sphere of public culture.

The historical approach to religion as developed in modern universities, particularly in North America, is a way of addressing religious pluralism without either establishing or rejecting any particular form of religion. The university constitutes a public space in which everyone may take part, and the discussion of religion can be carried out by anyone without having to pay the price of a precommitment to any particular religious persuasion. In the academy, it is no longer acceptable (outside of explicitly religious schools) to quote one particular scriptural position as authoritative and beyond question. The proliferation of multiple religious views in

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