Method and Theory in the Study of Islamic Origins

Method and Theory in the Study of Islamic Origins

Method and Theory in the Study of Islamic Origins

Method and Theory in the Study of Islamic Origins

Synopsis

This volume deals with the methodological and theoretical issues of the study of Islamic origins. Each of the twelve articles examines a different aspect of Islamic origins: early Islamic history including the life of the Prophet, the Sunna and ?ad?th, tafs?r and the Qur'?n, and the rise of Islamic law. Both sceptical (or revisionist) scholars and sanguine (or traditionalist) scholars examine and employ the various contemporary theories on the development of Islam in the first 3 centuries A.H. In so doing, they seek to exemplify the sources and methodologies used to support these theories and to discuss their relative merits.

Excerpt

The Qur'ān, the Sunnah, the sīrah, and the Sharī'ah are key elements in Islam. The study of the origins and development of these elements is therefore essential for an understanding of genesis of Islamic history and civilization. Unfortunately, the study of Islamic origins is rife with debate. Not only do contemporary scholars often disagree with the traditional Muslim depiction(s) of Islamic origins, but as this volume attests, these scholars often strongly disagree with each other. The result of this debate is the production of several competing and mutually exclusive theories of the origin of Islam.

In 1996 the editors of the journal Method & Theory in the Study of Religion (MTSR) approached me to do a special issue on Islam. My research had focused on Islamic origins, and so I thought that the most contentious issues were those raised by John Wansbrough in his Qur'ānic Studies published about two decades earlier. My motivation in pursuing those issues was selfish. While I found his methods and theories intriguing, I was not certain that I fully understood them. Nor was I certain if I accepted them. I had hoped to use the MTSR issue to invite various scholars to argue for or against, allowing their arguments to persuade me. To my great surprise, only those who shared, or at least sympathized with, Wansbrough's views agreed to participate in the project. Even with this one-sided perspective, that issue of MTSR, subtitled Islamic Origins Reconsidered: John Wansbrough and the Study of Early Islam, generated a great deal of extremely positive response and continues to do so even five years later.

In fact, it received enough attention that Russell T. McCutcheon, the editor of MTSR, suggested that the five papers serve as the basis of a larger independent anthology on the subject of Islamic origins. However, two of the papers had already been reprinted in another anthology, and I preferred to have a more representative sample of the various methodologies and theories that are applied by scholars of early Islam. To that end I contacted a diverse group of scholars of Islamic origins: diverse in specialty, seniority, and methodology. I asked them for articles that explored the various contemporary theories on the development of Islam in the first three centuries A.H. and exemplified (and discussed the relative merits of) the various . . .

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