Abrahamic Religions: On the Uses and Abuses of History

Abrahamic Religions: On the Uses and Abuses of History

Abrahamic Religions: On the Uses and Abuses of History

Abrahamic Religions: On the Uses and Abuses of History

Synopsis

Recently, the term "Abrahamic religions" has been used with exceeding frequency in the academy. We now regularly encounter academic books, conferences, and even positions (including endowed chairs) devoted to the so-called "Abrahamic religions." But what exactly are "Abrahamic religions"? Although many perceive him as the common denominator of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Abraham remains deceptively out of reach. An ahistorical figure, some contend he holds the seeds for historical reconciliation. Touted as symbol of ecumenicism, Abraham can just as easily function as one of division and exclusivity. Like our understanding of Abraham, the category "Abrahamic religions" is vague and nebulous. In Abrahamic Religions, Aaron Hughes examines the creation and dissemination of this term.

Usually lost in contemporary discussions is a set of crucial questions: Where does the term "Abrahamic religions" derive? Who created it and for what purposes? What sort of intellectual work is it perceived to perform? Part genealogical and part analytical, this book seeks to raise and answer questions about the appropriateness and usefulness of employing "Abrahamic religions" as a vehicle for understanding and classifying data. In so doing,Abrahamic Religionscan be taken as a case study that examines the construction of categories within the academic study of religion, showing how the categories we employ can become more an impediment than an expedient to understanding.

Excerpt

On the cold morning of February 25, 1994, which just happened to coincide that year with the Jewish holiday of Purim and the Muslim month of Ramadan, an American-born physician dressed as an Israeli soldier made his way, as tens of thousands of Jewish and Muslim worshippers had before him, to the cave of Machpelah in Hebron. There, at the tomb of Abraham, Jews and Muslims prayed awkwardly with one another as they had for centuries. On common ground, each invoked the God of Abraham in the traditional manner prescribed by their respective traditions. On this particular morning, however, Dr. Baruch Goldstein raised and pointed his machine gun at the crowd and began to shoot indiscriminately at the Muslim worshippers. Screams of horror pierced what had just a few seconds earlier been the calm melody of prayer. By the time the screams had finished, twenty-nine Muslims were dead, another one hundred and twenty-five were injured, and the perpetrator, beaten to death by the remaining crowd, lay crumpled on the ground.

This tragic event marks the ambiguity of Abraham in the modern world. Perceived by many as the common denominator of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the so-called “real” Abraham remains elusive. An ahistorical figure, some contend he holds the seeds for historical reconciliation. a symbol of ecumenicism, Abraham can just as easily function—as Baruch Goldstein so painfully reminds us—as one of division and exclusivity. This dialectic of history and myth, inclusivity and exclusivity, is the true progeny of Abraham as the three monotheistic religions have sought to define themselves and their relationship to one another.

Traditionally each of the three monotheisms perceives itself to be the authentic heir of what it constructs as Abraham’s true message. Many in the twentieth century, by contrast, have increasingly conceived of Abraham as a central figure with which to imagine and designate a perceived commonality or a wistful paternity among the three monotheisms at a time when they have become increasingly at odds with each another. Since the fateful attacks of September 11, 2001, we increasingly witness the term “Abrahamic . . .

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