Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Situating Islam: The Past and Future of an Academic Discipline

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Situating Islam: The Past and Future of an Academic Discipline

Article excerpt

Situating Islam: The Past and Future of an Academic Discipline. By Aaron W. Hughes. London and Oakville, Conn.: Equinox Publishing, 2007. 132 pp. $22, paper.

Hughes, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary in Alberta, is benevolent in his intentions, and the result is a volume on the Western academic discussion of Islam that is almost stereotypically Canadian in its efforts at balance between and fairness to the two main sides.

In Hughes 's presentation of these competing viewpoints, the two protagonists are familiar to most of the global intellectual public: Bernard Lewis and the late Edward Said. Hughes begins this work with an account of their bitter exchanges over the latter's Orientalism. As Hughes indicates, Lewis's critique of Said was limited to intellectual issues; Lewis accused Said of tendentious, arbitrary, reckless, and incompetent formulations. Said replied with low blows: pseudo-psychological and ideological smears, claiming that Lewis was insecure and aligned with the most radical elements on the Zionist spectrum, including the late Meir Kahane.

As Hughes aptly comments, "Welcome to the field of Islamic Studies."

The Canadian scholar, in an understated but accurate manner, clearly finds the legacy of Said wanting. Early on, he states, "My aim ... is to argue that Said's account is as fraught with political and ideological assumptions as that of the Orientalism he sought to demolish. Unless we face up to this legacy, realizing that Orientalism is decidedly not a work of historiography, it becomes very difficult to move forward [emphasis in original]."

Hughes goes on to review one of the flagrant weaknesses in Said's work (as mainly detailed in The Lust of Knowing by Robert H. …

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