Babbler # 1064
posted 30 May 2003 03:27 PM
The literally scores of books, good, bad, indifferent, and peculiar, pouring right now from our public presses represent, therefore, more than the opportune exploitation of an emergent mass market or, what is perhaps the same thing, a strategic shift in the winds of intellectual fashion. They represent the opening stages of something quite new, and in some ways unprecedented, in our national experience: the construction, live and in real time, out there in the common culture where we can see it made, watch it happen, observe its makers, and track its progress, of an enduring image of an alien phenomenon, obscure and worrisome, working its way in toward the center of that experience. From that point of view, a making up of a collective mind about an imagined object, what needs first to be assessed is less the reliability, knowledgeability, or scholarly standing of the writers clamoring for our attention and assent. That varies enormously and is beyond summary judgment. What needs first to be assessed is: What sort of thing is it that these determined reality instructors would have us think?
In that spirit, one more concerned with assumptions than findings, it is possible to mark out four main approaches, which, although neither unmixed nor self-contained, more or less divide and bound the overall field of argument and interpretation. There is, first, the "civilization" approach, which opposes "the West" as a whole to "Islam" as a whole and compares their fates. Second, there are the attempts to pick apart the various streams of contemporary Muslim thought and practice and place them within a culturally familiar grid of ideological contrasts—to sort "good" Islam (and "Islamists") from "bad," "real" from "false," "authentic" from "hijacked," "tolerant" from "terrorist" in terms of recognized categories of political expression. Third, there are conciliative, or reconciliative, efforts seeking out "many are the roads but God is One" convergences between Islamic teachings and those of the other major religious traditions so as to lay a positive course for their co-evolution. And finally, there are place-, or people-, or nation-focused studies that conceive of "Islam" less as a cohesive mega-entity persisting through time, than as a collection of particular, in many ways disparate, "family-resemblance" traditions coming into more and more immediate and difficult contact with one another as the vast and entangling forces of all-over modernity advance.
Clifford Geertz, in the New York Review of Books; both recommended.
From: that enchanted place on the top of the Forest | Registered: Jul 2001
| IP: Logged