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Islam and the Tyranny of Authenticity

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Many scholars of Islam are interested in creating a liberal, inclusive, pluralistic, feminist, and modern version of the religion that they believe to be explicit in the pages of the Qur’ān, but missed by earlier interpreters. In so doing, they create “good” Islam and, in the process, seek to define what does and does not get to count as authentic. As the purveyors of what they now believe to be veritable Islam, they subsequently claim that rival presentations are bastardizations based either on Orientalism and Islamophobia (if one is a non-Muslim) or misogyny and homophobia (if one is a Muslim that disagrees with them). Instead of engaging in critical scholarship, they engage in a constructive and theological project that they deceive themselves into thinking is both analytical and empirical. This book provides a hard-hitting examination of the spiritual motivations, rhetorical moves, and political implications associated with these apologetical discourses. It argues that what is at stake is relevance, and examines the consequences of engaging in mythopoesis as opposed to scholarship.

Published: Jan 1, 2016

Section Chapter Authors
Acknowledgements Aaron Hughes
Preface: Noble Lies Aaron Hughes
Setting the Problem Aaron Hughes
Chapter 1
Islamic Religious Studies and the Politics of Identity Aaron Hughes
Chapter 2
Prisoners of Said Aaron Hughes
Chapter 3
Insiders, Outsiders, and the Path Between Aaron Hughes
Chapter 4
Business as Usual Aaron Hughes
Chapter 5
Jacob Neusner Meets Islamic Studies Aaron Hughes
Chapter 6
Turf Wars Aaron Hughes
End Matter
References Aaron Hughes
Author Index Aaron Hughes
Subject Index Aaron Hughes


In this fascinating and impeccably argued book, Aaron W. Hughes engages a theme relevant to the contemporary study of religion. At stake, for him, are the fundamental theoretical and methodological dimensions that reside at the heart of the field.
Daniel Dubuisson, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris

The project of understanding something on its own terms has rightly received much critical attention over the past twenty years—inasmuch as it erases observers and the criteria by which they chose which participant interests to represent and thereby authorize—but there are still pockets within the field that resist a full historicization. Aaron Hughes’s Islam and the Tyranny of Authenticity is but the most recent of his ongoing efforts to invite scholars of Islam to see their object of study as no more or less human than any other, suggesting that their methods should not only be comparable to those found in other sub-specialties but also that their field can be the beneficiary of advances that have taken place elsewhere.
Russell T. McCutcheon, University of Alabama, Co-author of The Sacred is the Profane: The Political Nature of ‘Religion’ (Oxford University Press)

From his example of 'Islamic religious studies,' Aaron Hughes argues that the study of religion in secular universities is characterized more by political correctness, crypto-theologizing, and normative pronouncements than it is by a theorized, critical, and historical scholarship that is of relevance to - or even recognizable by - colleagues from other university disciplines. A must read for all religious studies scholars.
Luther H. Martin, Professor Emeritus of Religion, The University of Vermont

Offers an eye-opening account of how the study of Islam in North American departments of religious studies is becoming more and more an exercise in liberal Muslim apologetics. Hughes responds by laying out a compelling alternative vision, in which practitioners of the academic study of Islam act as critical analysts of "religious" discourses rather than simply as advocates for their own preferred version of Islam. This timely intervention cuts to the heart of the question of the legitimacy and relevance of the study of religion in the modern academy, and Hughes's forceful statement should begin a vigorous and useful conversation.
Brent Nongbri, Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Fellow, Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University

Aaron Hughes' Islam and the Tyranny of Authenticity is a beautifully crafted and concise critique of Said's Orientalism thesis and its effects upon contemporary study of Islam. Hughes takes a number of prominent scholars of Islam, analyzes their work and demonstrates the biases that have been created in attempts to pander to identity politics through scholarship. Unexpectedly, he beards Said in his den by proposing Jacob Neusner's methodologies in the study of Judaism as a way forward for Islamic studies--a delightfully creative solution bringing back the importance the shared heritage of Jewish and Islamic studies once had.
David Cook, Department of Religion, Rice University