Book: Identity, Politics and the Study of Islam
Chapter: 7. A Modest Proposal for Islamic Studies
Aaron Hughes’ Theorizing Islam, which identifies the Study of Islam Section of the AAR as an institutional cause of bad scholarship, critiques a small corner of Islamic studies writ large. Many of his assessments of the shortcomings of particular works are justified, but the type of writing he condemns is highly promoted by university presses, and found in scholarship on most other religious traditions and in many other fields throughout academia. Hughes then incorrectly maps the current divide in Islamic studies between less skeptical empiricists and radically skeptical revisionists onto a divide between naïve, apologetic work and serious, critical investigations. Instead, the main conclusion that one ought to draw from this debate is that most scholars in Islamic studies are trained in rather narrow sub-fields and tend to falter when they write on general topics, but the demand for such general works is high, so it is unlikely that there will be much quality control in the future. Rejecting the idea that improved scholarship on Islam will come from more thorough engagement with recent theories in religious studies, I propose my own set of theses to guide research and writing on Islamic studies in the future.