Religious Studies | Topics in Islamic Studies
R456 | 3886 | Jaques

R456 Topics in Islam (upper level undergrad - junior/senior students)

(Mis)Representing Islam: Western Interpretations of Islam and the
Academic Study of Religion

Since before the Reformation, scholars have sought to understand Islam
and make what they saw as its "essence" understandable to European
(and later,North American) thinkers.  Most of this discourse has been
dominated by the drive to put a scholarly "stamp" on those
interpretations as being the authoritative representation of Islamic
society, history, practice, theology, and culture.  Other scholars,
such as Edward Said and Akbar S. Ahmed have also sought to highlight
the biases of these interpretations and the ramifications that Western
discourse has had for Muslim self understanding.  This course will
examine the history of Western interpretations of Islam and especially
how various methods and methodologies in the academic study of
religion have been used in the last century to represent Islam to an
(assumed) non-Muslim audience. It will also examine alternative
approaches that create deeper levels of understanding and are more
appropriate for the study of Islam as a religion.

The course will be historical, interpretive, and interactive.  The
first section of the course will look at an overview of Western
scholarship on Islam and at the underlying motives behind those
interpretations.  The second section will look in depth at the methods
and methodologies scholars have used to interpret Islam over the last
century.  Chief among these will be examinations of historiographical
(Hodgson, Lewis), anthropological/ethnographical (Geertz, Abu Laghud),
sociological (Weberian approaches), and religious studies/comparative
religions (W.  C. Smith, Waardenburg, Martin) approaches to Islam in a
variety of contexts. In the final section of the course, students will
work to develop individual approaches to the study of Islam from
within a Religious Studies perspective.

Readings: Richard Martin, ed.  Approaches to Islam in Religious
Studies; Albert Hourani, Islam in European Thought; Ruth Finnegan,
Oral Traditions and the Verbal Arts; Vernon Robbins, Exploring the
Tapestry of Texts; and a course packet.

Requirements: Regular attendance is required. Also, since this is a
discussion based class, participation is a must. There will be a
midterm paper covering an issue from the first two sections of the
course and a final paper in which the student will develop a method
and methodology for the study of Islam (or other "Asian" religious
traditions, see Instructor).  There will also be periodic short
reviews of reading assignments.