By Matt Sheedy
This is part-one of a two-part response to Watts and Mosurinjohn’s essay “Can Critical Religion Play by Its Own Rules? Why There Must Be More Ways to Be ‘Critical’ in the Study of Religion,” which recently appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion.
Before detailing some of my disagreements with this essay, I should say that I was happy to see this article in print as it signals the relevance of what some have called Critical Religion (CR) in our discipline and offers an important opportunity for clarification and further debate. Too often, I feel, we forget that the ultimate aim of scholarship is to advance knowledge and not simply ‘win’ an argument, whatever that may mean in the short term. As someone interested in the idea of Critical Religion and who is trained in Critical Theory (of the Frankfurt School and post-structuralist varieties), I approach this essay as a chance to think more carefully about the aims, influences, and effects of these debates. Continue reading “Critical Religion and the Critical Study of Religion: A Response to Galen Watts and Sharday Mosurinjohn, Part 1”
This interview is part of a series of interviews on new books from the Culture on the Edge book series with Equinox publishing.
This edited volume began in response to a debate between two scholars who study Islam, Omid Safi and Aaron Hughes. Can you introduce the main issues of that debate?
The idea for this book came out of a “debate” between Omid Safi and Aaron Hughes back in early 2014. The initial salvo came when Safi published an essay on Jadaliyya, “Reflections on the State of Islamic Studies,” where he characterized Hughes’s work as “grossly polemical and simplistic,” though without providing any specific evidence for this claim. Hughes replied on the Bulletin for the Study of Religion blog (where I was then editor), challenging Safi to “do what the Western tradition of scholarly discourse demands and respond to my ideas in print as opposed to engaging in innuendo and identity politics.” After some preliminary discussion on Facebook, where we considered the possibility of a more substantive exchange on the Bulletin blog, Safi decided not to engage further on this forum.
In the interest of expanding the conversation I asked a number of scholars of religion to comment on some of the issues raised in these two blog posts, with an emphasis on the following tension: whereas Safi’s reflections on Islamic Studies stress the role of feminist, post-colonial, and anthropological approaches, and laud scholars who work between the academy and the community for political ends (e.g., see Safi’s edited book Progressive Muslims), Hughes argues that the emphasis on identity politics in much of Islamic Studies contributes to the persistence of apologetics and inhibits the kind of critical scholarship that religious studies ought be striving for. Subsequent to this, more responses were published in a special issue of the Bulletin’s journal, which became the starting point for this book. In this volume a few of the same contributors expand their original pieces, along with five new essays, including an afterword from Russell McCutcheon. Continue reading “Identity, Politics, and the Study of Islam: An Interview with Matt Sheedy”
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