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This essay explores the cultural geography of the Malay world writ large by examining the trajectories of texts beyond the conventional national and regional boundaries of Southeast Asian studies. Although the Malay world could be studied in relation to a number of transregional orientations, this essay highlights its interconnectedness with the Indian Ocean. This orientation offers a broad enough frame to examine the transregional scale without losing sight of the local. The essay focuses on a collaborative effort at examining textual trajectories. It proposes a rethinking of the normative vocabulary of the nation-state by exploring the subterranean histories of the present. The essay proposes the term “Malay world” as a helpful vehicle for exploring the transregional connections that are not captured by the language of territory and boundedness. The cultural geography of the Malay world that emerges in this essay is multifarious as its interconnectedness with the Indian Ocean has taken complex and diverse forms. The trajectories of the texts examined have traced a world that has been enmeshed in the transregional traffic of people, goods, and ideas. The pervasiveness of the thinking and practice of the nation-state, has undermined, but not eliminated the multifarious cultural geography of the Malay world.

In: Philological Encounters

This article surveys the deep history of the discipline of comparative philology in the Indo-Persian world, and attempts to situate it within larger debates about global forms of intellectual modernity. From its early beginnings in the production of literary lexicons designed to help poets in different regional centers of the Persianate world understand each other’s works, comparative philology in South, Central, and West Asia developed into a key scholarly discipline in which a whole host of concerns relating to Indo-Persian intellectual life was negotiated: literary canon formation, the arbitration of good taste, the maintenance of cosmopolitan literary intelligibility in an increasingly vernacular world, and even the nature of language itself. These developments took place over many centuries, in a vast array of works, spread out over a vast region that stretched from Anatolia to India. But in their increasingly sophisticated scholarship, as well as their increasing cognizance of their own scholarly disciplinarity, we find several distinctly “modernizing” tendencies among many of the Indo-Persian philologists discussed here, long before the supposed “invention” of the discipline by western scholars like the British colonial judge and orientalist, Sir William Jones (1746-1794).

In: Philological Encounters

The present paper aims to examine some important hagiographies of the Muslim saints of Kashmir to illustrate how these accounts contributed to the creation of a space vital for the emergence of a new religious subjectivity from the fourteenth century onwards. It argues against the tendency, underlying much recent scholarship on medieval Kashmir, to approach these texts as unproblematic historical documents without raising certain important questions regarding the context of their production. It, therefore, argues against the dichotomy of ‘myth’ and ‘history’ assumed by most historians who have engaged with these hagiographies. Questioning this approach, it argues that these texts nevertheless offer insights into how a Muslim subjectivity emerged and consolidated itself in medieval Kashmir. Writing lives of the saints should be seen as a discursive practice constructing ideal images for imitation rather than imitations of real lives. Following certain archetypes of saintliness, these texts created and perpetuated the concept of ideal life among a population experiencing a cultural and religious transition. Basing its argument on the thesis that a life is not how it is lived but how it is told and remembered, the paper argues that the narratives of Sufis and Rishis of Kashmir should be seen as constitutive of the very processes by which the Muslim community perceived itself and hence seminal to the formation of a distinct Muslim identity. It concludes with the argument that the binary opposition posited by certain stake holders between a Sufi/Rishi Islam and ‘scriptural’ Islam is a fallacy with no foundation in the recorded lives and teachings of Kashmiri Muslim saints.

In: Philological Encounters

Although the history of philology is merely an addition to the rediscovery of textual traditions which have been neglected for too long by academic philology, it is nonetheless an important one for its ability alone to provide an explanation of the existing asymmetric situation. When the world opened up after the 16th century following transoceanic navigations, European encounters with written traditions in America, Africa and Asia led to a variety of attitudes—from denial to fascination, from destruction to collection. These “philological encounters”, both material and conceptual, largely contributed to shape the views of the European Renaissance and the Enlightenment regarding language and writing. To understand the semiological and epistemological consequences of these views, this paper focuses on a single text produced at the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the Codex Mendoza, and on the different interpretations to which the latter was subjected in Europe after crossing the Atlantic. The history of the Codex Mendoza would have us believe that it was during the 18th century, and not before, that writing became exclusively synonymous with alphabet, resulting in the marginalisation of non-alphabetic written systems—and this mainly for historiographical reasons.

In: Philological Encounters
In: Philological Encounters

This article examines Friedrich Schlegel’s theory of philological practice and presents it as crucial for any philology that seeks to establish its philosophical ground without taking resort to theory. Schlegel’s concepts and the form of argument he employs, as illustrated in his notes “On Philology”, are elucidated. Schlegel focuses on ‘cyclization’ as a reiterated critique of a non-discursive practice that eventually leads to a mastership akin to art. Schlegel’s “Lucinde” is—as the article demonstrates—to be read as a novel that serves this philological purpose. Finally, the question of how to deal with art as a telos of philology in times of the modern university is discussed, with the conclusion being that we have to distinguish between the process of gaining insight and the discursive justification of that insight.

In: Philological Encounters

The linguistic uniformity of Europe (or the globe) is currently enforced not only by powerful economic and political forces but also by sociologists and social philosophers. At first, the learning of global English was only considered to be a necessary professional skill, then, the positive connotations of “plurilingualism” were evoked for fostering its universal adoption. Now, the acquisition of “globalese” is promoted as a means to achieve social justice. The rhetoric of justice immunises this discourse against any criticism (what can you say against justice?). Its political aims and measures are reminiscent of the aims and measures of the linguistic Jacobinism in the French Revolution. The propagandistic moves of the social sciences are accompanied by a polemic against linguistic diversity and the connection of language to culture. They are based on a reductive conception of language that underestimates their cognitive and, hence, cultural potential.

In: Philological Encounters

If as many observers believe the very survival of philology is in doubt across much of the globe, what are appropriate responses? Answering that question requires answering two others: what is philology, after all, and why should it be preserved? A new definition is offered here for the disciplinary form of philology: its distinctive subject is making sense of texts, its distinctive theoretical concept is interpretation, and its distinctive research methods include text-critical, rhetorical, hermeneutic and other forms of analysis. The point of preserving philology is to preserve the core values it encourages us to cultivate: commitments to truth, human solidarity, and critical self-awareness. The redefinition is meant to help free philology from itself, and identifying core values is meant to help us understand how philology can free us, both as scholars and as citizens.

In: Philological Encounters

Drawing on recent calls for a return to philology and on the experience of the international research programme “zukunftsphilologie: Revisiting the Canons of Textual Scholarship” this essay seeks to problematise these calls by examining some of the potential and fruitful avenues of inquiry as well as some of the challenges that lie ahead for a future “world philology.”

In: Philological Encounters

Qurʾānic scholarship in the west today tends to privilege historical queries, focusing on fragmented texts, their alleged subtexts, and the codex’s earliest venues of transmission. It usually abstains from attempts at making sense of the text as a literary artifact, let alone as an epistemic intervention into the reception of the Bible. Such concerns are left to philology which—if we follow Sheldon Pollock—is a tripartite venture: a query for “textual meaning,” an investigation into the text’s traditional understanding, i.e. its “contextual meaning,” and finally a re-thinking of one’s own scholarly preconceptions and responsibilities, the “philologist’s meaning.” Few topics are better suited to demonstrate the urgency of complementing historical with philological research than the Qurʾān’s controversial relation to the Bible. A fresh approach—updating the time-honored but somewhat fusty historical critical method—is required: a diachronic, yet contextual, and moreover holistic, reading of the Qurʾān. This paper will discuss texts that—featuring Muhammad and Moses respectively—reveal two major shifts in the relationship between the Qurʾān and Biblical tradition.

Historical research should not be left alone: philology’s two assets, the contextual reading and moreover the researcher’s self-reflection, need to be admitted to the stage of Qurʾānic Studies. Christian interpretation of the Bible that, for historical and political reasons, has until now not taken the Qurʾān into account, could benefit substantially from the Qurʾān’s Biblical criticism, let alone its intrinsic challenge to rethink prevailing exclusivist positions.

In: Philological Encounters