This essay provides an introduction to the following set of papers that deal with some of the methodological and theoretical issues that the study of Islam poses for the academic study of religion. It argues that, while still somewhat problematic, recent years have seen a number of younger scholars—particularly in Europe and the so-called Muslim World—engage in and wrestle with these theoretical issues. The result is that the study of Islam has come a long way since the apologetic aftermath of September 11, 2001.
In the aftermath of September 11, the academic study of Islam has been one of the most sought-after areas of academic expertise throughout North America. The result is that many departments of Religious Studies have been eager either to develop or increase existing offerings in all things Islamic and Arabic. This strikes me as a good a time as any to reflect upon the nature of the relationship between Religious Studies and Islamic Studies. This article assumes that the integration of the latter into the former has not been easy or even successful. It provocatively argues that some of the manifold reasons behind such tensions emerge from the apologetics—found among both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars—inherent to the study of Islam. This confessionalism is the result of a complex amalgam of academic and non-academic forces.
NAASR faces an existential dilemma. It is currently caught between the desire for greater numbers and panels that take place at the Annual Meeting of the AAR on the one hand, and the idea of a more exclusive group that focuses solely on historical and scientific analysis on the other. This paper argues that the future of NAASR resides in the latter option as opposed to the former. It even goes a step further and argues that NAASR should—intellectually, if not logistically—split from the AAR because as things currently stand the AAR defines the parameters of the conversation: NAASR, by default, becomes that which the AAR is not. However, in so doing, NAASR still defines itself using the discourses and categories of the AAR. NAASR’s physical departure from the AAR would provide it with the intellectual space necessary for further growth and reflection on things theoretical and methodological.
Recent theorizing about religion has largely shifted from the cultural to the biological domain. This, however, comes with a cost. To explore this in greater detail, the present essay is divided into three parts: first, I seek to reclaim and redefine what usually passes for the “phenomenology” of religion in the writings traditionally associated with likes of Gerardus van der Leeuw, often by way of Mircea Eliade. I seek to take an initial, tentative step in this reclamation by returning to an admittedly idiosyncratic reading of one version of Heidegger’s philosophy that emerges from the pages of his Sein und Zeit. Second, to show how this new theorizing, rather than contribute to the dubious and quasi-theological discourses associated with the philosophy of religion, enables us to focus with renewed energy upon the constant process of self- and group making. In the third section, I try to nudge (with the aim of perhaps dislodging) what could well become the new regnant discourse of current theorizing about religion.