Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation

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9781591022015: Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation

One of the most innovative thinkers in the field of Islamic Studies was John Wansbrough (1928-2002), Professor of Semitic Studies and Pro-Director of London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies. Critiquing the traditional accounts of the origins of Islam as historically unreliable and heavily influenced by religious dogma, Wansbrough suggested radically new interpretations very different from the views of both the Muslim orthodoxy and most Western scholars.
Originally published in 1977, Quranic Studies presents an in-depth textual exegesis of the Quran based on form analysis. Noting the persistent use of monotheistic imagery stemming from Judeo-Christian sources, he interpreted the rise of Islam as the development of what was originally a Judeo-Christian sect. As this sect evolved and differentiated itself from its Judeo-Christian roots, the Quran also evolved and was continuously in flux for over a century. Wansbrough concluded that the canonization of the text that we today call the Quran, and even the emergence of the concept of "Islam," probably did not occur till the end of the eighth century, more than 150 years after the death of Muhammad.
Although his work remains controversial to this day, his fresh insights and approaches to the study of Islam continue to inspire scholars. This new edition contains a valuable assessment of Wansbrough’s contributions and many useful textual notes and translations by Andrew Rippin (professor of history, University of Victoria).

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From the Inside Flap:

Many believe that the academic study of the Quran lags far behind the study of the Bible while being, as the same time, closely modeled after it. Not only are the relevant scholarly resources of the Quran less numerous than those available in biblical scholarship, but comparatively speaking the variety of methods employed to deal with the scriptural text has been severely limited. One of the first groundbreaking efforts in Islamic studies was made by John Wansbrough in his unique work QURANTIC STUDIES: SOURCES AND METHODS OF SCRIPTURAL INTERPRETATION. Written between 1968 and 1972, this revolutionary analysis had a profound effect on the study of Islam. It produced, in the minds of many, a wholly new dichotomy in the approach used in Islamic studies: on one side, the skeptical revisionists and on the other, the trusting traditionalists. Well ahead of his time, Wansbrough questions the very basis assumptions of previous scholars in a way that had never before been attempted. Working with the heritage of Joseph Schacht and Ignaz Goldziher before him, Wansbrough approached the Quran in a manner that sees the Muslim tradition as grounded in the dogmas of later centuries. Freed from these constraints, new questions relevant to contemporary scholars had to be asked.

Wansbrough was the first to analyze carefully the documents from the first four centuries of Islam that describe the rise of the Quran to the position of absolute authority in the Muslim community. Although these works were known to exist, no modern scholar had actually read them and tried to make coherent sense of the material. Wansbrough carved out new areas of inquiry and debate for scholars and lay enthusiasts alike.

QURANIC STUDIES deserves serious attention, as a stimulating work of scholarship. Its allusions to biblical and Arabian underpinnings have captured many people's attention and led to numerous exchanges and debates among scholars and others, especially regarding Wansbrough's claim that the Quran was not written down until the third-century hijri (ninth century CE), countering traditional Muslim claims that it originated in the time of Muhammad and was written down shortly thereafter. In response, some decried the publication of QURANIC STUDIES, seeing it as a major impediment to fostering a trust of nonsectarian scholarship among Muslims. Now readers can judge for themselves.

Although QURANIC STUDIES was originally intended for fellow scholars, the Internet has considerably widened its accessibility. Used as a source of authority and critical opinion on polemical sites by both Muslims and Christians, Wansbrough's work has gained a significant profile among professionals and nonprofessionals alike. Nonetheless, it appears that many who cite QURANIC STUDIES have not carefully read it. To counter such ideological and nonscholarly treatments of Wansbrough's ideas, noted Islamic scholar Andrew Rippin has enhanced the work with a valuable foreword, helpful text annotations, and a much-needed glossary to increase the utility of this seminal work for the many avid readers who desire to know more about Islam.

About the Author:

John Wansbrough (1928-2002) was Professor of Semitic Studies and Pro-Director of London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies. Besides Quranic Studies, he also published The Sectarian Milieu (1978), Lingua Franca in the Mediterranean (1996), and many scholarly articles

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