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Jameson Cook
Jameson Cook

The Unthought In Contemporary Islamic Thought Review High Quality

Rethinking Islam discusses a range of topics including the various ways in which Islamic ideas have been interpreted over time and the perspective of developments in Islamic countries from their own point of view. A New York Times review called the book "an illustration of the contemporary fecundity of Islam" and called Arkoun "the leading French-language spokesman calling for a rethinking of Islam in a modern mode."[1]

The Unthought In Contemporary Islamic Thought Review

In his work, Arkoun writes on the subject of thought and meaning. He declared there are three categories of thought. He labels these categories as 'thinkable', 'unthinkable' and 'unthought'.[2] Arkoun taught that meaning is generated by semantic creativity, the inventiveness of a subject especially while under the pressure of new and unfamiliar existential demands that necessitate destroying, transforming, or surpassing previous meanings.[3]

Aside from a distinct change in accent in Cak Nur's thoughtbefore and after his Chicago experience, there are also differences betweenCak Nur and Gus Dur in regards to their intellectual outlook and concerns. Incontrast to the urbane Cak Nur, Gus Dur remained much closer to his roots inthe East-Javanese district of Jombang, where his family's Islamicboarding school or pesantren is located, and he was actively involved in thepesantren reforms initiated by Mukti Ali in the 1970s (Barton, 2002, pp.102-116). This is also reflected in his intellectual outlook; while sharingCak Nur's 'universal spirit of humankind', Gus Dur'sconcerns are more pragmatic and contemporary than the theoretical andhistorical interests of Cak Nur. His interpretations have therefore beendescribed as an 'intellectual improvisation of traditionaldoctrine'. And where Nurcholish Madjid had some hesitation in drawingparallels, Abdurrahman Wahid's concern with issues of poverty andjustice were directly influenced by Latin American liberation theology (Ali& Effendy, 1986, pp. 186-7). For that reason, Gus Dur's eclecticintellectualism and vast erudition in Islamic studies literature, as well asless obvious fields such as French cinema has even been explicitly coined theMazhab Islam Kosmopolitan Gus Dur (Abegebriel 2007, pp. v-xxxiv). Moreover,as a member of the NU aristocracy--succeeding his father and grandfather asthe organization's leader in 1984--Gus Dur eventually appeared to have abetter pedigree than Cak Nur for the highest office in the land, even thoughboth their names had been mentioned as possible candidates for the presidency(Azra, 2006a, p. 34). (15)

For example, Yudian Wahyudi (b. 1960), an Islamicist and legalscholar educated at McGill and former researcher at Harvard and TuftsUniversities, has written on Islamic law in Indonesia (2007a, b, c) and madecomparative studies of contemporary Muslim thought (2002, 2003), includingShi'ism (1998). The inclusion of the latter bears further witness to theinclusivist and cosmopolitan interests of Indonesia's new Muslimintellectuals. (18) Ahmad Baso (b. 1971), has analyzed contemporary Islamicthought inside and outside Indonesia (2005) and has written critical studiesof Nurcholish Madjid, Abdurrahman Wahid and others (2006). For these criticalassessments he has drawn on the work of Muslim intellectuals influenced bypoststructuralism and other contemporary intellectual movements, suchMohammed Arkoun, Muhammad Abid al-Jabiri and Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd (Saleh,1999, pp. 284-95). (19)

The philosophies of these thinkers from the Arabic-speaking partof the Muslim world have very firm epistemological groundings, providing theaforementioned Indonesian scholars--as well as similar-minded colleagueselsewhere--with the heuristic tools to transform contemporary Muslim thoughtinto productive ideas for the future. However, the preoccupation withauthenticity found throughout this turath literature is not unproblematic.

Also largely missing from Smith's account, with similarly unfortunate results, is the liberal Protestantism of Albrecht Ritschl, Adolf von Harnack, and Ernst Troeltsch, which dominated German religious thought in the last decades of the nineteenth and first several decades of the twentieth centuries. These figures and their followers were, at their time, arguably much more influential than Nietzsche, who gets his own chapter. To be fair, Troeltsch does get honorable mention in Smith's discussions of Heidegger and of the "dialectical" theologians (186, 209-10, 216-17), but nothing like what would be commensurate to his contemporary importance and influence both inside and outside of Germany. Indeed, this elision is especially regrettable in view of the large role played by Barth and his cohort from the years following World War I in Smith's account. A similar lacuna, which becomes harder to understand in view of Smith's inclusion of Benedict XVI, is post-World War II Roman Catholic thought. The giants of German-speaking Catholic theology (Karl Rahner, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Hans Küng) all engaged extensively and in innovative ways with the same issues that Smith treats, and were in direct conversation with many of the same figures that he does discuss.


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