Orientalist and soc ) ial-science approaches to Qur anic Studies
Pages 17

Arkoun’s attitude to orientalist scholar-

ship is ambivalent. He acknowledges

that during the colonial period advo-

cates of the historical-critical method

performed a valuable task by opening

up fields of enquiry considered taboo by

most Muslims. These included textual

criticism and the chronological ranking

of the suras, both of which are of vital

importance to the historian. However,

he laments that European Qur ) an spe-

cialists have tended to restrict them-

selves to the philological restoration of

the text and the historical reconstruction

of simple facts, and have largely neglected

methodological issues and questions of

an epistemological nature. Similarly,

those concerned with the history of

exegesis have usually focused on the

works of ‘orthodox’ writers and con-

centrated on translating them or sum-

marizing them for the benefit of non-

Arabists. What is needed, and what

Arkoun urges, is a full-scale rethinking

and revitalization of the discipline in

light of the social sciences. It is relatively easy to grasp what this

might entail as regards the history of

interpretation. Instead of majoring in

the key works of scholars who are con-

sidered orthodox or who stand out

because of their intellectual stature,

researchers would seek to situate exeg-

esis within the history of Islamic con-

sciousness of a given society by drawing

on every scrap of available evidence

concerning people’s beliefs and prac-

tices. They would not neglect writers

who belonged to marginalized groups or

run-of-the-mill orthodox scholars. On

the contrary, the works of such indivi-

duals are invaluable for charting shifts

in the boundaries between the thinkable,

the unthinkable and the unthought.