The State Of The Field

Drawing together the core topics of Muslim theology from these historically distinct disciplines has brought into sharp relief the very fragmented and sometimes idiosyncratic nature of Western scholarship of Islam, the tradition sometimes known as ''Orientalism''. Overwhelmingly this discipline has been built up from contributions made by individuals, not by schools. Thinkers and texts are brought to the fore during a scholar's lifetime, and may then quickly sink into undeserved obscurity. Occasionally, cultural prejudices which designate Islam as a ''religion of law'' with no natural metaphysical concerns have been salient, and on occasion, such presumptions have uneasily recalled anti-Semitic parallels.8 Yet the huge contributions made by the small number of persistent leaders in this discipline are impossible to ignore: texts have been rescued from obscurity and expertly edited, and important studies have been published on many leading thinkers, particularly al-Ash'ari, al-Maturidi, al-Ghazali and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, with the pace of publication quickening somewhat in recent years. As this volume demonstrates, many of the younger scholars in the field are Muslims, and the fact that, as in other ''Orientalist'' disciplines such as qur'anic studies, they have adapted so well to the discipline's paradigms, suggests that older ideas of Western Islamic studies as a monolithic and structurally anti-Islamic project now need to be modified, if not discarded altogether.

Yet the field is visibly deficient. Resources and posts in Muslim theology in Western universities remain woefully inadequate, even when compared to the situation in Chinese and Indic studies, and the appeal of the field to students whose initial interest in Islam, in the imperial and modern periods alike, may have been triggered by contemporary political, social, or legal issues, has been limited. This unfortunate situation has been further exacerbated by the sheer immensity of the literature, most of which remains in manuscript. Attention continues to be focused on the central Islamic lands, and although most accept that the kalam curriculum was fairly consistent throughout the ''high'' institutions of the pre-modern Islamic world,9 our detailed knowledge of traditional Muslim metaphysics in regions such as South-East Asia must be described as embryonic. As a result, current Western scholarship cannot, with perfect honesty, present anything like a complete synthetic history of Muslim intellectuality, or even a definitive list of the major thinkers. This is particularly true for the later period. Although, thanks to the efforts of Henry Corbin, Hossein Ziai and others, we are aware of the continuing vitality of Islamic philosophy in the later centuries, and indeed, up to the present day, the history of kalaam after the thirteenth century largely remains terra incognita.

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