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Disciplinary Epistemologies

Panel V-30, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
  • For centuries, many Arabic literary critics have harbored a notable bias against poetry composed in what has now come to be termed “colloquial” varieties of Arabic. This bias manifests itself differently across eras, yet has always been strikingly apparent to anyone familiar with the Arabic poetic tradition and its renowned critics. Nevertheless, there have been very few studies that deal with this bias, its roots, logic, and why it continues in Arabic literary criticism and scholarship until this very day. This issue should urgently be discussed, as poetry composed in what is now known as fuṣḥā is but a fraction of the many poems belonging to a diverse array of poetic traditions and heritages that can fall under the umbrella of “Arabic poetry.” In essence, most scholars have studied the poetry of the elite few while disregarding and sometimes actively excluding the “non-standard” popular poetic traditions. My project deals with the roots of this bias in the process of canonization and standardization of the Arabic language, focusing on the role poetry played in that process. This process contributed not only to establishing a distinct model for the classical Arabic qaṣīda, but also to the exclusion of other non-qaṣīda forms of Arabic poetry. A curious case is another fuṣḥā form of poetry, rajaz, which was largely excluded but gradually made its way into the classical canon. I also discuss the works of scholars of the Classical era such as al-Jāḥiẓ (d. 868 AD/255 AH) and ‘Abd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī (d. 1078 AD/471 AH) among others, examining how their ideologies helped form and maintain a bias against “colloquial” forms of poetry. Their attitudes towards non-classical poetry strike us as what we would now term “elitist”. This would not only lead to their dismissal of non-qaṣīd poetry but also of colloquial varieties as a whole.
  • The collapse of fact-value dualism announced by prominent, contemporary moral philosophers and philosophers of science has prompted leading historians to reassess some of the principal assumptions of their disciplines. Few scholars have embraced this task with greater candour and perspicacity than Wael Hallaq. In a series of acclaimed publications, Hallaq uncovers the ways fact-value dualism has shaped and distorted our understanding of Islamic intellectual history and the interpretation of Islam’s seminal texts. Hallaq argues that fact-value dualism is a distinctly modern, western doctrine, part of the baleful legacy of the Enlightenment and positivism that continues to haunt the study of premodern Islam. Far from being a transcendental truth, Hallaq argues that the Qur’an and the Islamic tradition more generally were not burdened by the false doctrine of fact-value dualism, but in them fact and value were “one and the same” and formed a “unity.” In this paper, I discuss Hallaq’s ambitious claim that this doctrine, which we might call *fact-value monism*, characterises the Islamic tradition. I present evidence that leading medieval Qur’an exegetes did not read the Qur’an in the way that Hallaq implies they must have if fact-value monism correctly represents the metaphysical outlook of premodern Islam. First, the radical anthropocentrism of the fact-value monism Hallaq attributes to premodern Islam is at odds with how prominent exegetes interpret cosmological verses linked to human interests. Second, Hallaq consistently characterises divine creativity as fulfilling a purpose in a way that is out of step with many Sunnī theologians and Qur’an exegetes who explicitly deny that God acts to achieve ends. Third, in interpreting cosmological verses, leading exegetes turn to Ptolemaic and Aristotelian cosmological models rather than “moral cosmologies” to interpret the Qur’an’s descriptions of the cosmos. Finally, exegetes identify forms of reasoning they believe the Qur’an takes for granted in its readers, reasoning in which readers distinguish between the way the world actually is and counterfactual alternatives the reasoner nevertheless entertains as possible owing to *epistemic values* such as simplicity, uniformity, arbitrariness and patternedness. They appear to assume that the Qur’an takes for granted that epistemic values permeate human experience of and reasoning about the natural world. I conclude that, in premodern Islam, facts and values each played vital rôles in theoretical and practical reasoning, rôles in which they were entangled but remained, nevertheless, distinct.
  • Research in the social sciences and humanities faces many challenges in the Global South. One of the most prominent challenges lies in the debate over the approach of “deconstructing colonial knowledge” (Edward Said, Ghatari Spivak and Saba Mahmoud) over the theoretical frameworks used by researchers in the Global South. Despite the predominance of these debates in the Global South, they are nothing other than an echo of Eurocentric academia debates. Consequently, obscuring the possibilities of South-South dialogue on the problems facing knowledge production in their countries. Although it is not possible to talk about a single structure of knowledge that we can attribute to knowledge production in the Global South, many of these countries share a similar predicament when it comes to humanities and social sciences (HSS), to name some of these challenges: the constant question of relevance to social reality; Another challenge is the obsession with “Intellectual Independence,” whereby every attempt to think “philosophically” challenged by a question about the originality of thought. One way this problem manifests itself is in the question of knowledge categorization. I argue in this paper that the term “Arabic Thought” has been used as a vacuum category, where all knowledge that does not fall under predetermined fields of knowledge is stored in. Similarly, it’s used to make them a subject of study, which imposes the idea that they cannot be part of cumulative knowledge and deals with them as raw material, providing the substance for producing “real” knowledge. I also argue that bridging South-South thought can substitute a body of knowledge with shared concerns. However, I do not aim for a “comparative philosophy” approach where each intellectual product risks the collapse into Culture. While doing so, I question the need for “normativity” to produce knowledge, asking what substitutes a “legitimate field of knowledge.” My paper will be structured in the following way: I start with an inquiry into the term categorization because the current categorization of knowledge into regions of the Global South (i.e., Arabic thought, Indian thought, etc.) hinders links to be made between shared experiences of societies; therefore a new categorization using common themes is necessary. Then I provide a short essay on the history of knowledge to emphasize the historicity of knowledge production. Finally, this paper’s primary approach will draw a line between Arabic thought and the knowledge produced in the Global South using different theorization attempts of “intellectual independence.”
  • Postcolonial theory has been deeply influential across the social sciences for at least four decades. It has served as an epistemological project and a critique. A postcolonial lens is one that is meant to correct/ resist the epistemic violence inflicted through Western knowledge production (Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin, 2003). In doing so it posits the issue of “intercultural relativism and incommensurability as a matter of fundamental significance” (Chatterjee, 1986). Postcolonial studies are now a space to challenge modern concepts, be that the individual, nation-state, democracy, class, or, very broadly, science as universalizable or as reference points in relation to which the colonized self gets positioned (Said, 1978; Bhabha, 1994; Chatterjee, 1986; Spivak, 2008; Chakrabarty, 2008; Gupta, 1998; Bhambra, 2007; Kapur, 2013; Mahmood and Asad, 2009). Postcolonial theory has come under criticism for a variety of reasons. An important one has been the basis from which it mounts its critique, namely, the link it draws between colonialism and modernism (Williams, 1993; Pieterse, 2000; Nanda, 2001). Critics argued that this link has led to a worrying rejection of Enlightenment ideals which is often harmful for the subaltern subject and has led to the endorsement of the same cultural essentialism that postcolonial theory supposedly seeks to challenge (Nanda, 2001; Bhambra, 2007; Chibber, 2014), an act which even postcolonial theorists recognize and embrace as a “strategic” choice (Spivak, 1988; Dabashi, 2013). Even though skeptics have raised important issues, both analytical and normative, with post-colonial theory, this body of work remains a dominant framework across the social sciences, and particularly in area studies. Those studying the “Third World” simply have to engage with postcolonial theory and ideas. Taking into account the valuable criticisms addressed to the postcolonial framework, I problematize its dominance in the field. I pose the questions: How does postcolonial theory critique modernism and conceptions of modernity? How does postcolonial theory’s critique of modernism theory pose a danger to Subaltern resistance? I tackle these questions by addressing the relationship of postcolonial theory to reactionary political movements, particularly in the Arab region and by referring to the (im)possibilities of separating the analytical value of postcolonial theory from its role as a normative project.
  • Fictional worlds are moral worlds. That is, fictional narratives function according to moral logics, and those logics, in turn, suggest both moral critique and moral vision. A story’s exploration of moral themes can be discerned in numerous aspects of any story’s telling -- world-building, setting, characterization, plot, dialogue. The particular moral logic embedded in a fictional work may reflect the social, political, or cultural milieu of the work, the personal experience of the author, or theoretical sources such as religion, philosophy, or ideology. In the body of fiction being produced by Muslim American writers, these embedded moral logics often draw on Islamic religion, Islamicate cultures, and Muslim experiences. Aspects of religion – such as piety, doctrine, morality, ritual, etiquette, speech, and community, among others – are interwoven throughout these works’ discourses and become vehicles of moral exploration. At the same time, through the elements of storytelling, these authors configure and reconfigure aspects of Islamic religion – including morality – in new ways. Through their creative work, Muslim American fictionists are contributing to the moral logics of Islamic religion. In my presentation, I explore religious and moral discourse – that is, moral themes, critiques, and visions – in a few Muslim American novels that are amenable to such analysis: City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami, The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Masood, Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa, and American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar. I aim to show how attention to the specifically religio-moral discourses of these stories allows us to the see the work that they do in shaping Islamic morality.
  • We live in a world that focuses on the ugly. Hate crimes, political polarity, and the looming doom of the climate crisis are but a few headlines that make up our insatiable news feeds. When it comes to the Muslim world, the ugliness is exacerbated with Islamophobia on one end and Islamic fundamentalism on the other. Their rhetoric often uses religion to justify atrocities on either end. The ugliness impacts the lives of millions of people inside and outside the Muslim world. While it is important to address such issues in an effort to find solutions, this paper proposes a supplemental approach. In this paper I present a new theological framework that posits iḥsān as a Qurʾānic epistemology. How the concept of iḥsān represents an overarching epistemology in the Qurʾān is the key point of inquiry in this study. What role does iḥsān hold in the Qurʾānic moral fabric? How does the Qurʾān construct a worldview that centers iḥsān? In what ways is iḥsān used to mitigate ugliness? These are some of the questions this paper explores. The triliteral Arabic root ḥ.s.n. combines the meanings of beauty and goodness, it occurs 194 in the Qurʾān. Through a comprehensive and holistic intra-Qurʾānic investigation, I trace the different occurrences of the root to analyze the conceptual meaning of iḥsān in the Qurʾān. I adopt the tools of literary analysis and the principles of Arabic morphology to construct an iḥsān paradigm in the Qurʾān. In this paradigm the Qurʾān centers iḥsān as a marker of Creator and of creation, one that lies at the core of a harmonious universe. The Qurʾān then mandates believers to reciprocate iḥsān as part of an ongoing God-human dialectic. In this paper, I demonstrate how the Qurʾān adopts iḥsān as an overarching epistemological lens in which ethics and aesthetics are combined to counter ugliness in its various forms. The ramifications of these findings impact issues related to the fields of religious ethics, positive psychology, conflict resolution, inter-faith dialogue, and environmental protection to name a few.