Rafik Mukhametshin reads the book by Michael Kemper on Sufis and Islamic scholarship in 1789–1889, in the region of present-day Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, from the perspective of current Russian Islamic studies, and finds it uniquely qualified and highly innovative. He explains the originality of Kemper’s methodology against the approaches that have been typical of Soviet and post-Soviet Islamic studies. From the Soviet perspective, the Volga region presented a political and ideological periphery of Islamic civilization, and thus did not deserve close attention. During the post-Soviet period, so-called Russian internal Islam acquired new significance; however, the field attracted many political scientists and historians who had never been trained in Islamic studies. Local Tatar scholars of the late Soviet and post-Soviet generations were trained within the Kazan school of studies of “popular thought.” They are inclined to approach the dynamics of Islam as if studying some generic process of progressive ideological development. Other scholars have difficulties interpreting Arabic-language sources and their complex religious content. Therefore, Kemper’s sophisticated examination of the local Muslim discourse in its own terms, in the general Islamic theological, ideological, and social contexts and comparative perspective, presents a challenge to Russian scholars. In particular, Kemper’s analysis calls for a reconsideration of accepted notions of intellectual history, such as “traditionalist,” “progressive,” or “enlightenment.” He also undermines the accepted understanding of “Islamic discourse” by broadening this concept to include Sufi traditions and practices. Kemper has reconsidered some trends of Islamic discourse that have been defined as “reformist” and “traditionalist” and has explicated their meaning within the theological and social contexts to which they belonged. Mukhametshin encourages Russians to read Kemper’s book as it opens up avenues of thought that are simply unknown to many local specialists on Islam.


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pp. 326-332
Launched on MUSE
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