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THE LIMITS OF R E L I G I O U S CRITICISM IN THE M I D D L E EAST Notes on Islamic Public Argument Critical Reason, the State, and Religion in the Enlightenment Non-Westerners who seek to understand their local histories must also inquire into Europe's past, because it is through the latter that universal history has been constructed. That history defines the former asmerely "local55 —that is, ashistories with limits. The contemporary history of political Islam has been defined in just thisway. The European Enlightenment constitutes the historical site from which Westerners typically approach non-Western traditions. That approach has tended to evaluate and measure traditions according to their distance from Enlightenment and liberal models. Thus, Islamic states are typically regarded as absolutist, and the practice of public criticism isseen asalien to them. But how did Europeans in that era of early modernity connect public critical discourse with religion while living under an absolute ruler? My position is that anthropologists who seek to describe rather than to moralize will consider each tradition in its own terms—even as it has come to be reconstituted bymodern forces—in order to compare and contrast it with others. More precisely, they will try to understand ways of reasoning characteristicof given traditions. Such anthropologists will also need to suppress their personal distaste for particular traditions if they are to understand them. Beyond that, they should learn to treat some of their own Enlightenment assumptions as belonging to specific kinds of reasoning—albeit kinds of reasoning that have largely shaped our modern world—and not as the ground from which all understanding of non-Enlightenment traditions must begin. 200 6 Religious Criticism in the Middle East 201 In this section I look at some aspects of Enlightenment reasoning briefly and mainly as they appear in Kant's famous essay "An Answer to the Question: 'What Is Enlightenment:13 " This involves determining the limits imposed on religion by the early modern state. In the next section I begin my extended account of public criticism that takes place in a contemporary religious state: Saudi Arabia. Before concluding , I raise a few general questions regarding critical practices in the political relations between Western and Westernizing societies. Although I have chosen Kant for initial attention, I do not take him to be representative of the Enlightenment as a whole,1 any more than I take asrepresentative of all Islam the Saudi theologians whom I discuss later. But in saying this I merely concede that no one text or authorially defined set of texts—or, for that matter, no single generation of authors—can adequately represent a complex, developing tradition of discussion and argument.2 Particular texts draw on or resist, reformulate and quarrel with, others that constitute the tradition (see Maclntyre 1988). Thus, the temporal situatedness of all texts (their sequential aswell ascoexistential links) renders all abstractions partial, provisional, and limited to particular purposes. As an anthropologist or a historian, one approaches the tradition from particular directions and tries to describe the positions taken up by proponents, as far as possible in their own terms. One chooses to describe what isjudged to have been historically decisive for the tradition, or to be especially relevant today, or both. Allowing for this qualification, Kant's text may nevertheless be taken as marking a formative moment in the theorization of a central feature of "civil society," the feature concerning the possibilities of 1. It could scarcely be otherwise, for as Peter Gay (1973, xii)writesin the preface to his monumental study of the Enlightenment: "The men of the Enlightenment were divided by doctrine, temperament,environment, and generations. And in fact the spectrum of their ideas, their sometimes acrimoniousdisputes, have tempted many historians to abandon the search for a single Enlightenment." And yet, "while the Enlightenment was a family of philosophes, it was something more as well: it was a cultural climate, a world in which the philosophes acted, from which they noisily rebelled and quietly drewmany oftheir ideas,and on whichthey attemptedto imposetheirprogram." 2. One is reminded here of Volosinov's strictures against the methods of classical philology, made over sixty years ago: "Any utterance—the finished, written utterance not excepted—makes response to something and is calculated to be responded to in turn. It isbut one link in a continuous chain of speech performances. Eachmonument carries on the work of its predecessors, polemicizingwith them, expectingactive, responsive understanding,and anticipating such understandingin return" (1973,72). 202...


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