A New Network for Quranic Studies
The following press release just arrived:
The (American-based) Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) has been awarded a $140,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to support a three-year consultation that will explore the formation of an independent network of Quranic scholars. This international consultation will meet to evaluate and frame a vision and mission for a professional organization, namely, a Society for Quranic Studies.
This is an interesting development. I remember meeting my first scholar in Islamic Studies several decades ago in Canada, and asking him what was the state of textual criticism of the Quran (given my own early text-critical work on the NT). He responded that you can’t do that sort of work. When I asked why, he replied that if you did text-critical work on the Quran you’d never be allowed into a Muslim country. So, he continued, “We do other things.”
I know that in traditional Muslim faith the Quran is the veritable words of Allah, and is thought of as miraculously transmitted down the ages with no textual variation whatsoever. Muslim apologists often make unfavorable comparisons with the biblical texts, which unquestionably show the sort of textual variation that accrues to any writing transmitted by hand-copying. But, to anyone else, it will likely be obvious that textual transmission phenomena affect any text copied by hand. Texts can be copied with comparatively greater or lesser skill and care, but changes, both accidental and intentional will happen, unavoidably.
So, let us hope that scholars occupied with the Quran will be able to bring to bear upon this massively important text all the critical skills and questions that have been applied to the biblical texts for several centuries now. The religious value of such a text isn’t necessarily imperilled by taking seriously the historical circumstances in which it was written and transmitted to us.