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A New Network for Quranic Studies

May 30, 2012

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.

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  1. Glad to see this development, however only brave souls will take on the challenge of critiquing the Quran. We cannot underestimate the animosity Muslims have to such an undertaking — however, they’re happy to read and remember all of the critical biblical scholarship.

  2. Reblogged this on Persona and commented:
    Quranic textual criticism?

  3. Bobby Garringer permalink

    I recently had a discussion with a Muslim graduate student. He was busy trying to convince others that they should convert to Islam. He had a lot to say about New Testament textual criticism — based almost entirely on the writings and videos of Bart Ehrman and some Islamic scholars.

    He cited the Quran on some details of the life of Jesus, including his birth and death. When I asked him why he thought those details should be believed, he looked surprised. So I re-worded the question to “Why should those stories be believed since they were written long after the New Testament documents and had no claim to historical or textual superiority?”

    He never responded.

    I later realized, upon reflection, that for him to even consider the question as valid would have been a violation of his faith. It’s hard for me to imagine Islamic scholars endorsing a legitimate textual study of the Quran.

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