Coleman, “Afterword: De-exceptionalising Islam.”

Coleman, Simon. 2012. “Afterword: De-exceptionalising Islam.” In Articulating Islam: Anthropological Approaches to Muslim Worlds. Edited by Magnus Marsden and Bryan Turner, 247-258. New York: Springer.

Excerpt:  “The point here is not to argue, in procrustean fashion, that, far from being irredeemably ‘Other’, Islam actually turns out to be just like other world religions, such as Christianity. This kind of claim – a kind of Orientalism replaced by a form of intellectual McDonaldization – would combine ethnographic naivety with a contradiction of this volume’s message concerning Islam’s ‘immanent’ resistance to being separated out into an autonomous realm of belief and action. However, such reflections should lead us to a question raised about the anthropology of any world religion, once we start to worry at ‘exceptionalisms’ or ‘essentialisms’: what is actually gained by confining our theoretical questions and comparisons to cases relating to any single religion? This issue is raised forcefully by Chris Hann (2007:402) in relation to the burgeoning anthropology of Christianity, where he criticizes the idealism behind calls to explore the ‘cultural logic’ of the religion, and indeed questions (ibid.:406) Joel Robbins’s attempt (2003) to present the anthropology of Islam as exemplary for that of Christianity. Hann summarizes Robbins’s approach as stating that ‘similar progress [to that made on Islam] might be made with Christianity if all those working on Christian groups were to prioritize the theme of religion and engage systematically with each others’ work’ (Hann 2007:406). By ways of contrast, Hann challenges the very idea of demarcating one world religion as a suitable domain for comparison, and argues instead for an approach that proceeds on the basis of identifying analytical problems (such as Christian and non-Christian ideas of transcendence, Catholic versus Muslim notions of mediation, and so on). In some respects, we already see this approach played out in the present volume. For instance Retsikas invokes the work of Thomas Csordas (1994) on charismatic Catholicism in juxtaposing Charismatic and experiences of the immanent presence of the divine. Gabriele vom Bruck’s invocation of David Freedberg’s The Power of Images, (1989) in her discussion of photographic representations of women also opens a window to the kind of comparative observations that Freedberg himself makes . . .. “