Society, Politics, and Economy in Modern Turkey: Sociology of Turkey - Maintained by Tugrul Keskin
We are at a point in our work when we can no longer ignore empires and the imperial context in our studies. (p. 5)
― Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Defending the Current Academic Orthodoxy in Islamic Studies: A Response to Bruce Lawrence

Ali Mirsepassi and Tadd Fernee

Sociology of Islam, Volume 3, Issue 3-4, pages 107 – 124


Upon publishing our book, we expected colleagues to perhaps challenge us and write critical reviews.1 We wrote it with the intention of offering a critical study of the ‘new orthodoxy’ in Islamic studies, and particularly in fashionable us academic circles. However, we treated the scholars we criticized with utmost respect. We believe that our critical arguments are fair, and based on a careful reading of their works. It was sad and unexpected to read Professor Bruce Lawrence’s harshly aggressive yet complacently inattentive review of our book. Lawrence seems unhappy that our approach to Islam comes from a sociological and perhaps ‘non-believer’ perspective. His hostility, it appears, reflects personal intolerance rather than scholarly vocation. This is confirmed by the resolute refusal to analyze, even superficially, the book’s intellectual content or specific arguments. Lawrence prefers to simply smear its credibility based on innuendo and petty pretext. Without saying so directly, Lawrence employs the weight of his considerable reputation to defend the existing aca- demic orthodoxy in contemporary Islamic studies. This orthodoxy features an uncritical and idealized view of religion, combined with a highly critical atti- tude to a nebulously conceived modernity. Violence committed in the name of religion is either passed over in silence, or explained away in terms of a mis- reading of the holy sources. It is occasionally rationalized as a struggle of sub- jugated knowledge against hegemonic modernity. We now take the time to reply to Lawrence’s review of our book.2 Worse than simple disagreements (which are welcome and interesting), or errors of interpretation (which are understandable), the deliberate falsifications in Lawrence’s review raise serious issues of scholarly integrity. The tone is openly hostile, while refusing to discuss the book’s arguments even superficially. Lawrence stridently upbraids superficial and contingent details (one incoher- ence in the spelling of a name, otherwise spelled uniformly across several hun- dred pages), while ridiculing theses that never appear in the book at all. Lawrence seems especially displeased that the book does not deal primarily with Iran since ‘the authors are mostly Iranian’ (Lawrence 2015: 2). Given that there are two authors, and one is Iranian, how can they be mostly Iranian? It seems that Lawrence is either making a mathematical blunder, or an unkind insinuation concerning one of the two co-authors. Given that he writes his review as if only one author exists, it must certainly be the latter.


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