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Sacred Voice, Profane Sight: The Senses, Cosmology, and Epistemology in Early Islamic History

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From the time of the Qur'anic revelation (ca. 609–632 ce) up to the mid 11th century a problematic methodology of knowledge transmission dominated the discursive practices of early Muslim scholars. The methodology capitalized almost exclusively on isnad and narration for the transmission of the prophetic tradition despite widespread literacy in the urban centers of the Islamic world. The methodology was puzzling even for those scholars who practiced it as they offered different speculations about its origins. Finding their accounts wanting I proceed to propose an account for this methodology in terms of interpretive schemas that consist of three models: senso-somatic, cosmological, and epistemological. I show that the first model is composed of two sub-models: a dominant audiocentric model and a recessive ocularcentric model. I also show that the cosmological model is composed of two sub-models: the world of absence and the world of presence. The epistemological model is a propositional model parasitic on the first two models. The proposed analysis explicates these models to demonstrate two points: (1) the intra-model hierarchical structure and inter-models congruence and (2) the motivational force of these models in the persistence of the problematic methodology for more than three centuries despite extensive literacy.

Affiliations: 1: Binghamton University-SUNY, Department of Anthropology, P.O. Box 6000, Binghamton, NY 13902-6000, USA;, Email:


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