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Observations on the Scolarly Study of Religions as Pursued in some Muslim Countries

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The article examines the study of religions at scholarly institutions in Muslim countries. As far as Islam and Islamic thought is concerned, both traditional and overly ideological approaches are problematic from a scholarly point of view. With regard to the study of religions other than Islam, interesting initiatives have been taken in several countries. Difficulties on a practical level include a lack of good handbooks in the “Islamic” languages, while books published in the West are mostly too expensive to acquire. Training in the languages of the various religious Scriptures is virtually absent. History of religions or religious studies have rarely been institutionalized. The study of some religions is seriously handicapped by political conflicts.

Among the positive developments at present is, first, the increased interest in “religions” among students and the general public. The historical, anthropological and sociological research carried out in several Muslim countries pays attention to the social role of religion. A number of Muslim students enrolled at Western universities take courses in religions.

The conclusion contends that the medieval tradition of Muslim studies of other religions could be a source of inspiration for the future. What is still much needed are competent staff, material facilities, a positive climate for intellectual pursuits, technical training in the study of texts, facts and meanings, and mental training for the pursuit of scholarly truth are needed. While perhaps acting as catalysts, Western models should not enjoy absolute authority. The author considers the pursuit of knowledge which is useful both to Muslims and to the scholarly community at large as most important.

Affiliations: 1: Département interfacultaire d'histoire et de sciences des religions Université de Lausanne, BFSH 2 CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland


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