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The Expansion of the Prophetic Experience: 'Abdolkarīm Sorūš's New Approach to Qur'ānic Revelation

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[Indubitably, Iranian thinker 'Abdolkarīm Sorūš (b. 1945) in the course of the Islamic Republic's history has undergone an impressive change from establishment ideologist to its most prominent dissident. From 1980 on, he was a member of the Council of the Cultural Revolution, an organisation that dismissed oppositional, i.e. secular minded professors from their university posts, and he often appeared on TV as the Islamic Republic's apologist denouncing the left wing's ideology. But in the late 1980s, Sorūš published his epistemological theory of the evolution of religious knowledge in Keyhān-e Farhangī magazine. Controversies between the magazine's state-appointed publisher and the two journalists who had accepted Sorūš's articles for publication inspired the latter to found Kīyān magazine, which was Sorūš's mouthpiece as much as it became the most important platform of the religious newthinkers, and the religious reform's backbone until its proscription in 2001. Sorūš's transition to a post-Islamist thinker began with his theory of what he chose to call theoretical contraction and expansion of the šarī'a and it continued with his theory of religious-democratic government. In all of his later essays, he spoke out against the monopolization of exegesis by one single social class and against tendencies of taking fatwās for religion itself. In 1997, he published his probably most radical theory, which however was not widely noted until 2007, when the English translation of the essay in question was about to be published and Sorūš spoke of it in an interview. In what did finally appear in English under the title “The Expansion of Prophetic Experience” in 2009, he argued that “like a poet, the Prophet transmits the divine inspiration into the language he knows, the styles and images he masters, and the knowledge he possesses”. And this human view of the Qur'ān makes it possible to distinguish between what he calls the 'essential' and the 'accidental' aspects of religion. Some parts of religion are historically and culturally determined and no longer relevant today. At this epistemological revolution, some of Sorūš's critics accused him of having left his faith for good; others see in it a chance to bring about Islam's aggiornamento., Indubitably, Iranian thinker 'Abdolkarīm Sorūš (b. 1945) in the course of the Islamic Republic's history has undergone an impressive change from establishment ideologist to its most prominent dissident. From 1980 on, he was a member of the Council of the Cultural Revolution, an organisation that dismissed oppositional, i.e. secular minded professors from their university posts, and he often appeared on TV as the Islamic Republic's apologist denouncing the left wing's ideology. But in the late 1980s, Sorūš published his epistemological theory of the evolution of religious knowledge in Keyhān-e Farhangī magazine. Controversies between the magazine's state-appointed publisher and the two journalists who had accepted Sorūš's articles for publication inspired the latter to found Kīyān magazine, which was Sorūš's mouthpiece as much as it became the most important platform of the religious newthinkers, and the religious reform's backbone until its proscription in 2001. Sorūš's transition to a post-Islamist thinker began with his theory of what he chose to call theoretical contraction and expansion of the šarī'a and it continued with his theory of religious-democratic government. In all of his later essays, he spoke out against the monopolization of exegesis by one single social class and against tendencies of taking fatwās for religion itself. In 1997, he published his probably most radical theory, which however was not widely noted until 2007, when the English translation of the essay in question was about to be published and Sorūš spoke of it in an interview. In what did finally appear in English under the title “The Expansion of Prophetic Experience” in 2009, he argued that “like a poet, the Prophet transmits the divine inspiration into the language he knows, the styles and images he masters, and the knowledge he possesses”. And this human view of the Qur'ān makes it possible to distinguish between what he calls the 'essential' and the 'accidental' aspects of religion. Some parts of religion are historically and culturally determined and no longer relevant today. At this epistemological revolution, some of Sorūš's critics accused him of having left his faith for good; others see in it a chance to bring about Islam's aggiornamento.]

Affiliations: 1: Zürich

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