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Reflections on the work of John Wansbrough

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

At least some of the negative reactions to and neglect of Wansbrough's work is due to the breadth of his erudition and the turgidity of his style. However, these do not detract from the intriguing methods and theories that he brings to the study of early Islamic texts. Wansbrough's literary method is as problematic for what he believes it suggests about the development of early Islam as for his assertion about what it cannot tell us. Two of his speculative historical reconstructions produced by this method deserve special note. His theory concerning the relatively late canonization of the Qur¸ān has certainly generated considerable opposition. His argument that Near Eastern monotheism played a much greater role in the formation of Islam accounts for the many affinities between Islam and Judaism and Christianity, but perhaps not for Islam's distinctiveness. These contributions, among others, are of such great significance, that no student of Islamic origins can afford to ignore them.

Affiliations: 1: Arizona State University


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