Review Essay: Positivism, Revisionism, and Agnosticism in the Study of Late Antiquity and the Qur'an

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Michael E. Pregill



This essay examines two recent publications relevant to research into the Qur'an's revelatory context in late antique Arabia: G. W. Bowersock’s The Crucible of Islam and Islam and Its Past, edited by Carol Bakhos and Michael Cook. The approaches to questions of Islamic origins, the background to the Qur'an, and the interpretation of the qur'anic corpus in each of these volumes are strikingly different, and tell us much about the contemporary status quo in Qur'anic Studies on these questions, or rather the abiding incoherence of the field. Despite significant advances in the field over the last ten years, a cogent, universally accepted framework for understanding the background of the Qur'an is still lacking, as is a general synthesis of the insights yielded by different methodological approaches. Nevertheless, the approaches of more positivist and more revisionist scholarship are not wholly irreconcilable, and a basic consensus on certain fundamentals (such as the heuristic utility of the basic chronology of revelation), as well as a tacit reconciliation with major aspects of the traditional view, point the way forward for productive research in the future.



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