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One of the characteristics of the 'conservative religious revival' movements in Judaism, Christianity and Islam is the commitment to a scriptural text as the sole source of knowledge, and an insistence on the literal interpretation of this text. However little has been to done to investigate this phenomenon of interpretation which proposes the literal meaning as the only acceptable one.
This book fills this gap with respect to Islam, looking both at literal meaning and literalism. The focus is on the tradition of Muslim legal writings: in this literature there exists a complex procedure of how to identify the literal meaning and the role it has in interpreting texts.
The author also makes reference to Quranic exegesis (tafsir) and Arabic rhetorical works, since many of the ideas of legal hermeneutics were derived from these cognate traditions of learning. The overall aim is to take an important modern phenomenon (Muslim commitment to the literal meaning of the revelatory texts) and place it in an historical context.
The Muslim debates analysed in the book are described through the prism of modern Western linguistic philosophy, and a chronology of the development of Muslim conceptions of literal meaning structures the book.