Starting from the concept of a discursive tradition


A review of Talal Asad, The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam, Occasional papers, Washington D.C.: Ctr. for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown, 1986

written by M.L. Fauzi

Talal Asad begins his writing by raising some fundamental questions about anthropology of Islam at both the ontology and the epistemological level. The former one relates to the definition of the anthropology of Islam and the latter concerns its object of investigation. Despite there are a number of argumentations proposed by scholars before him (Gellner, El-Zein, Michael Gilsenan, Fischer, Geertz), they, according to Asad, should be scholarly examined. It is not as simple as saying “Islam is an analytical category” or defining Islam as what Muslims everywhere say it is. Anthropology (of Islam) must be aware of social structure, religious belief, and political behaviour which interact with each other. Besides that, one has to realize the reality of (1) that the social and political structures of Muslims society are varied, (2) that the language is an inadequate instrument to view a society, (3) that schematization of Islam as a drama of religiosity by turning all Islamic behaviour into readable gesture is necessary, (4) that nothing to do with a social blueprint because it is finally the power which constitutes and governs social life, and (5) that institutional relations and condition always change.

However, these all points of objects of investigation, according to Asad, have no coherence with anthropology of Islam. Therefore, he reminds anthropologists to trace back to an essential principle of Islam and to begin their study from the concept of a discursive tradition. Briefly, an anthropology of Islam is responsible to understand the historical conditions and the efforts of practitioners to achieve coherence. Apart from that, reading this article is helpful to get basic understanding on what actually the anthropology of Islam is, what its investigation objects, and how an anthropologist should deal with.


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