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Debating Shirk in Keralam, South India: Monotheism between Tradition, Text and Performance

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      Abstract

      Inspired as much by interfaith dialogue as by ethnographic discussions of intersubjectivity, I draw some narrow debates within Indian Islam outside of their usual South Asianist and/or Islam-centric frameworks and also resist the academic injunction to purify boundaries between theology and anthropological analysis. I present ethnography from Kerala factional debates raising two vexed questions: authority of interpretation; and the matter of shirk or deviation from tauheed, or true monotheism. My analysis follows impulses towards, firstly, a de-exceptionalising of Islam via comparison, drawing ethnography towards a wider ‘Abrahamic’ framework, in an eccentric move of reading Islamic debates through moments in commentary on Christian traditions; and secondly, I engage recent theological moves toward performative and deconstructive readings of religion. In Muslim traditions, Quran and hadith as ultimate authority are supported by the methods of qiyas – analogy – and considerations of ijma – community consensus. From the beginning, Islam has recognised that, “The Quran does not speak with a tongue; it needs interpreters and interpreters are people” (Esack, 1997). Performative and deconstructive understandings of religion are perhaps then already anticipated in the Islamic tradition, unlike (Western) Christianity, which has long been restrained by a narrow focus upon either scriptura or traditio – with the third pole of ‘community consensus’ hidden from sight and not often acknowledged, matters of consensus/performativity only recently becoming recognised as a proper and legitimate part of processes of interpretation, as Dalit, queer and feminist theologies emerge and come of age.

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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            Reader, Dept Anthropology, SOAS, London, GB
            Contributors
            Journal
            2056-6700
            Open Library of Humanities
            Open Library of Humanities
            2056-6700
            02 November 2015
            : 1
            : 1
            10.16995/olh.22
            Copyright: © 2015 The Author(s)

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY 3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/.

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            Self URI (journal-page): https://olh.openlibhums.org/
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