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490 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

uncover the vast heritage of women's lives in different times, places, and contexts
and enable a new possibility of authentic connection. Acceptance of difference is
non-violent; it prevents hierarchical ranking of better and worse or the rendering
of past women into mirror images of ourselves. The notion of solidarity in differ-
ence adds a practical and spiritual element to a feminist retrieval of the commu-
nion of saints. "Then the doctrine is practiced less as a cult of the saints and more
as a discipline or way of remembering and connecting that brings life," leading to
personal and social transformation (180).
Throughout this book Johnson's poetic style engages readers with wit and
grace as she interlocks an unlikely set of themes. She is unbending in her feminist
critique of injustice, the structures of church and society that bring untold suffer-
ing to human persons, especially women, and to the natural life that surrounds
all. She is astute in selection of biblical passages that provide the backbone to a
work that releases the energy and dynamism of the communion of saints. Her
effort to let "the symbol sing again" is a vibrant success.

AnneCarr
University of Chicago

Defenders of Reason in Islam. Mu tazilism from Medieval School to Mod-


ern Symbol. By Richard C. Martin and Mark R. Woodward with Dwi S.
Atmaja. Oneworld, 1997.251 pages. $22.95

Interpretation of Mu'tazilite thought in academic discourse has developed


significantly over the last century. An early European infatuation with rationalist
thought in early Muslim kalam (theology) contrasted Mu'tazilite rationalism
with a supposedly authoritarian, anti-rationalist AsrTarite theology purportedly
eradicating rational thought in later Sunni Muslim theological discourse. A more
nuanced reading of the underlying socio-historical structures that informed both
sides of the debate, as well as a criticism of the dualistic notions inherent in earlier
studies of Muslim theological history, paved the way toward greater sophistica-
tion in dealing with diverse trends in Muslim kalam. The present book is best
understood as an attempt to further such an interpretation.
The authors introduce the reader into issues of continuity and discontinuity
in Muslim theological discourse by providing their own translations of two texts
by self-identified Mu'tazilite theologians hailing from different eras. Kitab al-usul
al-khamsa (Book of the Five Fundamentals) by Abu al-Hasan "Abd al-Jabbar (d.
1024 CE), a medieval Arabic treatise dealing with the foundations of theology as
perceived by Mu'tazilites, is juxtaposed to the authors' translation of a twentieth
century article by the Indonesian scholar Harun Nasution (b. 1919), "Kaum
Mu'tazilah dan Pandagan Rasionalanya (The Mu~tazila and Rational Philoso-
phy)." Nasution is little known in western discourse on Islam; according to the
authors, the present work is to be understood as a "begin [ning] to fill this lacuna
in Islamic studies" (159).
Book Reviews 491

In the words of the authors these texts "contain traces of religious disputes
that, with the continuing spread of Islam, were able to span a millennium and two
very different languages and cultures" (9). Thus from the outset, a continuity of
Mu'tazilite thought is posited, as the authors find a continuity of ideas presented
in these texts.
The primary purpose of the book, the authors tell us, is to show us "how to
think about theological conflict in Islamic societies" (13). As a basic taxonomy of
conflicting parties, the authors introduce the tripartite scheme of rationalist
trends (Mu'tazila thought in particular but kalam also in general) and tradition-
alist trends (critiques of present interpretations in favor of an idealized past) that
both compete with "the orthodox center of Islam" (13). Adding some cautionary
notes as to the heuristic value of these categories, the authors forge ahead in their
presentation.
A chapter tided "The Rise and Fall of the Mu^tazila" traces in broad strokes the
history of Mu'tazilite literary activity from the eighth to the eleventh century C.E.
Reasons for the decline of Mxf tazilite influence in traditional Muslim thought
after the eleventh (or thirteenth) century are explored; and although the au-
thors tell us that "there were many reasons why Hanbali traditionalists, Ashfari
mutakallimun, and others had been able to displace the Mu'tazila from the promi-
nence the school had enjoyed in the ninth and tenth centuries..." (35) only the
decline of political patronage for Mu'tazilite thinkers is cited. Surely other factors
contributed to such displacement The relevance of at least some of the principles
upon which Mu'tazilite identity hinged was strongly connected with particular
questions of the legitimacy of rule in the early history of Islam. These questions no
longer played a major role in classical times, as van Ess has pointed out.
Delving into the translation of \Abd al-Jabbar's work on the five principles of
Mu'tazilite thought, the authors attempt to develop what they refer to as a "thick
description of the five usul" (59ff.), "fleshing out traces of that larger history of
the text" (60). The authors' comparison between a Mu'tazilite insistence of the
createdness of the Qur'an and "Christological debates of early Christianity" (77)
is misleading; a more accurate comparison would refer to the earlier Trinitarian
and Arian controversies. *Abd al-Jabbar's text becomes for the authors the defin-
itory statement of Mu'tazilism against which, in part two of the book, modern
Muslim thinkers are measured. A special emphasis on the place of rationalism
within Mu'tazilite thought gives focus to both the text and its later use.
The concept of rationalism, however, and its historical situatedness within
medieval Islamic discourse are not adequately explored; rather, the term is im-
bued with a fixity that, while allowing the authors to draw bridges between
medieval and modern textual specimens of kalam, oversimplifies rationalism as a
constant, irrespective of socio-historical and epistemological contexts. The prob-
lem of rationalism is alluded to briefly in the latter half of the book in the context
with Charles Adam's criticism of Harun Nasution's doctoral dissertation proposal
at McGill University (167). The crucial point of a distinction between a perceived
rationalism of the Prophet Muhammad and modern rationalism, that is, the his-
toricity of particular discursive modes and practices, is not explored.
492 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Drawing a bridge between medieval and modern times, the second part of
the book deals briefly but insightfully with Ibn Taymiya (d. 1328), Muhammad b.
"Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1787), and Muhammad "Abduh (d. 1906). The authors
emphasize that rationalism also plays a major role in the thought systems of
traditionalist thinkers. Such an emphasis on the place of rationalism in Ibn
Taymiya's and Muhammad b. "Abd al-Wahhab's writings is very welcome,
challenging, as it does, stereotypical equations of traditionalism with anti-
rationalism: "[O]pponents of Islamic modernism, the traditionalists, are not
'irrationalists,' but rather they are proponents of a scripturalist rationalism, a
rationalism put solely in the service of revelation" (119f.) Such a reading, how-
ever, upsets two of the central notions set forth in this book, namely, a) that
Muvtazilism's continuity from medieval to modern times can be established on
the basis of the use of rationalism, and b) that the initially posited dichotomy
between rationalist and traditionalist trends competing with an orthodox center
can be upheld, even as a temporary, heuristic device. In order to overcome such
difficulties the authors would have to explore how a "rationalism put solely in the
service of revelation" differs from Mu'tazilites rationalism(s). This is not done.
What the book lacks, then, is a coherent account of the place of a particular
Mu'tazilite rationalism that is distinct from other rationalisms, yet at the same
time is able to support the authors' claims of a continuity of Mu'tazilite thought.
Realizing such shortcomings in their conceptual framework, the authors in the
end admit the term to be "vague" (220) but insist that on the example of a few
twentieth-century Muslim thinkers a continuity from Mu~tazilism can still be
claimed. Fazlur Rahman is seen as continuing the Mu'tazilite argument for the
createdness of the Qur'an; metaphorical interpretation of anthropomorphic
language in the Qur'an by Mu'tazilites is seen as parallel to Mohammed Arkoun's
hermeneutics; Fatima Mernissi's openness to non-Muslim thought is read as a
parallel to Mu'tazilite reception of Greek philosophy; and Hassan Hanafi's open-
ness to dialogue with the Islamiyun is read as a parallel to Mu^tazilite engagement
in interreligious discourses. What unifies the texts of these modern thinkers, the
authors argue, is "a form of theological 'rationalism' that throughout history has
defined itself doctrinally in opposition to several theological stances, especially
what we have called theological 'traditionalism'" (221).
In the end, then, the authors have to admit that "Mu'tazilism has come to
serve not so much as a doctrinal resource for constructing particular arguments
against contemporary forms of traditionalism, but, rather, as a symbol of the will
to be Islamic in a modern, pluralist world..." (220, emphasis mine). Such a gen-
eral statement, however, carries no illocutionary force.
Editorial shortcomings also detract from the overall value of the book. The
biography of \Abd al-Jabbar is provided twice (33-36; 46,49-52) with consider-
able inconsistencies between the two versions in terms of birth dates, pilgrimages
undertaken, and other significant events in this scholar's life; an all too casual
adoption of the term "postmodern" for contemporary Muslim thinkers (199)
introduces conceptual laxity. Unfortunately, several of Nasution's writings avail-
able in English are omitted from the bibliography.
Book Reviews 493

While the execution falls short of the task, in its primary intent to continue
a discussion of the place of heterodox movements within an Islamic tradition
that is oftentimes perceived in monolithic terms, the book is of value. It chal-
lenges preconceived notions and binary constructions of an essentialized Islamic
theology.

Alfons H. Teipen
Furman University

Varieties of Religious Conversion in the Middle Ages. Edited by James Mul-


doon. University Press of Florida, 1997.208 pages. $49.95.

The differences separating modern and medieval Christianity are nowhere


more apparent than in trying to understand the nature of conversion in the
Middle Ages, perhaps the most fundamental of religious experiences. Many stud-
ies of medieval conversion exist In English alone the gap between A.D. Nock's
Conversion: The Old and the New in ReligionfromAlexander the Great to Augustine
of Hippo (1933) and Karl Morrison's Conversion and Text: The Cases ofAugustine
ofHippo, Herman Judah, and Constantine Tsatsos (1992) can be filled by such his-
torians as T.D. Barnes, Peter Brown, Judith Herrin, J.N. Hillgarth, Kathleen
Hughes, Robin Lane Fox, H. Mayr-Harting, Robert Markus, Edward Peters, and
others. To date, however, no comprehensive study on conversion in the Middle
Ages exists.
Varieties of Religious Conversion in the Middle Ages edited by James Mul-
doon, is a collection of articles based on papers given at the annual International
Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University. The title echoes
William James's Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study of Human Nature
(1902). Muldoon makes clear that the present collection intentionally diverges
from James's work in its survey approach to conversion from Late Antiquity
through the later Middle Ages and does not limit itself to a particular period or
locale. Comprehensiveness, however, is not the goal of this work. The editor read-
ily acknowledges the impossibility of providing a definitive study here and hopes
rather to make a contribution to the larger task of understanding conversion in
medieval Europe. Absent from this collection is a comparison of Christian and
non-Christian views of conversion as well as an old world vs. new world view.
Only passing reference is made to Byzantine conversion policies and the role of
orthodox Christianity in the conversion of eastern and southeastern Europe. The
Byzantine experience of Islam is also beyond the scope of this work.
Yet Varieties ofReligious Conversion in the Middle Ages does not simply cover
old ground. In the first place onefindsaviewof Europe here that includes sources
from northern and eastern Europe often neglected in studies of die Middle Ages.
The examination of the role of secular women in conversion also distinguishes
this collection. The book in fact reflects current interest on this topic particularly
in its stress that "conversion" identifies a range of experiences not simply an indi-