The book under review is [...] an exercise in contemporary intellectual history. [...] Critically, it not only abandons an essentialist reading of religion as a timeless set of doctrines, practices and rituals, but also distances itself from postmodernist approaches to religion by holding onto the category of religion as a meaningful concept and signifier.
[it] examines the role of three contemporary ‘liberal’ Muslim thinkers who stand outside the mainstream, who have a training in the traditional disciplines of the Islamic space of learning often called the madrasa (or at least have a familiarity with it), and who are not just influenced by but also express the traditions of intellectual fashion current in metropolitan academia and its study of religion. These three voices are Hasan Hanafi, the late Nurcholish Madjid and the late Mohammed Arkoun.
Kersten’s argument is partly that unlike the earlier generation of colonial, modernists who were simply concerned with making Islam ‘relevant’ to the contemporary world through the adoption of modern ideologies, institutions and practices, this generation of thinkers expresses not only a distrust of the possibilities of modernist commensurability but also of the ‘fundamentalist’ quest for authentic being through an atavistic and ahistorical ‘return’ to the pristine, early generation of Muslims, al-salaf al-ṣāliḥ.
...the book offers an excellent corrective to the Middle East focused bias of Islamic studies and is a strong advocate for a serious study of South East Asian studies. It is refreshing to see a ‘view from the edge’, especially given the demographic and institutional significance of Indonesia.Read the full article on Rizvi's MullaSadra blog: Hikmat: Liberal heresy in the contemporary Islamic cosmopolis.