In the last 20 years, a new class of Muslim intellectuals working in the western academic environment has been actively engaged in the controversial enterprise of developing a theoretical approach to Islam that “liberates” the theological message from its strict reference to dogma. In a number of western debates on the current presence and visibility of Islam in the West, these Muslim scholars express a readiness to break free from the strict disciplinary boundaries of their academic research in order to make statements on Islam, western society, values, and religious universalism in general. Despite their different approaches, these thinkers usually insist that the debate between Islam and modernity/publicity is a matter of complex historical, cultural, and civilizational exchange. This debate is as much concerned with the capacity of Islam to adopt secular paths to modernity as with the ability of western public today to confront Muslims and Islam, first, as an interlocutor and, second, as a structure embedded in the historical narrative of the West.
The hypothesis of my work is that current debates on religion and publics give impetus to a new Western-Islamic public sphere. New actors and observers who criticize the main framework of secularism (Habermas) emerge in the academic and intellectual fields. In the proposed paper, I intend to reveal how this new Islamic critique, present in the work of two disparate Western-Muslim intellectuals—Tariq Ramadan (theology) and Abdelwahab Meddeb (literature)—contributes to the formation of a polyphonic space, beyond the academy, in which numerous (occasionally contradictory and exclusive) arguments meet and exist in infinite dialogue.
|Keywords:||Critical Islam, Ramadan, Abdelwahab Meddeb, Secularism, Public Sphere|
PhD Candidate, Cultural Studies Department, Trent University, Peterborough, Canada