Each year at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature, several thousand scholars gather to read papers and mingle—and, not least, to see the books on display. Often there will be a book or two standing out from all the rest. Where was the convention, not so many years ago, during which everyone seemed to be carrying a copy of Tom Wright's Jesus the Victory Of God or Richard Hayes's The Moral Vision of the New Testament, or both?
At this year's convention, now in progress in Denver, no single title seems to have clearly separated itself from the pack. But there is a noteworthy if entirely unsurprising trend: books on Islam, backlist as well as new titles, are much more prominent than in years past.
Because "modernity," however that protean reality is defined, has been driven by the West, there's a great asymmetry between Islamic knowledge of the West and Western knowledge. Muslim intellectuals are likely to be familiar with the broad currents of modern Western thought and with many influential texts. In the West, the situation is much different. While there is a very strong tradition of specialized scholarship in Islamic studies, the typical Western intellectual is likely to be almost entirely unfamiliar with Islam, with texts both classic and modern, and with the figures whose ideas are helping to shape the Islamic world.
How much that will change in the near future remains to be seen. But there's good reason to believe that there will be staying power to the West's belated "discovery" of Islam. The presence of many young Muslims in Western Europe and the United States will surely lead in time to a greater representation of Islamic voices in the pluralistic public conversation. ...1
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