Blurred Boundaries and Novel Normativities


This article discusses critical issues surrounding the Jewish-Muslim encounter, framed as an evaluation of the approach and conclusions of two recent publications by Aaron W. Hughes: Shared Identities: Medieval and Modern Imaginings of Judeo-Islam (2017) and Muslim and Jew (2019). Hughes’s works present a critique of the established historiography on Jewish-Muslim relations and exchanges, examining such subjects as the Jews of late antique Arabia, the Jewish matrix of the Quran and formative Islam, and the Judeo-Islamic synthesis of subsequent centuries. I interrogate Hughes’s use of sources, treatment of previous scholarship, and privileging of the specific lens of the “religionist” in approaching the historical evidence. Both of the works under consideration here exhibit numerous problems of conception and argumentation that undermine their value for broadening current horizons of research or refining prevailing pedagogies. Ultimately, although they provoke numerous important questions and deftly expose the conceptual and ideological underpinnings of older scholarship, the books fail to offer a constructive path forward for specialists or stimulate a meaningful paradigm shift in the field.
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