"The Modern Authenticity of Islamic Traditions:" Modernity and Multiple Modernities in the Muslim World

By Dietrich Jung
Submitted to Session P4762 (Tradition and Modernity: Reform, Gender, and Neo-traditionalism in Egypt and beyond, 2017 Annual Meeting
Islamic World;
19th-21st Centuries;
The paper takes its empirical departure point in the Islamic reform movement of the nineteenth century. Islamic reformers such as Muhammad Abduh, Rashid Rida, Namik Kemal or Sayeed Ahmed Khan initiated an intellectual development based on the idea that an authentic form of modernity in the Muslim world must be closely linked to Islamic religious traditions. In the course of the twentieth century, these references to religion have gradually assumed a hegemonic status. In the Muslim discourse of modernity “Islam” became the dominant signifier in defining the authenticity of Muslim modernities. In this way, the Islamic reform movement anticipated the theoretical core assumption of contemporary theories of multiple modernities. Originally coined by the late sociologist Shmuel Eisenstadt, the concept of multiple modernities assigns religious traditions a general role in shaping different forms of modernity; traditions become a key variable in the understanding of the factual varieties of social orders we can observe in modern life.

In combining the history of Islamic reform with contemporary discussions in social theory, this paper aims at a critical reflection upon the relationship between tradition and modernity. Instead of understanding modernization as the subsequent retreat of tradition, Eisenstadt brought religion back in. Theories of multiple modernities provide a theoretical framework that enables us to comparatively analyze the simultaneous and often conflictual existence of religious and secular modernities. Theories of multiple modernities, however, have a tendency to deal with civilizations as coherent and bounded “cultural containers.” They suggest a relative cultural homogeneity within civilizations. In sharp contrast to this idea of cultural homogeneity, the idea of an authentically Islamic modernity has historically evolved into a plurality of modern Islamic social imaginations. How to explain this multiplicity of forms of Islamic modernities? The paper answers this question in critically revising Eisenstadt’s theory by conceptual elements of successive and entangled modernities. It will sketch out a more comprehensive reading of multiple modernities and underpin these theoretical propositions with examples form the history of Islamic reform.