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The Politics of Muslim Intellectual Discourse in the West

The Emergence of a Western-Islamic Public Sphere

Dilyana Mincheva specializes in the study of Muslim intellectual history and thought. Her most recent research is engaged with the culturological study of religious change and the ways in which it particularly informs Islam’s literary, artistic and political (self)-representations across of a variety of media. Dr. Mincheva is currently an Assistant Professor in the Cultural Studies Department of Trent University, Canada. She is the bearer of two international awards for research excellence (2012 and 2015) granted by the Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society.

The book is a case study in the literary, psychoanalytic, and theological encounters between diasporic Muslim intellectuals and secular western modernity. It centers on the simultaneous search for the possibility of both a reformation of Islamic fundamentalism and a transformation of the exclusionary limitations of western public institutions. With roots in original research in the fields of comparative religion and cultural studies, and drawing on sources in English, French, and Arabic, the author introduces and elaborates the concept of “Western-Islamic public sphere”. This concept defines what is at stake in the formative play of public representations where traditionalist foundations and modernist adaptations meet, clash, and produce discourse around their common disequilibrium.

The Western-Islamic public sphere (which is secular but not secularist and which is Islamic but not Islamist), within which a critical Islamic intellectual universe can unfold, deals hermeneutically with texts and politically with lived practices. It emerges from within the arc of two alternative, conflicting, yet equally dismissive suspicions defined by a view that critical Islam is the new imperial rhetoric of hegemonic orientalism and the opposite view that critical Islam is just fundamentalism camouflaged in liberal rhetoric. This innovative and original scholarly apparatus offers a third view – one that arises in its practice from ethical commitment to intellectual engagement, creativity, and imagination as a portal to the open horizons of conflictual history.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-765-0
Hardback Price: £45.00 / $54.95
Release Date: January/February 2016
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-838-1
Paperback Price: £25.00 / $34.95
Release Date: October 2016
Page Extent / Format: 196 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No



Introduction: The Damaged Notions of East and West
Main Concepts

Chapter 1: The Politics of Critical Islam
1.1 The Praxis of Critique
1.2. Examples of Religious Heteronomies
1.3. Against Heteronomy
1.4. Theory and Praxis
1.5. The Meaning of Critique

Chapter 2: Critical Islam inside the Academia
2.1. Quranic Hermeneutics: The Work of Muhammad Arkoun and Nasr Abu Zayd
2.2. The Scholarly Projects of Tariq Ramadan, Malek Chebel and Fethi Benslama
2.2.1. Tariq Ramadan
2.2.2. Malek Chebel
2.2.3. Fethi Benslama
2.3. Critical Perspective – Part I

Chapter 3: North-American Post-Colonial Studies and European Polemics against Islam
3.1. The Conundrums of Orientalism: The Reception of Critical Islam in North American Academia
3.2. The Tyranny of Guilt – ACounterresponse
3.3. Critical Perspective – Part II

Chapter 4: Literary Voices Turned Political
4.1. On the Politics of Literary Texts
4.2. Abdelwahab Meddeb’s Public and Literary Project
4.2.1. Reception
4.3. Ali Eteraz’s Children of Dust
4.3.1. Children of Dust in the Perspective of the Western-Islamic Public Sphere
4.4. Poetics of Nadeem Aslam’s Maps for Lost Lovers
4.4.1. Plot and Themes
4.4.2. Maps for Lost Lovers in the Perspective of the Western-Islamic Public Sphere
4.5. Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red
4.5.1. Plot and Structure
4.5.2. Politics of the Literary Masterpiece
4.5.3. A Discussion of Divine Heteronomy

Conclusion: Beyond the Damaged Notions of East and West


Specializing in the study of Muslim intellectual history and thought, Mincheva undergirds her model of the Western-Islamic public sphere with a concept of history as a secular, human affair. She cites “critical Islam” as a practice permanently in the state of questioning, discussing, and periodically changing itself and its subject, which does not aim to eliminate theology, but rather aims to anthropologize religion. She explains theoretically and through analysis of artifacts the importance of critical Islam for the emergence of an intellectual universe with high political stakes, namely the Western-Islamic public sphere. The book focuses on a group of diasporic Muslim intellectuals who are framing a critical intervention in dogmatic Islam discourse — an intervention Mincheva calls the Western-Islamic public sphere.

A long overdue conversation on the place of Islam in the Western Islamic public sphere takes place with an economy of words and a surfeit of intelligent discourse. Critical of shortsighted scholarly debates but appreciative of critical Muslim thinkers, Dilyana Mincheva draws on authors and thinkers who grasp the place of Muslims in the West to show how they refashion the public sphere with their voices and insights. Bold and audacious, readable and insightful, the author begins a conversation that has only just began and will reverberate for some time to come. Crucial reading for anyone interested in critical Muslim thought.
Ebrahim Moosa, University of Notre Dame, USA, author of Ghazali and the Poetics of Imagination, UNC Press, 2005 (winner of the American Academy of Religion's Best First Book in the History of Religions Award in 2006)

Dilyana Mincheva’s Critical Islam challenges the essentialist West vs. Islam binary that persistently obscures what is in fact a multifaceted relationship. Defiantly presenting ‘critical Islam’ as a viable third way that is neither an Orientalist nor Islamist apologetics, the author has deftly navigated between the writings of Muslim intellectuals working in the West and their critics. The book’s focus on both academic and literary contributions rather than the debates on political Islam per se offers a more rounded and balanced account of contemporary Muslim discourses than the misdirected polemics which, in the current polarised climate, seem to dominate discussions of the place of Islam in the contemporary world. Mincheva makes a compelling argument that also scholarship and creative writing are an integral part of the lived experience of Muslims in the West. With that Critical Islam is a welcome addition to a – thankfully – growing body of writings that refuses to submit to or perpetuate the obsolete Muslim-non-Muslim dichotomy of an increasingly interconnected world.
Dr. Carool Kersten, King’s College London, and author of Cosmopolitan and Heretics (Columbia University Press, 2011)

In this impressive study, Dilyana Mincheva provides a much-needed corrective to existent studies that seek to delineate simplistically the relationship between Islam and secularism. She does so by nuancing the open space between dogmatism – whether supplied by Islam or secularism. The introduction of the term ‘Western-Islamic public sphere’ subsequently enables her to demonstrate with analytic clarity the disequilibrium between tradition and modernism.
Aaron W. Hughes, University of Rochester, Philip S. Bernstein Chair of Jewish Studies, and editor-in-chief of Method and Theory in the Study of Religion

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