Dissertation Defense: Matthew Taylor
Tuesday, August 15 at 10:00am to 12:00pm
Gervase Building, 101 37th and O St., N.W., Washington
Candidate Name: Matthew Taylor
Major: Theology and Religious Studies
Advisor: Paul Heck, Ph.D.
Title: COMMONSENSE SCRIPTURALISM: THE TEXTUAL IDENTITIES OF SALAFI MUSLIMS AND EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS IN AMERICA
This dissertation compares the American branches of Salafi Islam and Evangelical Christianity, two modern, global, religious revival movements. In the late twentieth century, both movements were labeled forms of religious “fundamentalism” and were interpreted as militant reactions against secular modernity. I revisit their categorization by comparatively analyzing the Salafis’ and Evangelicals’ central discourses: their internal debates about and appeals to scripture, the Qur?an/Hadith and the Bible.
I contend that American Evangelicals and Salafis can more usefully be thought of as “commonsense scripturalists.” Though they have divergent premodern origins (the Protestant Reformation and the Hanbali-Wahhabi revival tradition), in modern America, Evangelicals and Salafis have adapted and convergently evolved a similar trait—namely, a diffuse, commonsense style and idiom of approaching scripture. Each chapter follows a different vector of this parallel adaptation and shows how the movements grew to inhabit contexts of competitive modernity and religious pluralism.
The first two chapters compare the distinct ways Salafis and Evangelicals relate to scripture: reclaiming it from tradition and attaching it to their communal and individual identities. They push aside the interpretive authority of tradition, opting instead for ever-fresh, direct appeals to their sacred texts. This makes Salafis and Evangelicals theologically and practically agile and able to adapt to new circumstances. They call themselves “People of the Hadith” and “Bible-believing Christians” to demarcate their special identities of devotion to the text, over and against their coreligionists. They create diffuse pedagogical infrastructures to enable every individual to engage the Hadith and the Bible directly and personally.
The third and fourth chapters exhibit the similar philosophical frameworks and commonsense scriptural idioms both movements have developed in America. They trust in a single, plain meaning in the scriptural texts. Common sense unifies diverse communities of Salafis and Evangelicals in intuitive, confident—if epistemically circular—appeals to the clarity of their scriptures. But common sense also fragments the scripturalists as differing intuitive interpretations, local common senses, form. Numerous intra-scripturalist conflicts and debates emerge as varying individuals and sub-movements intuit different meanings in the text.
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