1st Edition

Contemporary Thought in the Muslim World Trends, Themes, and Issues

By Carool Kersten Copyright 2019
    228 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    228 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book presents an intellectual history of today’s Muslim world, surveying contemporary Muslim thinking in its various manifestations, addressing a variety of themes that impact on the lives of present-day Muslims.

    Focusing on the period from roughly the late 1960s to the first decade of the twenty-first century, the book is global in its approach and offers an overview of different strands of thought and trends in the development of new ideas, distinguishing between traditional, reactionary, and progressive approaches. It presents a variety of themes and issues including: The continuing relevance of the legacy of traditional Islamic learning as well as the use of reason; the centrality of the Qur’an; the spiritual concerns of contemporary Muslims; political thought regarding secularity, statehood, and governance; legal and ethical debates; related current issues like human rights, gender equality, and religious plurality; as well as globalization, ecology and the environment, bioethics, and life sciences.

    An alternative account of Islam and the Muslim world today, counterbalancing narratives that emphasise politics and confrontations with the West, this book is an essential resource for students and scholars of Islam.


    1 The Problem of Taxonomy

    2 Philosophies of Knowledge

    3 Scripture

    4 Spiritual Dimensions of Contemporary Muslim Thought

    5 Islam and Politics

    6 Shariʿa

    7 Dealing with Difference and Plurality

    8 Issues of the Twenty-first Century


    Carool Kersten is Reader in the Study of Islam and the Muslim World at King's College London, UK. His previous publications include A History of Islam in Indonesia (2017) and Cosmopolitans and Heretics: New Muslim Intellectuals and the Study of Islam (2013).

    ‘Carool Kersten offers us a much-needed compass through the wide landscape of contemporary Muslim thought addressing some of the burning intellectual, ethical, legal and political issues of the Muslim world, from the Middle East, to North and South Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and Oceania. The complex, varied and nuanced picture he depicts is a valuable service to the growing field of contemporary Islamic intellectual history.’ – Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, Qatar

    ‘Carool Kersten captures a breathtakingly vast canvas of Islamic thought in a brilliant, effortless and digestible manner in this book.  Encompassing philosophy, theology, history, politics and ethic, among other subjects, Kersten provides a lucid reading of especially the contemporary debates and intellectuals who are earnestly engaged with the construction and critique of Muslim thought. Readers, especially students, will greatly profit from both the historical details and the contours of ideas generated by an array of modern thinkers hailing from different geographical locations, which is also the strength of the book. The author dissects the critical debates and offers the reader a valuable and informative read.’ – Ebrahim Moosa, Professor of Islamic Studies, University of Notre Dame, USA

    ‘In this timely book Carool Kersten treats us to the most comprehensive and accessible investigation of contemporary Islamic thought ever written. The book explores the social and political relevance of Islamically inflected, contemporary intellectual thought, its ambivalent interfacing with the discourse of secularity, its feeding into citizenship claims, and its ingraining into movements of democratization, along with its exposure to repression by state authorities. A profound familiarity with distant and diverse parts of the Muslim intellectual multiverse is matched by their contextualization in global currents of contemporary thought. Carool Kersten disentangles the often dazzling complexity of contemporary Islamic intellectual life. He guides us through the maze thanks to a critical reappraisal of the lopsided conceptual toolkit that we have inherited from two centuries of orientalist and post-orientalist taxonomies.’ – Armando Salvatore, Barbara and Patrick Keenan Chair in Interfaith Studies and Professor of Global Religious Studies, McGill University, Canada


    "Kersten (King's College London, UK) synthesizes a wide range of contemporary thought among Muslim intellectuals. These thinkers contextualize Islam using postmodern and postcolonial lenses, whereas Kersten categorizes Muslim thought on the micro level in terms of official Islam—traditional, reactionary, and progressive. Islamic thought prioritizes revelation and tradition as opposed to knowledge derived independently through human reason. Typical is Muslim scholars' handling of the Koran as sacrosanct. Since the literal text is treated as inviolable, questions of human intervention are not entertained. Religious knowledge may be obtained spiritually, which in Islam historically has been only through Sufism. Indonesia and Turkey were somewhat progressive in embarking on experimentation with democratization in the Muslim world. Modernity has bifurcated Shari'a into two options: the primacy of the nation-state as lawgiver or an idealized, higher Islamic order. Limited progress has been made in environments of diversity, since Muslims cling to distinctiveness and identity. Although this work is informative, scientific thought and medical advances have far outstripped Islamic theology, leaving a wide chasm to be crossed. The development of a critical and informed Islamic discourse about contemporary philosophical and intellectual questions has yet to emerge."

    -G. M. Smith, Smith Consulting