The Koran: The Word of God Returns

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For most Western readers, the Koran is a deceptive text and thus difficult to appreciate. Its characterization as yet another “scripture” from the Semitic tradition that spawned the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament — with the “same” God and many of the “same” figures — naturally leads one to approach it with the same implicit assumptions and expectations that one typically brings to the Bible. Yet the Western reader who does so is likely to disappointed — even outraged — as these assumptions and expectations are violated and this characterization made questionable. Racial, ethnic and/or religious prejudices often deepen the displeasure. Alternately, Western readers who approach the Koran with a keen awareness of its (and their own) historical/cultural foundations are more likely to enjoy (and profit from) their encounter with it.

This lecture will demonstrate one way in which a modern Westerner can successfully read the Koran. On the one hand, we will make a survey of the text: its structure and major themes and the conditions which produced it. On the other hand, we will look at some of the strategies through which a reader can transcend limitations imposed by his own cultural heritage. By working both tracks simultaneously, one can fairly easily come to appreciate this classic text on its own terms.