I recently saw this TED video over at Sociological Images. Although Sociological Images is one of my favorite blogs, there are serious problems with it, and I wish there had been some critical commentary in the post. Here are just a few critical questions that came to mind as I watched it.
- The lecture seems fundamentally designed to romanticize the Qur’an—perhaps in order to make the audience more tolerant of Muslims. While the latter might be a legitimate social goal, the former is not an academic exercise.
- The speaker criticizes “misquoting” the Qur’an. That suggests that there is such a thing as authentic quoting. In doing so she is implicitly drawing lines between orthodoxy and heresy—which is not an academic exercise. In addition, she makes a distinction between the authentic text—in Arabic—and degraded, secondary translations. Has she never heard of Derrida or post-structuralism?
- She makes a distinction between fundamentalism (as inflexibility?) and her own apparently more open-minded approach to the Qur’an, although as far as I know this sort of distinction has no second-order analytical value.
- She talks as if the Qur’an had one single message she might discern (“The Qur’an is quite clear …”). Why might we not assume, by contrast, that it has more than one message, or that it might contain tensions or even outright contradictions?
- She passes back and forth between “the Qur’an says” and “God says” without making it clear whether the latter means “according to the Qur’an, God says ….” Is she making a theological statement about what God says or a historical-literary statement about what the text says about God? What if God doesn’t exist? How would this complicate her message?
- Why is it that dilettante research and naïve hermeneutics are generally acceptable when it comes to talking about those things that fall under the category of “religion”? Are we to believe someone who has spent 3 months reading the Qur’an in Arabic is the most scholarly person they could find to exegete it for us? Would TED post videos of me talking about medical science?