Understanding Islam between Theology and Anthropology: Reflections on Geertz’s Islam Observed

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    There is a divergence between religion and its modes of application, or religion and religiosity. This essay provides a critical analysis of Clifford Geertz’s book Islam Observed and tries to attempt the question of whether Islam is better understood exclusively as a set of socially conditioned symbols and practices. However, an anthropological interpretation solely based on symbols leaves much to be desired as it lends itself to a kind of radical relativism in which generalizable conclusions become impossible. The theological approach tends to bypass the role sociopolitical contexts play in sustaining, negotiating, and modifying religious doctrines. Islam has been studied from the perspectives of these two mutually exclusive methodologies. This study attempts to arrive at an interdisciplinary analysis in which theology and anthropology cooperate to formulate a comprehensive understanding of Islam as a social system sustained by specific practices and as a theological structure communicated through a dialogue between abstract doctrines and mundane rituals.

    Original languageBritish English
    Article number221
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Mar 2022


    • Geertz
    • Islam
    • Marabouts
    • Popular theology
    • Religious anthropology
    • Sufism
    • Theology


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