The Introduction investigates why so many twentieth-century Muslim intellectuals have studied Islam in Western universities and how this new model of Islamic education has affected discursive norms and authority structures in both Western academia and modern Islamic thought. It defines key concepts such as intellectual dualism and fusionism and examines the history of the insider-outsider problem in the field of Islamic studies. It also relates Muslim intellectual history to global colonial and postcolonial politics.
Chapter 1 traces how, in the early twentieth century, three distinct streams of Indonesian Muslims—Arab-educated modernists, Dutch-educated elites, and traditionalists—came to diagnose intellectual dualism as a major problem for the nascent Indonesian nation. In the 1940s, they worked together to establish the Islamic College (later known as the State Islamic Institute) as an institution that would reject dualism and instead equip Muslim students with both Islamic and Western academic forms of knowledge. The vision struck a chord, and the Islamic College quickly expanded into a nationwide network. Despite these outward signs of success, the original consensus to combat dualism was superficial. Cracks soon began to appear in the coalition, ranging from deep intellectual disagreements to intra-Muslim partisanship and severe resource shortages.
Chapter 2 examines the experiences of several influential Indonesian Muslims at McGill University's Institute of Islamic Studies in the 1950s and 1960s. Founded by Wilfred Cantwell Smith in 1951, the institute aimed to facilitate a sustained religio-intellectual encounter between Western academics and Muslim intellectuals in an effort to fuse the two discursive traditions. Smith believed that this fusionist model would revolutionize both non-Muslim and Muslim understandings of Islam. Several prominent Muslim scholars, including Fazlur Rahman of Pakistan as well as Mukti Ali and Harun Nasution of Indonesia, took advantage of McGill's unique environment to conduct their own fusionist experiments. This work of integrating the Islamic and Western academic traditions proved to be exceedingly difficult. In addition to the intellectual challenges involved, established Western scholars used the ideal of objectivity to challenge the academic authority of fusionist thinkers and exclude them from the academic guild.
Chapter 3 focuses on how three particularly influential McGill alumni—Mukti Ali, Harun Nasution, and Mohamad Rasjidi—worked to reimagine Muslim politics and reform higher Islamic education in the archipelago nation. Ali and Nasution forged mutually beneficial partnerships with Suharto's developmentalist state in the early 1970s and then received appointments as minister of religious affairs and rector of the State Islamic Institute (IAIN) in Jakarta, respectively. They used these powerful positions to spread fusionist thinking. At the ministry, Ali created new opportunities to train Muslims in Western academic methods and forged a transnational scholarly network that connected more Indonesian Muslims to Western academia. At IAIN Jakarta, Nasution redesigned the undergraduate curriculum to include more Western-style disciplines and wrote fusionist textbooks. In the process, Ali and Nasution encountered resistance from fellow Muslim intellectuals, led by none other than McGill alumnus Rasjidi.
Chapter 4 chronicles the journeys of a second generation of Indonesian scholars who traveled to the University of Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s to study Islam under professors Leonard Binder and Fazlur Rahman. As codirectors of the ambitious Islam and Social Change project, Binder and Rahman drew on both the social sciences and modern Islamic thought to create what they saw as an authentic Islamic model of development. Their collaboration opened up a surprising space for Muslim theological reflection and fusionist research at Chicago. Indonesian graduate students Amien Rais, Nurcholish Madjid, and Ahmad Syafii Maarif capitalized on this opportunity to reconsider the relationship between Islam and development and to apply their new ideas to the evolving political landscape back in Indonesia.
Chapter 5 tells the story of how the three Chicago alumni returned to Indonesia in the early 1980s and quickly ascended the ladder to national Islamic leadership. Rais and Maarif were elected consecutive chairmen of Muhammadiyah, and Madjid saw his work as a public Muslim intellectual make his into a household name across the country. Their meteoric rise demonstrates that Western-educated Muslims wielded unprecedented authority in the 1990s, but they were also acutely aware of mounting criticism. Muslim opponents, following Rasjidi's example, castigated fusionist scholarship as overly Westernized and hence inauthentic, and postcolonial theorists from within Western universities likewise attacked academic disciplines as mired in Western cultural presuppositions and political interests. Indonesian fusionists responded with new philosophies of cross-discursive engagement aimed at mitigating the threat of Western epistemological imperialism.
The conclusion reflects on the present and future of Islamic studies as an academic discipline. Given the extent of Western academic entanglement with modern Islamic thought, how should we conceptualize the purpose of academic scholarship on Islam in the contemporary era? What are the ethics of conducting research in such an intertwined world? In search of potential answers, the conclusion draws from methodological works in religious studies and postcolonial theory to identify three possible responses—discursive boundary maintenance, self-critical cross-discursive dialogue, and radical introspection—and then evaluates their relative strengths and limitations.