20 June 2014

Sino-Islamic Intellectual Tradition, 16th-19th C.

Sino-Islamic Intellectual Tradition, 16th-19th Centuries (Dissertation Reviews, 20 January 2014)

A review of The Great Transformation: Contours of the Sino-Islamic Intellectual Tradition, by Kristian Petersen.

Kristian Petersen’s dissertation, “The Great Transformation: Contours of the Sino-Islamic Intellectual Tradition,” tackles a moment of significant change in the Sino-Muslim community. The concept of a unique Sino-Islamic tradition is not new to scholarship, having been established by Zvi Ben-Dor Benite’s The Dao of Mohammed and the works of Sachiko Murata and William Chittick (whom Petersen cites). As such, we have known for some time that Ming-Qing-era scholars like Liu Zhi produced a corpus of scholarship (the Han Kitab) that expounded upon the Muslim worldview on various topics yet aimed exclusively at those steeped in the language and ideology of Confucian orthodoxy. Liu Zhi, Wang Daiyu, Ma Zhu and others have come to be known as “Confucian Muslims” or Hui-Ru in English-language scholarship. Petersen’s dissertation aims to ground our understanding of Confucian Muslims within the the context of the broader Muslim world and its relationship to Arabic. Petersen does this by considering the written work of Wang Daiyu, Liu Zhi and Ma Dexin, three Sino-Muslim scholars whose engagement with Arabic texts and intellectual traditions from Persia, the Middle East and elsewhere returned an Arabic authenticity to the Chinese Muslim experience. This was an authenticity partially based on an emphasis on the necessity for Chinese Muslims to perform the pilgrimage (hajj) and to reflect on its importance. The hajj is therefore one of the principal tenets that Petersen focuses on. By Petersen’s admission, the dissertation devotes more time to analyzing Ma Dexin’s works than those of Liu or Wang. He does this to show how Ma Dexin was unique in the Sino-Muslim intellectual tradition and to highlight the “nuances of his methodological and theoretical creativity” (p. 6). Moreover, Petersen observes that scholarship has paid little attention to Ma Dexin or has glibly referred to him as the religious force behind the Panthay rebellion. He does note, however, that Ma’s treatment by Chinese scholars has been more thorough.