Please return to the commissioning editor for Religious Studies by email.
Logic, Wisdom and the Cosmic Romance: An experiment in comparative mysticism
This book is a speculation on the linguistic status of the prophetic voice, drawing equally on sources from Judao-Islamic mysticism, intuitionistic logic and the contemporary philosophy of language.
This book is a speculation on how we relate to God through language.
Writing from a Muslim perspective, I have expressed myself through an exegesis of the holy books of the Abrahamic faiths and their associated commentaries. The question of how we approach God through language is of central importance to these faiths in particular, with their emphasis on received revelation through words. The books of the Tanakh and the Gospels of the Christianity are all written. The angel Gabriel appeared to the Prophet Muhammed and instructed him to “Read!”: what followed was the Qur’an, a book of God’s verses, narrated by God, written from God’s perspective. It is a central tenant of, at least, orthodox practice within these faiths that these books are the inscribed word of an eternal God, rather than historically situated religious understanding of humans. In seeming paradox, these faiths (or at least Judaism and Islam) also believe that God is ineffable, essentially unknowable, somehow beyond linguistic description. Somehow they have reconciled the notion of an indescribable God that is above all creation with the idea that this God can speak to the prophets in their own language.
This book is my speculation on why this central tenant of orthodoxy holds.
My background is in mathematics and the philosophy of language. By profession I am a logician and work within what is known as the constructive school of logic. Constructive logic is an approach to thinking about how we solve problems and form meanings: it is grounded in the belief there is no absolute external meaning or value to the views we hold, and that the sense or meaning of a view comes from the way in which it was arrived at. From its proof. Constructive logic privileges derivation-as-meaning over absolute meaning.
So my day job is to think about meaning and truth: this is my qualification for writing what follows. Meaning and truth are also clearly important in religion and a claim to absolute meaning would appear to be central to the Abrahamic faiths at least. What is religion if not a claim on Truth?
I am orthodox. And like all orthodox Muslims, I personally believe that God’s Wisdom is manifested perfectly in the Holy Books and, ultimately, within the Qur’an. I believe that the path to the Light of God is negotiated through careful study of the Books of Prophecy. That we may move toward God through receiving this revealed Wisdom. And yet I am a constructive logician: I believe that there is no such thing as absolute meaning. So what follows is my attempt to reconcile these two positions. My perhaps surprising conclusion will be that the latter position entails the former.
I am personally orthodox, but my methods are not.
I will draw on ideas from Western logic and the philosophy of language as much as I draw from the verses of the Holy Books. Everything said has been pronounced infinitely more clearly by greater minds and it is inevitable that I will make reference to so-called esoteric literature about language and God: specifically the Great Sheikh of Islamic Sufism, ibn al-Arabi and the works of Zoharic and Lurianic Kabbalah. However, I draw on this less than upon the Western philosophy and modern logic, for a reason. There is already a great body of scholarship on these thinkers thought to which I could never hope to make a meaningful contribution. (In the case of, for example, ibn al-Arabi, the importance of William Chittick’s translations and commentaries is monumental.) And so, instead, I perform a different service by developing a new trajectory of understanding — what Deleuze and Guattari might call a “line of flight” — from the West to the East.
The philosophers who have influenced my understanding of language tend to be from the so called “continental” school of philosophy: Heidegger, the aforementioned Deleuze and Derrida. My approach to logic owes much to Wittgenstein (in both his early and later phases), and in a way his attempt to reconcile Schopenhauerian mysticism with a primitive logicism in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus serves as a poetic precursor to my work in spirit at least. Psychoanalytic theories of meaning, particularly those of Jacques Lacan, also prove to be instrumental. The use of this philosophy is perhaps less surprising than my drawing on modern logic: the (not very well known) “family tree” of these philosophers that has its roots in Alexandre Kojève’s reading of Hegel. Kojève wrote his dissertation on Vladimir Soloviev, that great Russian Sophiologist, who was in turn heavily influenced by esoteric mysticism, including Kabbalah and Sufi thought. Not to mention the intriguing (and still largely unexplored) direct connections between those mystical scholols and Lacan.
There will be a limited amount of symbolic logic: this monograph is a sequel of sorts to my first book which concerned how constructive logic can be used to solve problems in computer science. I refer interested readers to that text for the gory details of constructive logic and type theory. Such a reference is unnecessary however, as I have endevoured to keep the technical details to a minimum and I believe I have managed to provide as much background as is required for the sake of self-containedness.
I have violated a number of constraints that I would normally abide by within conventional academic writing. I have, in particular, adopted a number of poetic conceits during the course of my argument. Some of the chapters involve philosophical dialogues between characters, others include short (non-intrusive!) stories. At these moments I depart from my ordinary academic style but conform to an older tradition of illustration through storytelling, employed by the Sufi mystics of my ancestry. There is a point to be made through these conceits: they are performatives — functioning like Austin’s speech acts — serving to demonstrate the points I make within the more academically conventional moments of the text. I hope they also serve to entertain.
The book moves through four themes:
• The logical, linguistic status of prophetic revelation. I attempt to argue how the prophetic voice differs from “ordinary” speech and what the implications of this difference are for our understanding of revealed truth.
• The relationship between temporality and logical truth. Time is central to the Abrahamic faiths: we move through it to an end of days and a ressurection. 20th century philosophy has many interesting things to say about temporality, reason and language. I consider how the latter’s results can help us to understand the former.
• The notion of a sunnah and becoming. Orthodox Islam, perhaps most stringently out of all faiths, demands its followers to follow the sunnah (or manners, customs and practice) of its prophets, most particularly that of the Prophet Muhammed. Again, 20th century philosophy sheds an interesting perspective on this. Gilles Deleuze, for example, developed a philosophy of “becoming”: characterising a difference between simple imitation and bodily “entering into” a practice.
• Love. All three Abrahamic religions claim their message is one of love and peace. This claim has come under dispute over the centuries. In recent times, the question of how Islam relates to Love has has come under some scrutiny (from within the religion itself and from outside). One of the problems with the Old Testament and the Qur’an in particular is linguistic: the language is sometimes confronting, disturbingly violent or contradictory. Assuming we accept these books are still the word of God, how are we to reconcile their language with a Loving Creator? Mysticism in various forms (Sufism and Kabbalah) has found very interesting solutions. I will draw on these, together with my treatment of the previous three themes to draw a suprising connection between Jesus’ axiom that “God is Love” and the Muhammed’s statement that “God is Time” that I hope will approach the problem of Love within the Abrahamic faiths from a new angle.
Short non-technical description
This book is a speculation on the nature of prophetic revelation. The author draws on a diverse range of sources from philosophy of lanugage, Lacanian psychonalysis, Islamic and Judaic mysticism and constructive logic to investigate how the prophetic voice differs from “ordinary” speech. His understanding of this difference has profound implications for our understanding of revealed truth and our relationship to God.
If you had to give three key benefits your book offers its readers, what would they be?
1. A novel way of relating new movements in logic and theories of meaning to spirtuality
2. A modern way of understanding Islamic tafsir (interpretation theory)
3. An entertaining and accessible way of presenting difficult theological, mathematical and philosophical material.
Table of Contents
See attached draft chapter (includes a table of contents at the beginning).
Chapter by chapter synopsis
1. Prologue. The summarizes the religio-cultural context of what follows.
2. The Cosmic Romance. This chapter presents a summary of how truth, reason, language, humankind and God relate to each other through a reading of Christian Gnostic and Islamic creation myths. Each of these concepts and their interrelationships are later expounded upon in later chapters.
3. Garments. Utlizing Lacan’s reading of Freudean metaphor and metonymy, I attempt to explain the relationship between prophecy, madness and “ordinary” speech.
4. True time. The chapter begins with an investigation of how signification relates to the Heideggerean and Derridean notions of Time and, consequently, to our own position in the universe as signifying agents. I then develop a novel model of temporality as logical proof, drawing on Lacan’s treatment of logical time and the philosophy of constructivism (the topic of my previous book, and what I am best known for in academia). I develop a dialectic of authenticity that parallels that of Heidegger and Derrida, that I then apply to answer the question of “how” we should read religious texts and “why” these texts can be legitimately said to be life-changing if read in an authentic fashion.
5. Wisdom and the Gifted Body. I draw on Soloviev’s work on Sophia and Wisdom within an Orthodox Christian Context and Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the Body without Organs to develop a cosmology of the bodies within the Abrahamic faiths. In particular, I treat the relationship between bodies in the “first” life and the recreation of bodies in an afterlife.
6. Food. Food and drink are commonly used as keywords for knowledge (good and bad) within the Abrahamic texts. The last verse of Muhammed’s revelation regards what food is permissible and what is not. Wine is treated interestingly these texts and associated mystical commentaries. Following my treatment of bodies, I attempt to develop a systematic, post-Deleuzian undersanding of food and Wisdom.
7. Prophetology and Imamology. This chapter deals with the relationship between “ordinary” worshippers and prophets, and the means by which the following of the prophets’ sunnah (way of living) in Islam is important. I deal with the journey that prophets take in the various narrations, and the significance of a narrative mode (first, third or, in the case of the Quran, second person) in the Abrahamic scriptures. I necessarily need to touch on the relationship between prophets and wives of prophets, something central to Lurianic Kabbalah and very much emphasized within the text of the Qur’an and associated narrations. (As a corollary, interesting possibilities for new feminist readings of Islamic texts are opened up.)
8. The end of the path. This chapter presents a summary and conclusion.
Estimated to the nearest 5,000 words (including notes and bibliography)
Suggest a realistic date for delivery of the complete manuscript
Figures, Illustrations and Permissions
Please give details of any figures, illustrations or text permissions necessary
Approximately 10 illustrations in pdf format – no permissions necessary.
Market and Competition
Market and Readership
The primary readership is philosophy and religious studies scholars. However, while the treatment does reference (usually quite impenetrable) continental philosophers, formal logical concepts and mystical writing, I have endevoured to make the work self-contained and user friendly.
Due to the novel synergy of Islamic ideas and modern philosophy, I believe there should also be a strong market within the general Islamic community (e.g., the same audience of “progressive” Muslims who buy Tariq Ramadan’s books). The material has been “road-tested” with such an general audience at seminars held at University College, and has met with considerably favourable reception (this was partly the motivation to attempt to publish).
The usual channels would be employed to publicise the work to an academic audience. I believe I can also utilize contacts within various Islamic networks to promote the book to a wider international market.
Your analysis of competing or comparable books
Currently there are virtually no comparable treatment of philosophy of language and religion written from an Islamic perspective. The closest work would be that of Iqbaal’s utilization of Bergson in his “Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam”
That work is almost a century old but appears to be gaining significant popularity in the Islamic world precisely because it offers an entry point for synergies between Islam and philosophy that the community appears to desire reinvigorated.
There are a wide range of excellent academic treatments of older Sufi thought, such as William Chittick’s translations and commentaries. However we do not compete with these books (nor with the various popular books on Sufism).
The remaining academic works on Islam tend to be straightforward comparative theology or sociology. Again, this book is not in competition with these.
In performing a market analysis, we might consider the succes of Tariq Ramadan. While his project is largely orthogonal to mine, as I do not consider the problems of social change within the Muslim community, there is some commonality in the provision of a “new” way of reading the main Islamic scriptures in negotiation with Western thought. His work is quite unique in this way and, probably as a result, has gained led to significant readership that cuts across both academia and the general public. While his work is not thematic competition, the impact might potentially be similar.