by ALEX MASSAD for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on NOVEMBER 15, 2015:
Skepticism is a familiar term to many of us conjuring up notions of doubt, uncertainty, and perhaps even unbelief. Yet, Skepticism did not always have such a narrow meaning. In fact Skepticism has helped formulate a number of important religious and intellectual positions throughout history. Paul L. Heck‘s new book Skepticism in Classical Islam: Moments of Confusion (Routledge, 2013) is perhaps the first major treatment of skepticism in the Islamic context. This book explores the critical role skepticism played in the development of Islamic theology from the 10th through 14th centuries.
Paul Heck suggests we should not understand skepticism as atheism. Rather, it is the admission that one cannot convincingly demonstrate a truth claim with certainty. Heck surveys a number of important Islamic scholars, such as Al-Jahiz, al-Amiri, Al-Ghazali, and Ibn Taymiyya, concluding they all acknowledged such impasses only to be inspired to find new ways to resolve the conundrums they faced. In his book Paul Heck examines the way these key thinkers, among others, in classical Islam faced perplexing theological and philosophical questions, all the while walking a fine line between belief in God’s message as revealed in the Qur’an and the power of the mind to discover truths on its own.
Although this is a book about Islamic skepticism, Heck wants to stimulate scholars in the field of religious studies to inquire into how skepticism has formed, and continues to form, a constitutive part of religious reasoning and how we understand the nature of religion. Seeking to put Islam on the map of the broader study of the history of skepticism, I believe this book will be of interest to scholars and students of Religion, History, Islamic Studies, and Philosophy.
LISTEN TO INTERVIEW WITH HECK