S-Space College of Humanities (인문대학) Religious Studies (종교학과) 종교와 문화(Religion and Culture) 종교와 문화(Religion and Culture) 28/29호(2015)
Rethinking Mu`tazilite tafsir: from essence to history
- Kulinich, Alena
- Issue Date
- 서울대학교 종교문제연구소
- 종교와 문화, Vol.29, pp. 227-262
- It has been common to approach the history of the interpretation of the Quran (tafsir) through the study of different traditions or schools of tafsir. These schools usually correspond to various Islamic intellectual/sectarian traditions and include, among others, the Twelver Shiite, Sunni, Mutazilite and Sufi tafsir traditions. An underlying assumption in this division is that each of these traditions developed a distinct approach to the text of the Quran, and that tafsir works authored by scholars associated with these schools fall into recognisable traditions due to the manifestations of this approach in their texts. The school framework has been applied in the classical studies on Quranic exegesis and continues to inform both the analysis of the history of Islamic exegesis and studies on individual commentaries on the Quran. Several recent publications, however, revisited this wellestablished framework. Centred on the fundamental question of what makes an exegetical tradition a tradition?, they raised a number of related questions concerning the precise characteristics of the various exegetical schools, the value of this notion for the analysis of individual commentaries on the Quran, and its validity as an analytical tool for understanding the history of Islamic exegesis. This article explores the implications that this critical engagement with the notion of an exegetical school has for Mutazilite tafsir. It shows that the arguments advanced in the course of this engagement are not only fully applicable to the case of Mutazilite tafsir, they also reveal the limitations of the traditional approach to Mutazilite tafsir which defines this tradition through reference to a single unique set of characteristics that the commentaries on the Quran written by Mutazilite authors are thought to have. The article highlights some of these limitations, focusing on the exceptionalism and essentialism implied in this approach. It further suggests that the study of Mutazilite tafsir could benefit from an adaptation of a historical rather than an essentialist framework. This historical framework implies that Mutazilite exegetical tradition is regarded not as a homogeneous and static category, defined by a unique and unchanging essence, but approached from a historical perspective and seen as changing over time, and interacting with other trends of Islamic exegesis.