As an alternative to approaching Islam as an object for anthropological analysis, this article develops the idea of an anthropologist participating in a conversation going along within an Islamic tradition. The idea of a conversation is developed through the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas and his ideal of knowing as a ethical relation with an infinite other. Levinas opposes a sterile and oppressive relation of ‘totality’ where the knowing self encompasses the other within concepts and thought that originate in the self, with a critical and creative relation of ‘infinity’ in which the alterity of the other is maintained and invites conversation that brings the self into question. The article discusses recent disciplinary discussions of how anthropology should engage with alterity that have been framed in terms of ontology and post-secular anthropology in the light of Levinas’s ideal of knowing as ethical and critical practice.
Bibliographical noteFunded by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland
This research was funded by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. I would like to thank Arnar Arnason, Alison Brown, Tim Ingold, Jo Vergunst, and the anonymous JRAI readers for their critical feedback, which greatly improved the quality and coherence of this article.
- Emmanuel Levinas