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January 10, 2008 7:43 PM   Subscribe

Has there been higher criticism (such as the documentary hypothesis) or textual criticism of religions other than Christianity and Judaism?
posted by Pants! to Religion & Philosophy (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Like this? Or this?
posted by pompomtom at 8:41 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It looks like that link is saying that the criticism isn't necessary.
posted by Pants! at 8:49 PM on January 10, 2008

There's definitely been textual criticsm of Islamic texts. (And the cataloguing/ verification of hadith [roughly sayings of the Prophet] might even be considered a kind of textal criticism.) But Islam has met much textal criticism with hostility as has happened with Christianity and Judaism.
(Will add some links later).
posted by Jahaza at 8:55 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Of course there has. Since these religions are not common in the English-speaking world, though, the availability of translated criticism may be limited, or may be by non-adherents (e.g. Bernard Lewis) and may represent some sort of agenda (e.g. Bernard Lewis).

The Origins of The Koran: Classic Essays on Islam’s Holy Book seems (at first glance) to be a good place to start for that. The entirety of Islamic scholarship may be seen in some ways as in constant dialog with the Koran; Islam has never had an overarching religious authority comparable to Rome, and each Islamic scholar is his own authority (which is why if you search long enough you can find a fatwa for anything).

I know I've seen plenty of Western critical response to Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. Any good university library should at least be able to give you a good start.
posted by dhartung at 9:08 PM on January 10, 2008

Response by poster: It looks like Origins of the Koran may have an agenda as well, but that Fred Donner (one of the critics of the author of that book according to wikipedia) may be a place to start with for Islam.

Any other religions would be fantastic as well.
posted by Pants! at 9:52 PM on January 10, 2008

Especially with some recent archaeological finds, there's been a bit of work on the Dao De Jing, although I get the notion that it's mostly 'lower' textual criticism.

The Book of Mormon Critical Text Project(Q&A) examines the original manuscript (where extant), printer's manuscript, and 20 print editions from both main editorial traditions. Work completed and to date includes awesomely/painfully detailed transcripts of the manuscripts and detailed analyses of variants covering nearly half the text; still to come are the other half and the chronological summary of the text's history. Otherwise, lower/textual criticism has been essentially limited to propaganda: There were made to the Book of Mormon! This unusual word was in a letter from his mom, so he plagiarized it!

Higher/documentary criticism of the Book of Mormon has not been much better—agenda-driven and strawmanny, whether it involved postulating Solomon Spaulding's novel as a source or trying to psychoanalyze Joseph Smith. (I love the smell of foregone conclusions in the morning. Smells like ... ceaseless acrimony.) An interesting approach from a believer is Blake Ostler's ancient source, modern expansion theory. Disclosures: Dr. Skousen is one of my academic advisors. I am a believing Mormon despite a thorough acquaintance with standard anti-Mormon arguments. I will not rehash that whole dialectic here.

Decisions about scriptural authority in Buddhism involve criticism either explicitly or implicitly whenever canon/non-canon or Pali/Mahayana/Vajrayana distinctions are made. (If I were a Buddhist, I'm pretty sure I'd be a fundamentalist, Pali-only Theravadan, but whatever.)

And although it frequently disclaims being a religion, Freemasonry has a theology (sort of), which is expressed in rites that have quite an involved history of transmission, especially in America.

Now, where I deeply wish there were some application of textual scholarship to religion is in the neo-Pagan creations like, say, Ásatrú. It's hard enough trying to reconcile the sources and figure out which Germanic people believed what and when, without all your web searches and Wikipedia browsing gummed up by modern syncretisms (whether erroneous or purposeful).

It would also be kind of cool to study the Urantia book statistically, wordprinting and all that ... hmm. They'd probably crack down with their copyrights if they didn't like what you said, though.

Now I wonder if there's publishable material in a statistical approach to William Blake.
posted by eritain at 1:39 AM on January 11, 2008

For dessert, the major acknowledgment of a textual history in Discordianism: The Honest Book of Truth and its excellent, untimely passing, to which event good Erisians give credit for kicking off the lively chaos of texts and doctrines that they gleefully perpetuate today. As usual, you get to decide whether this is a joke disguised as a religion, or a religion disguised as a joke.

A Pope disguised as an Eritain, or an Eritain disguised as a Pope?
posted by eritain at 2:20 AM on January 11, 2008

Here's an interesting article on a hermit who's practicing textual (or actually rhetorical, which I guess is somewhat different) critcism of the Koran.
posted by Jahaza at 5:57 AM on January 11, 2008

There's a tremendous tradition of textual criticism of the Hindu scriptures, in both East and West. I'm no expert, but the Journal of Vaishnava Studies looks like a good place to start.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:50 AM on January 11, 2008

A side-issue, perhaps, but it seems useful to note that textual criticism of religious texts (and modern textual criticism in general, in large part at least) was invented by Baruch Spinoza. The best example in his work of it is his Theological-Political Treatise. It seems to me that that Wikipedia article doesn't recognize this fact: that many might have produced textual criticisms of the Bible and other religious texts, but Spinoza's was part and parcel with a larger project of secularizing political institutions and liberating scientists and thinkers that captures the modern spirit of Biblical criticism. Though I don't know if I agree with him, I don't think you can deny that textual criticism of the Bible essentially starts with him.
posted by koeselitz at 1:34 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

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