Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2018

Nils Riecken

Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin

On Tragic Temporality: Abdallah Laroui’s Reading of Tradition

My paper explores the conceptual ground that the contemporary Moroccan historian and intellectual Abdallah Laroui creates to critically distance the notion of “tradition“ from secular, liberal, modern as well as theological understandings. I show that his works elaborate a concept of tradition within—what I call following David Scott’s reading of Hayden White—a tragic temporality as opposed to a romantic temporality articulated within secular, liberal, modern as well as theological understandings of tradition. In my reading, the tragic temporality within which Laroui views tradition—both the Islamic tradition (al-sunna) and others—effectively undoes the sovereign gesture that both relegates tradition to a devalued time-space and establishes the modern as a location beyond the temporality of tradition. Simultaneously, this tragic temporality creates a critical entry point for rethinking tradition through addressing the temporal and epistemological work tradition performs.

Nils Riecken is a post-doctoral research fellow at Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin. He has taught at Freie Universität Berlin on contemporary Arab thought. He is currently working on his book manuscript titled “Abdallah Laroui and the Location of History” that is based on his dissertation on this contemporary Moroccan historian, intellectual, and novelist. The book works out Laroui’s historical epistemology, his account of historicity and temporality, and his form of conceptual critique. Besides, he has begun working on two other projects: a global history of the journalist Yunis Bahri (d. 1979) and the historical production of Islam as an epistemic field in the German-speaking area since the late 19th century. His work has appeared in Der Islam, History & Theory, and ReOrient.