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Josef van Ess is the world's most distinguished scholar of classical kalam, the Muslim theology that was the precursor to, and foundation for, modern Islam. This book makes available, for the first time in English, the fruit of van Ess's thirty-five years of work in the field. A lucid and authoritative introduction to classical Islam, it opens a window on the intellectual world that gave rise to Muslim theology.
A sustained look at important issues in early kalam, The Flowering of Muslim Theology discusses the emergence of theology in the classical period and offers acute and illuminating comparisons with the Christian (and Jewish) traditions. Van Ess looks at the issue of heresy, at early ideas about straying from true belief. In a substantial and original instance of Koranic exegesis, he considers a problem much debated among classical theologians: whether it is possible to see God. He examines the different ways in which early Muslim thinkers appropriated atomism, a natural philosophy that was originally materialistic and atheistic, for their own theological purposes. He explores the explosive mix of theology and political thought, in an analysis of the development of ideas about the role and authority of a ruler. And he considers the relationship, or contradiction, between faith and knowledge: the enduring question of how one can know whether something is right or true.
A work of intellectual history enlivened by vivid examples, The Flowering of Muslim Theology gives a wider audience rare insight into Islam's rich classical past.