The Political Ontology of Islamic Democracy: An Ontological Narrative of Contemporary Muslim Political Thought

Yenigun, Halil Ibrahim, Government - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
White, Stephen, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

The primary focus of my dissertation is the trajectory of the democratic discourse in the post-Afghani era of Muslim political thought, in particular among the reformist (islahi) current. Toward this end, I situate my comparative political theory within the emerging genre of “political ontology,” which I deploy as an analytical device. More specifically, I seek to demonstrate that the shifting attitudes toward democracy over time among contemporary Muslim thinkers can be better grasped by approaching each of the selected thinkers’ political theories as a constellation of ontological, ethical, and political dimensions.
Accordingly, the first part presents several new themes that have received substantial interest in recent political theory. I dedicate each chapter to a specific genre of political ontology, political theology, and radical democracy. Having laid the ground for my ontological narrative, the second part analyzes the political theories of Jamaladdin Afghani (d. 1897), Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966), Fazlur Rahman (d. 1985), and such current liberal Muslim thinkers as Abdelwahab El-Affendi, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Nader Hashemi, and Abdullahi An-Na‘im. While I analyze their political theories as ontopolitical constellations, I seek to show that each one’s approach to democracy or self-government is prefigured by his conception of God as well as how they conceive of the relationship between the Muslim self and the “other,” the rest of creation, and the revealed text (viz., the Qur’an).
But political ontology is more than just an analytical device for my project, for it also furnishes the contents of normative reflection. Hence, I also take steps to offer an alternative to the liberal Muslims’ comprehension of democracy. In conversation with some recent ontologically oriented formulations of “radical democracy” and “critical political theology,” as well as their critiques of liberal democracy, I point to a different direction for Muslim political thinking on self-rule, one that attends more to vicegerency and the duty to justice as well as dialogical engagements with the “other,” and one that is more characterized by a commitment to social justice based on an expanded understanding of egalitarianism.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Comparative political theory, political ontology, political theology, radical democracy, Muslim political thought, islah, Afghani, Qutb
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