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This essay explores how particular variants of “Muslim anarchism”, as distinct forms of radical anti-authoritarian religion, subvert conventional approaches to Islamic hermeneutics by drawing on intellectual traditions and discursive strategies external to them. Through recourse to the mutuality between autonomy and automatism, most notably in Western avant-garde and countercultural aesthetics, it elucidates the import of automatic transcendence and retro-futurist imaginaries as novel interpretative techniques for spiritual emancipation in radically libertarian approaches to Islam. My aim is to show how the rich, multivalent concept of automatism, neglected in studies of social and religious phenomena, can be a useful way of elucidating the hermeneutics of specific strands of Muslim anarchism. In doing so, the paper also challenges received understandings of “radical” Islam and the restrictive polarity between militancy and liberalism that has come to frame discussion on global Islam. To this end, I focus on the thought of Peter Lamborn Wilson (aka Hakim Bey), Michael Muhammad Knight and Yakoub Islam.

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I would like to thank Duncan Bell, Faisal Devji and this journal's anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (grant number ES/J003115/1).

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Asef Bayat , Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn (Stanford, 2007)

Peter Mandaville , “Globalization and the Politics of Religious Knowledge: Pluralizing Authority in the Muslim World”, Theory, Culture and Society, 24/2 (2007), 101–15, 111

Patricia Crone , “Ninth-Century Muslim Anarchists”, Past & Present, 167 (2000), 328

J. L. J. Edwards , “Automatism and Criminal Responsibility”, Modern Law Review, 21/4 (1958), 375–86

Julien Offray de La Mettrie 's Machine Man and Other Writings (Cambridge, 1996)

Susan Petrilli and Augusto Ponzio , Semiotics Unbounded: Interpretive Routes through the Open Network of Signs (Toronto, 2005)

Robert M. Geraci , “Apocalyptic AI: Religion and the Promise of Artificial Intelligence”, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 76/1 (2008), 138–66

Kate Khatib , “Automatic Theologies: Surrealism and the Politics of Equality”, in H. De Vries and L. E. Sullivan , eds., Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-secular World (New York, 2006), 617–33, 617

Imad Ad Dean Ahmed , “Islam and the Free-Market Economy”, Economic Affairs, 29/2 (2009), 23

Michael Kinsella , Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong's Hat (Jackson, 2011)

Yusuf Nuruddin , “Ancient Black Astronauts and Extraterrestrial Jihads: Islamic Science Fiction as Urban Mythology”, Socialism and Democracy, 20/3 (2006), 127–65

Sherman A. Jackson , Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking toward the Third Resurrection (New York, 2005)

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Modern Intellectual History
  • ISSN: 1479-2443
  • EISSN: 1479-2451
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-intellectual-history
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