Situating the Study of Islam in Global Intellectual History: Toshihiko Izutsu's Middle-Earth

The event is part of the following conference:
Neither Near Nor Far:Encounters and Exchanges between Japan and the Middle East

Laurent Mignon, University of Oxford
Hatsuki Aishima, National Museum of Ethnology

Supported by:
The John Fell Fund, University of Oxford
Japan Society for the Promotion of Science KAKENHI Grant Number 16KT0098
The Middle East Centre, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford
The Center for Modern Middle East Studies, National Museum of Ethnology

About the speaker:

Armando Salvatore is the Barbara and Patrick Keenan Chair in Interfaith Studies and Professor of Global Religious Studies (Society and Politics) at McGill University. He has taught and researched at Humboldt University, Berlin, University of Naples ‘L’Orientale,’ National University of Singapore, Leipzig University, and Australian National University, Canberra. He is the author of The Sociology of Islam: Knowledge, Power and Civility (Wiley Blackwell, 2016) and the chief editor of The Wiley Blackwell History of Islam (Wiley Blackwell, 2018).


The lecture investigates the contribution to the study of Islam by a non-Muslim, yet non-Western and non-Eurocentric personality, the Japanese linguist and philosopher Toshihiko Izutsu (1914-1993). It traces Izutsu’s original trajectory from his early practice of Zen Buddhism, through his discovery of the religious fervour of Greek philosophers, to his exploration of the spiritual and intellectual powerhouse represented by Islam as enacting a historical culmination of prophetic speech. It shows how this powerhouse represented for Izutsu a veritable Middle-Earth bridging Western (Abrahamic) and Eastern cultural and religious traditions and making obsolete the rigid geo-cultural divide on which their mutual radical divergence was premised.

The lecture reflects on how the work of Izutsu has become a game changer in a variety of locales thanks to his power to help breaking through an increasingly suffocating short-circuit: the obsessive face-to-face between Western and Islamic views, between Euro-American academia and the Middle East, leading to an inconclusive and circular game of irenic openings and deep-sited conflicts. This unique development underscores the possibility for a scholar of the calibre of Izutsu to redesign the global intellectual map of the study of Islam also by relying on obvious failures and fissures in the Western monopoly of knowledge on the Middle East. By doing so, he contributed to institute vital, direct, and mutually enlivening scholarly connections between Japan and the Middle East.