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by Norman O. Brown,Jerome Neu,Jay Cantor
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Theology
  • Author:
    Norman O. Brown,Jerome Neu,Jay Cantor
  • ISBN:
    1556438028
  • ISBN13:
    978-1556438028
  • Genre:
  • Publisher:
    North Atlantic Books; Original edition (August 4, 2009)
  • Pages:
    164 pages
  • Subcategory:
    Theology
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Second, Islam challenges Church Christianity. And third, Islam poses the challenge Brown takes up as a major theme - Brown's challenge to the reader - to make one's life a work of art. The Challenge of Islam is a recent ed set of seven transcribed lectures originally delivered at Tufts in 1981, and one previously unpublished essay, the written text of a conference paper. Throughout the work Brown reframes and reinforces the esoteric traditions of Ruzbihan, Suhrawardi, Ibn & and their rich testimonies of epiphany and beauty.

Second, Islam challenges Church Chri Norman O. Brown, The Challenge of Islam: The Prophetic Tradition . Brown, The Challenge of Islam: The Prophetic Tradition – Lectures, 1981. Santa Cruz, CA: New Pacific Press, 2009, 127 pp. 978-1-55643-802-8. H. Talat Halman, P. Central Michigan University. In The Challenge of Islam, Norman O. Brown (1913-2002) poses three vital and interconnected challenges. Brown relies on William Blake to provide a parallel example, referring frequently to Blake’s image and calligraphy of the Laocoön (. pp. 34, 36-37) which serves as the frontispiece to this volume.

The Prophetic Tradition: The Challenge of Islam is an enlightening set of lectures given by Norman O. Brown during the 1980s, exploring a wide-ranging array of topics concerning Islam. Throughout these lectures, which are remarkably pertinent today, Brown seeks to educate the reader on misunderstood areas of Islam, including the split between the Sunni and Shi’ite sects and Islam’s exemplification of the broad themes of art and imagination in human life. The author’s world-historical perspective of religion and tradition gives readers a crucial alternative to the divisive clash of civilizations view that paints Islam as at odds with the West.

The Challenge of Islam: The Prophetic Tradition. David Greenham, The Resurrection of the Body: The Work of Norman O. Brown, Lexington Books, 2006. Ed. by Jerome Neu. Santa Cruz, California: New Pacific Press. Dale Pendell, Walking with Nobby: Conversations with Norman O. Brown, Mercury House, 2008.

Ed. Jerome Neu. Santa Cruz: New Pacific Books Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2009

Ed. Santa Cruz: New Pacific Books Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2009. 164 pp. ISBN 9781556438028 (paperback). The present volume comprises transcribed lectures on Islam of the eminent late philosopher and critic Norman O. Brown, delivered at Tufts University in 1981. Versions of two of these lectures were published in his Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis as chapters 5 and 6, "The Prophetic Tradition" and "The Apocalypse of Islam"

The Prophetic Tradition: The Challenge of Islam is an enlightening set of lectures given by Norman O. Brown during . Brown reveals the overlooked relationship between Islam and early Christianity, exploring Islam’s relation to, and revision of, the Christian tradition, the literary innovation of the Qu’ran, the nature of revolutionary and political Islam, and the vision of a world civilization. In Memoriam: Norman O. Brown, ed. by Jerome Neu, New Pacific Press, 2007. A Brief Biography from UC Santa Cruz Library.

The Challenge of Islam: The Prophetic Tradition by Norman O. Brown, Jerome Ne. Mediated Bodies: The Production of the Colonized Francophone Subject.

Mediated Bodies: The Production of the Colonized Francophone Subject. Mediated Bodies: The Production of the Colonized Francophone Subject (pp. 348-351).

The Challenge of Islam-The Prophetic Tradition: Lectures 1981, ed. by Jerome Neu, New Pacific Press, 2009

The Challenge of Islam-The Prophetic Tradition: Lectures 1981, ed. by Jerome Neu, New Pacific Press, 2009. A Brief Biography from UCSC's Special Collections.

The Prophetic Tradition: The Challenge of Islam is an enlightening set of lectures given by Norman O. Brown during the 1980s, exploring a wide-ranging array of topics concerning Islam. Brown reveals the overlooked relationship between Islam and early Christianity, exploring Islam’s relation to, and revision of, the Christian tradition, the literary innovation of the Qu’ran, the nature of revolutionary and political Islam, and the vision of a world civilization.Throughout these lectures, which are remarkably pertinent today, Brown seeks to educate the reader on misunderstood areas of Islam, including the split between the Sunni and Shi’ite sects and Islam’s exemplification of the broad themes of art and imagination in human life. The author’s world-historical perspective of religion and tradition gives readers a crucial alternative to the divisive “clash of civilizations” view that paints Islam as at odds with the West. He exposes the unifying strands between Islam and early Judeo-Christian doctrine, showing that Islam is in fact a genuine part of “Western” tradition, and more importantly, part of a global tradition that embraces us all.

Fearlesshunter
An exquisite reevaluation of Islam by an academic genius who, in his mid-sixties, decided that his previous understanding of the world had been rendered inadequate by the Iranian revolution of 1979. Dead since 2002, Norman O. Brown secured his legacy with these lectures, which, unfortunately have yet to make much of a splash--a situation that will no doubt be remedied by time. Given the vast influence of his earlier books, LIFE AGAINST DEATH and LOVE'S BODY, which were sort of a mashup of Freud and Blake (to mention only two particularly potent influences), THE CHALLENGE OF ISLAM was fated to be considered by its own generation as something done on the side. But even though Brown never meant these lectures to be published in their present form, they manage to go to the heart of the Islam and are indispensable for gaining a clearer understanding of what this 'challenging' faith is all about. See also Brown's two essays on Islam that are included in his 'Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis' and entitled 'The Prophetic Tradition' and 'The Apocalypse of Islam.' Your world, like Brown's, will change.
Centrizius
I have been a long time admirer of N.O. Brown's innovative thinking. I have been recently rereading his work and came across reference to this title which I did not previously know. It is really fantastic and deepens by understanding of Islamic history and is fascinating to read today.
Wafi
Norman O Brown's take on Islam and its relations with Judaism and Christianity are brilliant.
Nuadador
Although I've heard these lectures as they were delivered at Santa Cruz, it is a delight to have a transcribed copy.

The introduction by Jay Cantor is outstanding.

We must finally face the fact that Norman O. Brown may well be the most important thinker of the 20th century.
Kanrad
H. Talat Halman, Ph.D.
Central Michigan University

In The Challenge of Islam, Norman O. Brown (1913-2002) poses three vital and interconnected challenges. First, Islam presents the challenge of the prophet against the institutions of the priesthood and the kingdom, the temple and the city. Second, Islam challenges Church Christianity. And third, Islam poses the challenge Brown takes up as a major theme - Brown's challenge to the reader -- to make one's life a work of art. The Challenge of Islam is a recent posthumously-published set of seven transcribed lectures originally delivered at Tufts in 1981, and one previously unpublished essay, the written text of a conference paper.
Throughout the work Brown reframes and reinforces the esoteric traditions of Ruzbihan, Suhrawardi, Ibn `Arabi, and their rich testimonies of epiphany and beauty. Trained as a classicist Brown's syntheses of symbol, myth, and ritual, especially "Life Against Death" (1959) and "Love's Body" (1966) stand as landmarks of visionary and psychoanalytic approaches to history and literature. Some of the material in these lectures appeared in condensed form in two chapters of Brown's Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis (1991).

Late in his career Brown began studying Islam. His classical training enriches his representation of Henri Corbin's signature The Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn `Arabi as a central theme in this book. It is this creative imagination of the artist that Brown advocates: "Man is the vicegerent of God on Earth...His work is to make the invisible reality of God visible. To make...to be an artist. That is what art is." (p. 36) This is one of the major themes of the book, as well as to show how Muhammad is the "Great Erotic," the exemplar of "the amourous ardor of `ishq....creative love" (p. 102) and as such truly an artist. Brown declares: "And Muhammad is the bridge between Christ and Dante and Blake."(p. 44)

One of Brown's goals in this book is to provide access to the challenge of Islam that calls us all to be spiritual artists. Brown relies on William Blake to provide a parallel example, referring frequently to Blake's image and calligraphy of the Laocoön (e.g. pp. 34, 36-37) which serves as the frontispiece to this volume. Brown follows Blake in quoting therein Moses' wish, in the sense of a sunna (prophetic example), to be followed: "Would to God that all the Lord's people were prophets." (Num. 11:29, p. 26) And it is in relation to transfiguration and metamorphosis that Brown exemplifies the people of `creative imagination' who participate in the epiphanous relationship with an angel. This is the art that as Brown observes the Prophet Muhammad especially perfected. It is by integrating Blake and Sufism that Brown proposes a vision of the artist at the heart of the spiritual life.

But Brown's lectures also trace the historical framework of Islam, both in its development and its flowering. It is part of the brilliance of Brown's treatment that he links art and history: he discusses the nature of the Qur'anic Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad's relationship with Gabriel as starting points for his discussion of the visionary life of the spiritual artist. Brown opens his first lecture "Universal History with Cosmopolitan Intent" by describing Islam as "a wager that Christianity has gone wrong." (p. 3) He proceeds in his second lecture "Islam and Judaism" to suggest that Islam represents "the first Protestant Reformation."(p. 13) Citing Harnack's definition of Islam as "a transformation on Arab soil of Jewish religion that had itself been transformed by Gnostic Judeo-Christianity." (p. 16), Brown unfolds the history of Islam. This transforming Gnosticism was a form of "Jewish Christianity" called Ebionism, one of many Christian movements that were known to the people of Muhammad's world. The Ebionites accepted the Torah as reformed by Jesus, the Prophet (although, Ebionites believed that Jesus was adopted during his baptism as the son of God). The Ebionites also abolished expiatory sacrifice, thus also challenging the institution of the priesthood. Except for its adoptionism, Ebionism accords closely with Islam. This is a very useful discussion, although Ebionism represented only one Christian movement known to Muhammad and his community. Brown overlooks the Monophysites, Nestorians, and Elkesites.

In his third lecture, "Islam and Christianity," Brown sets the stage for his view of the spiritual aspirant as artist. Here Brown explores the Gnostic tradition of Docetism, a sect that believed (as the Qur'an says [4.157:]) that Jesus only "appeared" to have been crucified. Brown emphasizes that the meaning of the term implies that Jesus was an epiphany, a being of light, rather than an incarnation, (p. 33-34)
Quoting from Blake's Laocoön, Brown emphasizes the relationship of art and spirituality: "Prayer is the Study of Art. Praise is the Practise of Art. Fasting &c., all relate to Art." (p. 37) Here Brown relishes in the summary meaning of Corbin's title, "Creative Imagination." Fruitfully, Brown cites the Gnostic "Acts of Peter" and the "Acts of John" both texts which present light mysticism. What we call transfiguration, Brown reclaims as "metamorphosis" and "epiphany." Based on the two Gnostic texts, Brown writes: "Finally the world of transfiguration, metamorphoses, where Christ, the angel Christos, where Christ is a Body of Light, apparitions, is a world of angels, and that's the final meaning of Docetism." And Brown effectively underscores this Islamicised tradition of Docetism as a basis for a creative relationship with epiphanous beings.

In lecture four, "The Book," Brown celebrates the Qur'an by comparing it to Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Both books, Brown asserts, engage deeply in the interplay of orality and writing and both present rich plays of phonemes. Summarizing one of the Qur'an's dynamics, Brown writes: "The universe is a book...The book of the universe is ultimately inscrutable, a notion more modern than Dante, more modern than Blake even." (p. 52) Brown quotes the story of Moses' journey with al-Khidr and acknowledges it as "a key text in Sh'`ite esotericism," another theme of these lectures, Sh'`ism as the Spirit of Gnosis.

Lecture five outlines the Sunni- Sh'`a succession in a relatively straightforward way, although tantalizing is Brown's assertion of the irony of creating a corpus of Shar' `a and claiming that "...they were inventing nothing." (p. 67) Brown very adroitly quotes Ayatollah Tab'tab''i who asks how it could be that in the life of the Prophet who thought out and addressed so many intricate details of life, including prophecies of the future, that he would have remained silent as to his successor. Brown rallies behind the Sh'`a paradigm of "living leadership that is divinely inspired" (p. 71) in the imam and the open gate of ijtihad (interpretation). (pp. 71-73)

Lecture six on "Revolutionary Islam" examines the first challenges to the community, the fitna. This leads Brown to an extended discussion of the Niz'r' Ism'''lis (the Assassins) in which he describes their secret as "both occultism and conspiracy" (p. 85), a "Gnostic impulse" of both esotericism and politics. Brown's attention to both the mysticism and politics of esotericism is most helpful.

In lecture seven on "Mystic Islam," Brown explores the world of Sufism based on his premise that epiphany and light mysticism provide the basis for a creative, artistic, spiritual relationship. Brown emphasizes that Islam is based on epiphany, not incarnation. The three themes he stresses in this lecture include: relationship with an angel; beauty as hierophany; (p. 100) and the power of creative erotic divine love (`ishq) as a mutually shared yearning between God and humanity. (p. 101-104) Brown reminds us that it is God's yearning and God's sigh that bring the creation into being as an act of love. Brown sees especially in Sufism and Sh''ism, esoteric Gnostic traditions that focus on living teachers and alive spiritual relationships making for a living spirituality. Brown recognizes that "Sufi mysticism transforms the whole Qur''n into the Song of Songs. The entire Qur''n is a symbolic, allusive story between the lover and the beloved." (p. 103)

In the eighth chapter, an essay on "Sh'`ite Islam: The Politics of Gnosticism," Brown revisits the themes of the Prophet vs. the Kingship (one might think of Imam Husayn vs. the Umayyads) and the "living leadership" of the Sh'`ite tradition. Brown asserts that al-Khidr, the Green Man (Qur'an 18.60-82) is the symbolic basis for the Imamate. (p. 113) Here Brown spells out the relationships between the Prophet and the Spirit of Gnosis: Abraham and Melchizedek; Moses and Elijah; and Muhammad and `Ali. (p. 124) Finally Brown delves more deeply into the Niz'r'-Ism'''li tradition as an example of fulfilling the challenge of Islam to make Islam one's own work of art.

Brown's book should be especially useful and inspiring to students participating in the Seven Pillars House of Wisdom as Brown models how one may access the esoteric Sh''a and Sufi traditions in order to make of one's life art, especially in the spiritual sense.

I began this review by suggesting that Brown recognized three challenges in Islam. But in fact, Brown also models a fourth challenge: how to mine the riches of Islam as one's own heritage, even if one is not Muslim. Of course as Brown emphasizes throughout, Islam has always participated in the Western traditions, as both the "first Protestant Reformation," the channel between the ancient world and the European renaissance, and "the bridge between Christ and Dante and Blake." Now Brown posthumously calls us to an engaged and epiphanous relationship to the realities of Islam, the work of the artist to make the invisible visible.

Because most of this material is transcribed, it is not as easy to read as written discourse. One or two factual errors include the misdating of the founding of Cairo (969, C.E.).