Kenneth Cragg’s Islam: The limits of cross-cultural interpretation Line

Dr. Daniel Brown
Visiting Scholar, Oriental Institute, University of Oxford

A central issue raised by Kenneth Cragg’s work is the problem succinctly posed by Alasdair MacIntyre. In the absence of any neutral court of appeal, MacIntyre asks, how can adherents of traditions fundamentally at odds with one another find ground for evaluation of the rival tradition. In answer he suggests that a protagonist gifted with sympathy and philosophical imagination might “learn how to think as if one were a convinced adherent of that tradition” and so enter the intellectual world of another tradition that he or she could explore the limitations and unresolved issues of that tradition on its own terms.Kenneth Cragg’s ambition to enter sympathetically into the intellectual world of Islam, and the single-minded determination with which he pursued this project for more than 60 years, make his work a compelling test case of MacIntyre’s proposal in the field of comparative theology. Is the kind of sympathy that MacIntyre proposes, and that Cragg endeavours to employ, in the end possible? To answer we must place Cragg’s methods and conclusions in the context of the Islamic intellectual tradition, and ask where and whether his work “fits” within that tradition.