Redefining 'Tradition' in Political Thought

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Debates about preserving, modifying and applying sharia (Islamic normative guidelines) through principles of taqlid (to follow) or ijtihad (to carry out independent interpretation) are immensely useful in thinking through a sharper definition of tradition for political theorists and historians of political thought more generally. Political theorists and historians of political thought have tended to use tradition in a range of ways without specifying key elements of the concept. Building on debates in Islamic thought related to taqlid and its relationship to ijtihad, and through a focus on the ideas of a contemporary thinker, Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, this paper proposes that tradition in political thought can be defined as a framework for knowledge production and consumption constituted of two key elements: method and sensibility. Further, the paper suggests that this definition allows us a better understanding of vibrancy in a tradition: vehement debate, contradictions and internal contestation are not signs of decay but of vitality within a tradition. It is the severe delinking of the two elements of a tradition, method and sensibility, which has greater potential to reduce its vibrancy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)424-444
Issue number4
Early online date16 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016


  • Islamic political thought; Taqlid; Ghamidi' Comparative Political Theory; South Asian Thought


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