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Redefining 'Tradition' in Political Thought

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)424-444
Issue number4
Early online date16 Sep 2016
Accepted/In press5 Aug 2016
E-pub ahead of print16 Sep 2016
PublishedOct 2016


King's Authors


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.

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