Friday, May 11, 2012

On the Importance of Being Offended

So I spent this afternoon reading a recent book on Mughal history that I had been putting off reading because I had read earlier articles by the same scholar and found them underwhelming and lacking in substance. Having handed in my papers, and finding a comfy spot in the library, I sat down and read the first three chapters. Sadly, with each page I read I got increasingly livid--feeling disturbed and horrified by the deplorable level of scholarship. In short, I was deeply offended; not by the author's arguments, which, when one coyly appeared, mildly sidestepped any actual debate, conceding to contradictory positions in a circular logic. No, it was by the abysmal level of scholarship; assertions without evidence, incorrect citations and names, and observations that were, for a lack of a better word, unabashedly unoriginal. This was not a general survey or introductory work on Mughal history that aimed to present a summary of existing literature. No, it was the product of the scholar's PhD dissertation, which shocked me, and gave me no small pause, given how the author's supervisor was an esteemed scholar. Rarely have I been more offended by a piece of scholarship for its wanton sloppiness and intellectual anemia. I think the problem with our particular field of Islamic history is that we are no longer deeply offended by poor scholarship, happily welcoming lazy students who are more interested in making claims than doing the necessary grunt work. Instead we reserve our blinding fury for when we encounter a political or ideological position we disagree with in a work. Rather than toss meaningless labels, and here I mean the big O, perhaps we should find it a personal affront when authors attempt to insult our intelligence by not even being able to correctly cite a work, transliterate consistently in a logical manner, or maintain some coherent argument. Scholars need to stop being polite, forgiving a lack of rigor for what is rather kindly deemed as creative or innovative scholarship. Where, I ask, are our academic muḥtasibs, commanding right and forbidding wrong?

1 comment:

  1. What, pray, is the work in question? you may tactfully e-mail if you wish not to reveal it in public ...

    ... on a related note, I'm reading Lisa Balabanlilar, Imperial Identity in the Mughal Empire: Memory and dynastic politics in early modern South and Central Asia (London: Tauris, 2012). I'd found her articles very interesting, particularly regarding women at the imperial court, but as this book is less engaging.