Shah of the University of London notes that "the academic field of Qur'anic Studies lags significantly behind the extended range of scholarship that the Bible has attracted." This collection of essays attempts to close the gap. While it does not remove the study of the Qur'an from the realms of Islamic piety and apologetics, it recognizes how the Qur'an has also been the subject of historical and textual investigations and provides a general overview of the field as it has developed historically and exists today among both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars.
The book's fifty-seven essays present a sweeping assessment of the study of the Qur'an. They explore the Qur'an's historical setting and the linguistic environment in which it appeared; its textual transmission, codification, manuscripts, inscriptions, and printed editions; its structural and literary dimensions; its themes and preoccupations; and its political aspects, including a survey of ancient and modern interpretations of its teachings on jihad. Also included are evaluations of translations of the Qur'an into various languages; early, classical, and modern exegesis of the Qur'an; and how minority Islamic sects, including Twelver Shiites, Ismailis, Ibadis, and Sufis have approached the Qur'an.
Many of the essays are striking in their recognition of the work of revisionist scholars such as Christoph Luxenberg, Gunter Lüling, David Powers, and others who have attempted to account for the lacunae and curiosities in the canonical account of the origins of the Qur'an and Islam in general, and to provide alternative explanations that resolve some of these anomalies. Not all of their findings are mutually compatible, and the field is still, as Shah notes, in its relative infancy, in large part because those who pursue such investigations could be physically threatened as a result of their perceived challenge to cherished beliefs. Nevertheless, the book provides a useful introduction to the state of these investigations today, even if the authors are frequently unpersuaded by the revisionist arguments. Its best use would be to inspire others to study the work of these scholars for themselves and take their inquiries to the next stage.