Scattered Observations from the Papers of Marshall Hodgson et al

I went into the University of Chicago’s Speical Collections hoping to find some evidence of a correspondence between the philospher and fellow Committee on Social Thought member, Leo Strauss, and the great historian of Islam Marhsall Hodgson in the Committee’s or Hodgson’s own personal papers. Beyond Hodgson’s direct discussion of Strauss’ article on reading Al-Fārābī in Volume 1 of the Venture of Islam there was, I thought, other traces Strauss’ particular kind of esoteric reading in the text including his interpretation of how to read al-Ṭabarī’s polyvocal account of ʿUthmān’s murder (vol. 1 335-6). Despite their proximity, there was little paper trail of any interaction between the two men. Much of the influence seems to be attributable to oral discussions in 1963 and 64, extensively documented in Hodgson’s notes for his chapter on falsafa and kalām and cited in the text itself, with Muḥsin Mahdī. Mahdī like Hodgson had been a student at the Committee in the late 40s and early 50s, where he had studied with Strauss, before returning to UChicago to teach in NELC for much of the 60s while Hodgson served as faculty on the committee.

Despite turning up empty handed on this front, several other documents in the Hodgson and Strauss papers felt almost too suggestive of charachter of the larger than life figures that inhabitted the University in this time, and too comic, to be left to their manilla folders. So in what follows, I present a small selection of particularly evocative quotes from them.

From the records of the Office of the Chairman of the Committee on Social Thought:

In what was presumably some sort of tenure review document authored by Hodgson on 16 February 1968, he offers a “statement of my publications as forseen as of now (exlcuding articles, of which I have published a great many and have serveral more in the hopper not quite ready yet to publish).” Hodgson opens by modestly informing the reader that, “I am a historian, in particular a historian of life-orientational traditions (especially thouse that can be called religious), specializing in the Islamic traditions, and focusing on the problem of the meaning of the pre-Modern heritages for modern mankind, – and on the relevance of a world-historical perspective thereto.

Under the heading “books already done or nearly done” he proceeds to list The Order of Assassins, Introduction to Islamic Civilization: Course syllabus and selected readings, and The Venture of Islam. In a long parenthetical to the final publication Hodgson notes rather playfully, “From preliminary responses, I anticipate widespread favorable response, especially among the young and among those older scholars who are most respected; and also widespread violent resistance – for instance, among philogians not also respected as historians; for though no negative responses have yet emerged, I aniticipate them because the book will contradict so many cherished notions.”

Under the heading “books to be done in future” he lists Islam in World History, Unity of World History (known to us in mimeo), World History Age by Age, On reading the Qur ân, and finally The Valley of Vision. For this final work Hodgson offers a rather staggering description:

my 'dream book'; presumably this is the big work planned since 1944; a visional interpretation of historical humanity, a sort of cross between Dante and Hegel, for which I have sketches of episodes, etc. But I may find that what I have wanted to do with it will tun out to be a rather more conventional world history of religion (not very conventional: there has never been an actual world history of religion written, only surveys of the various religions one by one). This work is all too far away as yet for me to be able to forsee what its form (or forms) will be; but it ought to be my master work.