Whitney Bodman, "The Poetics of Iblis: Narrative Theology in the Qur'an" (Harvard UP, 2011)


The Qur'an is filled with stories. It chronicles the lives of prophets, the stories of believers and non-believers, and lays out the creation of the cosmos. However, the Qur'an's narrative qualities are often overlooked. Recently, there has been an increasing turn to literary models for approaching scripture by academics. Whitney S. Bodman, Professor of Comparative Religion at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, explores the narrative of Iblis in his new book, The Poetics of Iblis: Narrative Theology in the Qur'an (Harvard University Press, 2011). Iblis was a character who refused to bow to Adam and obey God's command and has been associated with Satan. Most post-Qur'anic narratives of Iblis characterize him as the embodiment of evil. However, other texts, especially Sufi literature, describe him as a staunch monotheist who chose to follow the will of God rather than the command of God. In The Poetics of Iblis, Bodman analyzes each of the seven Qur'anic versions of the his story and explains the characteristics of these renderings through various mythic tropes. Thematic intertexuality, audience knowledge repertoire, and structural composition of Qur'anic chapters all help formulate the meaning of each retelling of the Iblis story. Through a reader-response approach to the literary text of the Qur'an Bodman concludes that Iblis ranges from a tragic character to a foil of humanity, with various meanings in between. In our conversation we discuss the theology of Evil in Islam, the relationship between reader and text, the nature of Qur'anic exegesis, and how some modern authors adapt the Iblis character to comment on contemporary society.

Your Host

Kristian Petersen

Kristian Petersen is an Associate Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at kpeterse@odu.edu.

View Profile