Amy Peikoff’s Koran reading group is my first experience of a reading group with other like-minded people. I’m really, really, really enjoying the experience so far, I’m getting far more out of it than I would if I had just sat down and read the book alone. These are some of the reasons why such as structure is brilliant:
- You miss less. Like it or not, even the most skilled reader is going to miss certain things on the first reading of a text. It might be a subtle metaphor, an obscure reference or even a whole narrative of interpretation that escaped your attention. Books, both fiction and non fiction, are massively complex structures which exist in a web of context, references, citations and philosophies – it is great when you discuss part of a book and suddenly your knowledge about the text doubles.
- It allows for the division of labour. I don’t mean splitting up the book into different sections for different people, that would be nuts, but a different sort of division is encouraged by the format. If you find a particular part of the section, or a particular sideline, or narrative or reference that you find particularly interesting, then it is ok to spend some time exploring that avenue. If I was reading the Koran alone, just absorbing the text would be a colossal feat, it would probably take two or three reads, but since there are other intelligent people reading it with me I can afford to be picky about what I really want to analyse. If I want to go and explore a particular historical interpretation and spend a few hours on it, that is fine because my basic understanding of the text comes much more efficiently because of my missing less (see above). I have a much richer understanding not only because I can fully explore certain parts in the same amount of time a basic reading would take alone, but also because other people are doing the same thing and will share their experiences during the meeting.
- It keeps me on track. Without the weekly discussion, religious study would be an absolute chore for me, but the promise of sharing my discoveries and hearing the discoveries of other readers is such a delight that putting in the work seems like no effort at all. I have no doubt that without the promise of weekly meetings, I would have grown bored of this project by now.
- You get to know other researchers. People with a lucid understanding of the text are immediately distinguishable, and you can quickly form some estimation of their skills as a serious student.