This January, Oxford University Press released “Cosmopolitans and Heretics: New Muslim Intellectuals and the Study of Islam” by Carool Kersten (King’s College, London). The publisher’s description follows:
Dramatic political events involving Muslims across the world have put Islam under increased scrutiny. However, the focus of this attention is generally limited to the political realm and often even further confined by constrictive views of Islamism narrowed down to its most extremist exponents. Much less attention is paid to the parallel development of more liberal alternative Islamic discourses. The final decades of the twentieth-century has also seen the emergence of a Muslim intelligentsia exploring new and creative ways of engaging with the Islamic heritage. Drawing on advances made in the Western human sciences and understanding Islam in comprehensive terms as a civilisation rather than restricting it to religion in a conventional sense their ideas often cause controversy, even inviting accusations of heresy. Cosmopolitans and Heretics examines three of these new Muslim intellectuals who combine a solid grounding in the Islamic tradition with an equally intimate familiarity with the latest achievements of Western scholarship in religion. This cosmopolitan attitude challenges existing stereotypes and makes these thinkers difficult to categorise. Underscoring the global dimensions of new Muslim intellectualism, Kersten analyses contributions to contemporary Islamic thought of the late Nurcholish Madjid, Indonesia’s most prominent public intellectual of recent decades, Hasan Hanafi, one of the leading philosophers in Egypt, and the influential French-Algerian historian of Islam Mohammed Arkoun. Emphasising their importance for the rethinking of the study of Islam as a field of academic inquiry, this is the first book of its kind and a welcome addition to the intellectual history of the modern Muslim world.
In February, I.B.Tauris will release “Islam in Saudi Arabia” by David Dean Commins (Dickinson College). The publisher’s description follows:
In the popular imagination, Saudi Arabia is a monolithic and static relic from an earlier age, wedded to a reactionary interpretation of Islam and led by an authoritarian monarchy whose alliance with a retrograde religious establishment has assured its survival. David Commins challenges this view by tracing the origins and evolution of the Saudi state from its eighteenth century roots through the present day. For Commins, Saudi Arabia’s contemporary social and political order is the product of dynamic historical and ongoing struggles, both internal (pitting dynasts against religious traditionalists, Wahhabi true believers against non-Wahhabis and their more liberal Wahhabi allies, and an old guard against a younger generation habituated to a world of social media, cable television, and consumerism) and external (including threats from imperial powers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Arab nationalists in the 1950s-60s, Saddam’s Iraq in the 1990s, and, currently, Iran and al-Qaeda). Commins tracks the Al Saud’s efforts to balance and overcome these challenges, in the process creating a system whose defining characteristics are contradiction and ambiguity.
Later this month, the University of Tennessee Press will release “Built with Faith: Italian American Imagination and Catholic Material Culture in New York City” by Joseph Sciorra (Queens College). The publisher’s description follows:
Over the course of 130 years, Italian American Catholics in New York City have developed a varied repertoire of devotional art and architecture to create community-based sacred spaces in their homes and neighborhoods. These spaces exist outside of but in relationship to the consecrated halls of local parishes and are sites of worship in conventionally secular locations. Such ethnic building traditions and urban ethnic landscapes have long been neglected by all but a few scholars. Joseph Sciorra’s Built with Faith offers a place-centric, ethnographic study of the religious material culture of New York City’s Italian American Catholics.
Sciorra has spent thirty-five years researching these community art forms and interviewing Italian immigrant and U.S.-born Catholics. By documenting the folklife of this group, Sciorra reveals how Italian Americans in the city use expressive culture and religious practices to trans- form everyday urban space into unique, communal sites of ethnically infused religiosity. The folk aesthetics practiced by individuals within their communities are integral to understanding how art is conceptualized, implemented, and esteemed outside of museum and gallery walls. Yard shrines, sidewalk altars, Nativity presepi, Christmas house displays, a stone-studded grotto, and neighborhood processions—often dismissed as kitsch or prized as folk art—all provide examples of the vibrant and varied ways contemporary Italian Americans use material culture, architecture, and public ceremonial display to shape the city’s religious and cultural landscapes.
Written in an accessible style that will appeal to general readers and scholars alike, Sciorra’s unique study contributes to our understanding of how value and meaning are reproduced at the confluences of everyday life.
In March, Cambridge University Press will release “Catholicism and the Great War: Religion and Everyday Life in Germany and Austria-Hungary, 1914–1922” by Patrick Houlihan (University of Chicago). The publisher’s description follows:
This transnational comparative history of Catholic everyday religion in Germany and Austria-Hungary during the Great War transforms our understanding of the war’s cultural legacy. Challenging master narratives of secularization and modernism, Houlihan reveals that Catholics from the losing powers had personal and collective religious experiences that revise the decline-and-fall stories of church and state during wartime. Focusing on private theologies and lived religion, Houlihan explores how believers adjusted to industrial warfare. Giving voice to previously marginalized historical actors, including soldiers as well as women and children on the home front, he creates a family history of Catholic religion, supplementing studies of the clergy and bishops. His findings shed new light on the diversity of faith in this period and how specifically Catholic forms of belief and practice enabled people from the losing powers to cope with the war much more successfully than previous cultural histories have led us to believe.
In February, Edinburgh University Press will release “Contemporary Islamic Law in Indonesia: Shari’ah and Legal Pluralism” by Arskal Salim (University of Western Sydney). The publisher’s description follows:
Indonesia has probably the fastest changing legal system in the Muslim world. This ethnographic account of legal pluralism in the post-conflict and disaster situation in Aceh addresses changes in both the national legal system and the regional legal structure in the province. Focusing on the encounter between diverse patterns of legal reasoning advocated by multiple actors and by different institutions (local, national and international; official and unofficial; judicial, political and social cultural) it considers the vast array of issues arising in the wake of the December 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Aceh.
It investigates disputes about rights to land and other forms of property, power relations, the conflict of rules, gender relationships, the right to make decisions, and prevailing norms. These disputes are presented on multiple levels and in various forums, either through negotiation or adjudication, regardless of whether they are settled or not. The cases involve various actors from villages, the courts, the provincial government and the legislature, the national Supreme Court and the central government of Indonesia.
In March, Yale University Press will release “The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions” by Michael Walzer (Emeritus Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study). The publisher’s description follows:
Many of the successful campaigns for national liberation in the years following World War II were initially based on democratic and secular ideals. Once established, however, the newly independent nations had to deal with entirely unexpected religious fierceness. Michael Walzer, one of America’s foremost political thinkers, examines this perplexing trend by studying India, Israel, and Algeria, three nations whose founding principles and institutions have been sharply attacked by three completely different groups of religious revivalists: Hindu militants, ultra-Orthodox Jews and messianic Zionists, and Islamic radicals.
In his provocative, well-reasoned discussion, Walzer asks why these secular democratic movements have failed to sustain their hegemony: Why have they been unable to reproduce their political culture beyond one or two generations? In a postscript, he compares the difficulties of contemporary secularism to the successful establishment of secular politics in the early American republic—thereby making an argument for American exceptionalism but gravely noting that we may be less exceptional today.
This March, Princeton University Press will release “Islamic Political Thought: An Introduction” edited by Gerhard Bowering (Yale University). The publisher’s description follows:
In sixteen concise chapters on key topics, this book provides a rich, authoritative, and up-to-date introduction to Islamic political thought from the birth of Islam to today, presenting essential background and context for understanding contemporary politics in the Islamic world and beyond. Selected from the acclaimed Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought, and focusing on the origins, development, and contemporary importance of Islamic political ideas and related subjects, each chapter offers a sophisticated yet accessible introduction to its topic. Written by leading specialists and incorporating the latest scholarship, the alphabetically arranged chapters cover the topics of authority, the caliphate, fundamentalism, government, jihad, knowledge, minorities, modernity, Muhammad, pluralism and tolerance, the Qur’an, revival and reform, shariʿa (sacred law), traditional political thought, ‘ulama’ (religious scholars), and women. Read separately or together, these chapters provide an indispensable resource for students, journalists, policymakers, and anyone else seeking an informed perspective on the complex intersection of Islam and politics.
In February, I.B.Tauris will release “Twenty-first Century Jihad: Law, Society and Military Action” by Elisabeth Kendall (University of Oxford) and Ewan Stein (University of Edinburgh). The publisher’s description follows:
The term ‘jihad’ has come to be used as a byword for fanaticism and Islam’s allegedly implacable hostility towards the West. But, like other religious and political concepts, jihad has multiple resonances and associations, its meaning shifting over time and from place to place. Jihad has referred to movements of internal reform, spiritual struggle and self-defence as much as to ‘holy war’. And among Muslim intellectuals, the meaning and significance of jihad remain subject to debate and controversy. With this in mind, Twenty-First Century Jihad examines the ways in which the concept of jihad has changed, from its roots in the Qur’an to its usage in current debate. This book explores familiar modern political angles, and touches on far less commonly analysed instances of jihad, incorporating issues of law, society, literature and military action. As this key concept is ever-more important for international politics and security studies, Twenty-First Century Jihad contains vital analysis for those researching the role of religion in the modern world.
This past December, Oxford University Press released “Singing the Right Way: Orthodox Christians and Secular Enchantment in Estonia” by Jeffers Engelhardt (Amherst College). The publisher’s description follows:
Singing the Right Way enters the world of Orthodox Christianity in Estonia to explore musical style in worship, cultural identity, and social imagination. Through both ethnographic and historical chapters, author Jeffers Engelhardt reveals how Orthodox Estonians give voice to the religious absolute in secular society. Based on a decade of fieldwork, Singing the Right Way traces the sounds of Orthodoxy in Estonia through the Russian Empire, interwar national independence, the Soviet-era, and post-Soviet integration into the European Union. Approaching Orthodoxy through local understandings of correct practice and correct belief, Engelhardt shows how religious knowledge, national identity, and social transformation illuminate how to “sing the right way” and thereby realize the fullness of Estonians’ Orthodox Christian faith in context of everyday, secular surroundings. Singing the Right Way is an innovative model of how the musical poetics of contemporary religious forms are rooted in both consistent sacred tradition and contingent secular experience. This landmark study is sure to be an essential text for scholars studying the ethnomusicology of religion.