415 episodes

Interviews with Scholars of the Middle East about their New Books

New Books in Middle Eastern Studies New Books Network

    • Society & Culture

Interviews with Scholars of the Middle East about their New Books

    Diana Darke, "Stealing from the Saracens: How Islamic Architecture Shaped Europe" (Hurst, 2020)

    Diana Darke, "Stealing from the Saracens: How Islamic Architecture Shaped Europe" (Hurst, 2020)

    Visitors around the world have travelled to Europe to see the tall spires and stained glass windows of the continent’s Gothic cathedrals: in Cologne, Chartres, Milan, Florence, York and Paris. The trappings of Gothic architecture have become shorthand for “medieval Europe”.
    Yet in Stealing from the Saracens: How Islamic Architecture Shaped Europe (Hurst: 2020), Diana Darke investigates the Islamic origins of Gothic architecture, tracing its history through pre-Islamic Syria through the Islamic empires to the tall European cathedrals between the 12th and 17th centuries. The book sold out on its first day of sale, in part due to its review in The Guardian, which called the book "an exhilarating, meticulously researched book that sheds light on centuries of borrowing."
    In this interivew, Diana Darke and I talk about the origins of what we consider to be “Gothic architecture”, how those styles came to Europe, how this history of cultural and intellectual exchange may have gotten lost, and what we miss when we code something as fully “European”, fully “Islamic”, or fully any kind of culture.
    Diana Darke is an Arabist and cultural expert who has lived and worked in the Middle East for over thirty years. Among her better-known books are The Merchant of Syria: A History of Survival and My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Crisis.
    You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books, where you can find its review of Stealing from the Saracens. Follow on Facebook or on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.
    Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He is also a print and broadcast commentator on local and regional politics. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.
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    • 37 min
    Anne K. Bang, "Islamic Sufi Networks in the Western Indian Ocean (c.1880-1940): Ripples of Reform" (Brill, 2014)

    Anne K. Bang, "Islamic Sufi Networks in the Western Indian Ocean (c.1880-1940): Ripples of Reform" (Brill, 2014)

    In the period c. 1880-1940, organized Sufism spread rapidly in the western Indian Ocean. New communities turned to Islam, and Muslim communities turned to new texts, practices, and religious leaders. On the East African coast, the orders were both a vehicle for conversion to Islam and for reform of Islamic practice. The impact of Sufism on local communities is here traced geographically as a ripple reaching beyond the Swahili cultural zone southwards to Mozambique, Madagascar, and Cape Town. Through an investigation of the texts, ritual practices, and scholarly networks that went alongside Sufi expansion, Anne K. Bang's Islamic Sufi Networks in the Western Indian Ocean (c.1880-1940): Ripples of Reform (Brill, 2014) places religious change in the western Indian Ocean within the wider framework of Islamic reform.
    Ahmed Yaqoub AlMaazmi is a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University. His research focuses on the intersection of law and the environment across the Western Indian Ocean. He can be reached by email at almaazmi@princeton.edu or on Twitter @Ahmed_Yaqoub. Listeners’ feedback, questions, and book suggestions are most welcome.
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    • 1 hr 37 min
    David Rundell, "Vision or Mirage: Saudi Arabia at the Crossroads" (I. B. Tauris, 2020)

    David Rundell, "Vision or Mirage: Saudi Arabia at the Crossroads" (I. B. Tauris, 2020)

    David Rundell brings to his book, Vision or Mirage: Saudi Arabia at the Crossroads (I. B. Tauris, 2020), a granular analysis and insider’s understanding of the inner workings of the kingdom garnered as a US foreign service officer who served a total of 15 years in the country.
    Rundell skilfully weaves history into a multi-layered portrait of the transformation for good and bad that Saudi Arabia is experiencing under King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
    The former diplomat illustrates Salman’s long-standing focus on combatting corruption with the picture he paints of his governing of the Saudi capital Riyadh for nearly five decades before ascending to the throne.
    Anti-corruption has played a dramatic role since Salman became king in solidifying and concentrating power in the kingdom and breaking with a past of slow and gradual change, introducing instead rapid reforms with little consultation.
    To do so, Salman picked his son, Mohammed, as crown prince because he saw in him a bulldozer with the needed ambition, drive, and ruthlessness to undermine traditional pillars of support of the Saudi system like elite cohesion and the maintenance of rival armed forces.
    Elite cohesion was disrupted by disenfranchising or subjugating key elements of the Saudi power structure, including included significant segments of the bloated ruling Al Saud family and the religious establishment, who would have likely slowed down or opposed reforms that would enable economic diversification and a reduction of the kingdom’s dependence on oil exports.
    In doing so, Rundell argues that Salman may have made Saudi Arabia less stable particular in a country in which absolute political and military power has been concentrated in the hands of one man and a population that is in majority young and aspires for greater transparency and accountability.
    Identifying a defeat in the war in Yemen or a failure to make good on promises of job creation as potential catalysts of resistance to the rule of the Salmans, Rundell warns that any organized opposition would be cloaked in the mantle of religious ultra-conservatism rather than concepts of secularism or democracy.
    In the ultimate analysis, Rundell has produced one of the most historically grounded and informed evaluations of the significant change Saudi Arabia is experiencing and the prospects and pitfalls of far-reaching of social and economic reforms while severely curtailing political rights.
    The curtailing, mass arrests of religious and more secular activists, and the killing in 2018 of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul have already cost the kingdom dearly in terms of its reputation, complicating its diplomatic relations with the West at a time of a global economic downturn.
    Rundell’s book constitutes a major contribution to a mushrooming literature on Saudi Arabia, a country that has long been and in many ways still is cloaked in secrecy.
    Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist, senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, and the author of the syndicated column and blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer
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    • 1 hr 14 min
    J. E. Peterson, "The Emergence of the Gulf States: Studies in Modern History" (Bloomsbury, 2016)

    J. E. Peterson, "The Emergence of the Gulf States: Studies in Modern History" (Bloomsbury, 2016)

    The Emergence of the Gulf States: Studies in Modern History (Bloomsbury, 2016) offers an overview of the history of Saudi Arabia and the five Persian/Arabian Gulf states that emerged from British rule between 1961 and 1971--including Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.
    The book synthesized the works of many academics, all experts in their field to bring forward a book that is as comprehensive as possible about the history of the region. It has 11 chapter and all but one chapter are organized into two sections. The first section provides a narrative of the the topic and the second a bibliographic overview.
    The scope of the book is vast but predominantly focus on the the history of the gulf from the 1800s to roughly the 1970s and in some cases the 80s. A general theme that the book centers around is that historically speaking, the gulf was interconnected within itself, as Arabs and Persians and other respective ethnic groups, intermixed, traded, fought and married within themselves. Hence the creation of the nation states politically, economically, socially and academically disconnected the region, changing the way people interacted with each other and the outside world as well as shaping the way in which academics studies them.
    J. E. Peterson is affiliated with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Arizona, USA. He has been a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (Philadelphia) and the Middle East Institute (Washington, D.C.), and an Adjunct Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington, D.C.). Until 1999, he served as the Historian of the Sultan's Armed Forces in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for Security and Defence in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, and spent 2000-2001 at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
    Yasmine Al Bastaki is a Masters Student at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy studying International Affairs and Diplomacy. She has a general interest in M.E.N.A studies and issues of Identity. She can be reached at yasminebastaki@yahoo.com. Listener’s feedback, questions and book suggestions are most welcome.
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    • 42 min
    Antonia Bosanquet, "Minding their Place: Space and Religious Hierarchy in Ibn al-Qayyim’s Aḥkām ahl al-dhimma" (Brill, 2020)

    Antonia Bosanquet, "Minding their Place: Space and Religious Hierarchy in Ibn al-Qayyim’s Aḥkām ahl al-dhimma" (Brill, 2020)

    How was the relationship between Muslim and non-Muslim communities theologically and spatially imagined in the premodern world? How did religious hierarchies map onto notions of place and spatial distinction and hierarchies? In her dazzling new book Minding their Place: Space and Religious Hierarchy in Ibn al-Qayyim’s Aḥkām ahl al-Dhimma (Brill, 2020), Antonia Bosanquet addresses these questions through a detailed and theoretically charged reading of the famous and crucially important legal text/compendium Aḥkām ahl al-Dhimma by Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawzīyah (d.1350). Bosanquet forcefully argues that one must approach this text not just as a legal compendium, but as a critical repository of premodern Muslim social imaginaries on the question of interreligious difference. In our conversation, we discuss a range of issues including literary precedents for Aḥkām ahl al-Dhimma, spatial mappings and religious hierarchies, “relational” space and everyday Muslim-non-Muslim encounters, and the eschatological status of non-Muslim children. This lucidly written and analytically exciting book will spark interest among specialists and non-specialists alike.
    SherAli Tareen is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin and Marshall College. His research focuses on Muslim intellectual traditions and debates in early modern and modern South Asia. His book Defending Muhammad in Modernity (University of Notre Dame Press, 2020) received the American Institute of Pakistan Studies 2020 Book Prize. His other academic publications are available here. He can be reached at sherali.tareen@fandm.edu. Listener feedback is most welcome.
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    • 59 min
    A. Kanna et al., "Beyond Exception: New Interpretations of the Arabian Peninsula" (Cornell UP, 2020)

    A. Kanna et al., "Beyond Exception: New Interpretations of the Arabian Peninsula" (Cornell UP, 2020)

    Over the nearly two decades that they have each been conducting fieldwork in the Arabian Peninsula, Ahmed Kanna, Amélie Le Renard, and Neha Vora have regularly encountered exoticizing and exceptionalist discourses about the region and its people, political systems, and prevalent cultural practices. These persistent encounters became the springboard for this book, a reflection on conducting fieldwork within a "field" that is marked by such representations. The three focus on deconstructing the exceptionalist representations that circulate about the Arabian Peninsula. They analyze what exceptionalism does, how it is used by various people, and how it helps shape power relations in the societies they study. They propose ways that this analysis of exceptionalism provides tools for rethinking the concepts that have become commonplace, structuring narratives and analytical frameworks within fieldwork in and on the Arabian Peninsula. They ask: What would not only Middle East studies, but studies of postcolonial societies and global capitalism in other parts of the world look like if the Arabian Peninsula was central rather than peripheral or exceptional to ongoing sociohistorical processes and representational practices? The authors explore how the exceptionalizing discourses that permeate Arabian Peninsula studies spring from colonialist discourses still operative in anthropology and sociology more generally, and suggest that de-exceptionalizing the region within their disciplines can offer opportunities for decolonized knowledge production.
    This interview is part of an NBN special series on “Mobilities and Methods.”
    Ahmed Kanna is Associate Professor of Anthropology at University of the Pacific. He is author of Dubai: The City as Corporation, and has published articles in peer-reviewed journals including Cultural Anthropology, International Journal of Middle East Studies and Journal of Urban Affairs.
    Amélie Le Renard is Sociologist and Researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, and author of A Society of Young Women.
    Neha Vora is Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Lafayette College, and is author of Impossible Citizens and Teach for Arabia. Follow her on Twitter @nativeinformant.
    Alize Arıcan is a PhD candidate in the department of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her work focuses on urban renewal, futurity, care, and migration in Istanbul, Turkey. Her work has been featured on City & Society, entanglements: experiments in multimodal ethnography, and Anthropology News.
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    • 52 min

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