It contains eight broad ranging articles which are general introductions to their subjects. The references for each also provide plenty of suggestions for further reading. Some interesting aspects of the individual essays:
- Material Culture, Technology, and Geography: Toward a Holistic
Comparative Study of the Middle East (Nikki R. Keddie)
Discusses the role of changing technologies in the history of the Middle East, and argues that historians need to work more closely with archaeologists and even engineers. "A historian who does not feel intimidated by Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault, or Louis Althusser ... will often black out at the simplest discussion of textile looms."
- Quandries of Command in Egalitarian Societies: Examples from Swat and
Morocco (Charles Lindholm)
Looks at the difficulty of reconciling an egalitarian religion and an egalitarian ethos with manifest inequalities of wealth and power. The societies considered are the Swat Pukhtun of Northern Pakistan and the Berbers of Morocco, but interesting comparisons are made with the United States, where a similar discrepancy exists.
- The Art of Memory: Islamic Education and Its Social Reproduction
(Dale F. Eickelman)
Looks at the transmission of learning in Morocco in the early decades of this century. The stress on rote-learning involved in traditional Islamic education is often denigrated (both in the West and by Westernised intellectuals), but a look at the embedding of education in its social context reveals a complicated picture. Again comparisons are made both with other Muslim societies and some Western intellectual traditions.
- The Muslim Judge and Municipal Politics in Colonial Algeria and
Senegal (Allan Christelow)
Compares the roles played by Muslim judges under French colonial rule in Algeria and Senegal. In both countries Muslim judges obtained recognition of their jurisdiction over Muslims in with regard to family law and other restricted areas. In Algeria they obtained this only at the expense of full political rights, while in Senegal the Muslim population was always active politically. The comparison is helpful in understanding the rather different modern histories of the two nations.
- The Intellectual, Islam, and Modernization: Haykal and Shari`ati
(Charles D. Smith)
Looks at the place of Muslim intellectuals in society and their own ideas of their role. The two intellectuals considered are Haykal (Egypt) and Shari`ati (Iran), but comparison is made throughout with Weber and Mannheim. Haykal wanted to preserve the traditional structure of Egyptian society while modernising, with everything done under the leadership of enlightened intellectuals. The impossibility of this, and the necessity for involvement in practical politics, led to Haykal moving towards a more explicitly Islamic viewpoint, reflected in his novels.
- Smashing Idols and the State: The Protestant Ethic and Egyptian Sunni
Radicalism (Ellis Goldberg)
Compares the growth of Sunni radicalism in Egypt with 16th century Protestantism. Both are transformations of an existing religious order which are argued to be reactions to increasing state power rather than the growth of capitalism (as has been asserted).
- Women, Islam, and the State: A Comparative Approach (Deniz Kandiyoti)
Examines the position of women in Islamic societies, with emphasis on the interaction of religion with the state. Disputes over the legal status of women are used as a way of focusing nationalist and anti-Western feeling, as well as a way of protesting against the growth of state power.
- Shi'ism, Corporatism, and Rentierism in the Iranian Revolution
Looks at the relationship of corporatism and rentierism (where most or all of a state's revenue comes from one source, in this case petroleum exports) to the Iranian revolution. It is argued that economic continuity before and after the revolution is greater than appears, and that Iran still has a long way to go in diversifying its economy.
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