Doctor Science Knows

Friday, September 08, 2006

Book rec: The Venture of Islam

Charles Bird is a conservative, but a moderate one, which means he gets to hang out with the philosophers and philosophes at Obsidian Wings. Today, though, he loses big "moderate" cred, by posting about This Week in Militant Islam". This includes such gems of intercultural understanding as:
This is World War IV, or as I call it, the WAMI (War Against Militant Islamism). For me, the above events simply reinforce that we are fighting a certain ideology and its activist practitioners

For Charles and anyone else seeking intellectual sustenance about the history and culture of Islam, there is IMHO no finer work than Marshall Hodgson's Venture of Islam. This series -- Volume I, Volume 2, Volume 3 -- wasn't even completed when Hodgson died in 1968, but it's still incredibly topical and gripping.

Yes, it's rather long, but it's splendidly written and doesn't attempt to go too fast, which would inevitably mean failing to give you a feel for his topic, which is one of the main currents in the river of human history. Reading such a long account of "Islamdom" (as Hodgson calls it) also lets the Western reader's mind get used to a vast amount of unfamiliar material. It's due to Hodgson that I always know the difference between Shiite and Sunni, and that I never forget that Iran, Turkey, and Egypt are not Arab nations.

If there's a briefer work on Islamic history that can do a decent job of teaching someone from "Christendom" on the major landmarks in "Islamdom", I'd like to hear about it, because Hodgson's 3 volumes and over 1000 pages certainly look daunting. But they're some of the fastest 1000 pages in historical writing, IMHO one of the high points of 20th-century scholarship

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