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The Culture of Islam
Cover of The Culture of Islam
The Culture of Islam
Changing Aspects of Contemporary Muslim Life
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Having worked for several decades in North Africa, anthropologist Lawrence Rosen is uniquely placed to ask what factors contribute to the continuity and changes characterizing the present-day Muslim world. In The Culture of Islam, he brings his erudition and his experiences to illuminating key aspects of Muslim life and how central tenets of that life are being challenged and culturally refashioned.

Through a series of poignant tales—from the struggle by a group of friends against daily corruption to the contest over a saint's identity, from nostalgia for the departed Jews to Salman Rushdie's vision of doubt in a world of religious certainty—Rosen shows how a dazzling array of potential changes are occurring alongside deeply embedded continuity, a process he compares to a game of chess in which infinite variations of moves can be achieved while fundamental aspects of "the game" have had a remarkably enduring quality. Whether it is the potential fabrication of new forms of Islam by migrants to Europe (creating a new "Euro-Islam," as Rosen calls it), the emphasis put on individuals rather than institutions, or the heartrending problems Muslims may face when their marriages cross national boundaries, each story and each interpretation offers a window into a world of contending concepts and challenged coherence.

The Culture of Islam is both an antidote to simplified versions of Islam circulating today and a consistent story of the continuities that account for much of ordinary Muslim life. It offers, in its human stories and its insights, its own contribution, as the author says, "to the mutual understanding and forgiveness that alone will make true peace possible."

Having worked for several decades in North Africa, anthropologist Lawrence Rosen is uniquely placed to ask what factors contribute to the continuity and changes characterizing the present-day Muslim world. In The Culture of Islam, he brings his erudition and his experiences to illuminating key aspects of Muslim life and how central tenets of that life are being challenged and culturally refashioned.

Through a series of poignant tales—from the struggle by a group of friends against daily corruption to the contest over a saint's identity, from nostalgia for the departed Jews to Salman Rushdie's vision of doubt in a world of religious certainty—Rosen shows how a dazzling array of potential changes are occurring alongside deeply embedded continuity, a process he compares to a game of chess in which infinite variations of moves can be achieved while fundamental aspects of "the game" have had a remarkably enduring quality. Whether it is the potential fabrication of new forms of Islam by migrants to Europe (creating a new "Euro-Islam," as Rosen calls it), the emphasis put on individuals rather than institutions, or the heartrending problems Muslims may face when their marriages cross national boundaries, each story and each interpretation offers a window into a world of contending concepts and challenged coherence.

The Culture of Islam is both an antidote to simplified versions of Islam circulating today and a consistent story of the continuities that account for much of ordinary Muslim life. It offers, in its human stories and its insights, its own contribution, as the author says, "to the mutual understanding and forgiveness that alone will make true peace possible."

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About the Author-
  • Lawrence Rosen is a professor of anthropology at Princeton University and adjunct professor of law at Columbia University. Named to the first group of MacArthur Award winners, he is the author of six books, including The Justice of Islam: Comparative Perspectives on Islamic Law and Society and Bargaining for Reality: The Construction of Social Relations in a Muslim Community, published by the University of Chicago Press.

Table of Contents-
  • Introduction

    PART ONE ~ Ambivalent Culture

    1. The Circle of Beneficence: Narrating Coherence in a World of Corruption

    2. Ambivalence towards Power: Approaches to Authority in Postcolonial Morocco

    3.What Is a Tribe, and Why Does It Matter?

    4. Constructing Institutions on a Political Culture of Personalism

    PART TWO ~ Memory Worlds, Plausible Worlds

    5. Contesting Sainthood

    6. Memory in Morocco

    7. Have the Arabs Changed Their Mind?

    PART THREE ~ Shifting Concepts, Discerning Change

    8. Marriage Stories: Crossing the Boundaries of Nation, Gender, and Law

    9. Euro-Islam

    10. Never in Doubt: Salman Rushdie's Deeper Challenge to Islam

    Notes

    Bibliography

    Index

Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2003
    Rosen (anthropology, Princeton Univ.) has already contributed substantially to the study of everyday Islam, and this new title is a welcome alternative to the recent spate of simplified accounts for Americans. The ten essays stand well alone, but together they build into a thoughtful study of negotiation and ambivalence. The book begins with a set of four chapters that explores Moroccan ambivalence about relationships and social hierarchy. The subsequent three chapters address the construction of memory in the face of radical changes to the concepts of knowledge, relativity, and probability. The latter third of the book extends the arguments to the problems of migrants and ends by discussing why Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses is seen as a challenge to Islam. Despite the title, this book is about Arab Islam and, in some cases, Moroccan culture. As Rosen does not consistently distinguish Muslim from Arab or account for non-Arab Islam, he risks overgeneralizing. Nonetheless, all academic libraries should purchase this excellent treatment of the lives and thoughts of a Muslim community.-Lisa Klopfer, Eastern Michigan Univ., Ypsilanti

    Copyright 2003 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 25, 2002
    Rosen, a professor of anthropology at Princeton and of law at Columbia and one of the first recipients of a MacArthur "genius" grant, offers a series of layered essays on North African culture. The book calls on both his own anecdotes from years of travel and research in North Africa, as well as his anthropological background. His pen is both literary and analytical – which makes the reading a pleasure, but sometimes difficult to follow. The essays, rather than building toward a single thesis, are largely unrelated to each other. Although its title suggests that the subject is Islamic culture, the book is more about the people of Morocco. For instance, Rosen is very persuasive in his arguments that ambivalence, corruption, and tribalism play a strong role in Moroccan society. However, he does not explain why conclusions about Moroccan Muslims can be extrapolated to constitute a universal "Culture of Islam." Yet the book has many strengths; an essay entitled "Marriage Stories," for example, shows how Muslim women can and do use legal reforms to empower themselves. The author's personal anecdotes (especially one about how a young bride's resistance to entering the car of her groom's family is not reluctance so much as a bargaining chip) are satisfying and enhance Rosen's successful efforts to enlighten the reader about Moroccan and North African society. Where others would dismiss the region's Muslims as antiquated, racist or extremist, Rosen challenges various hackneyed theories about Islam and swiftly rebuts them.

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Changing Aspects of Contemporary Muslim Life
Lawrence Rosen
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