via JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN CENTER (posted on JUNE 25, 2015): 

Nasser Rabbat and Burak Erdim sit down to discuss architecture and the global city. Rabbat is the Aga Khan Professor and the Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Erdim is an Assistant Professor of Architecture in the Design Department at the North Carolina State University. Continue reading


James W. Laine
James W. Laine

Most world religions textbooks follow a structure and conceptual framework that mirrors the modern discourse of world religions as distinct entities reducible to certain defining characteristics. In his provocative and brilliant new book Meta-Religion: Religion and Power in World History (University of California Press, 2015), James Laine, Professor of Religious Studies at Macalester College challenges this dominant paradigm of world religions textbooks by showcasing an approach that instead focuses on the interaction of religion and power across time and space.

51DJ88vQeOL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_At once ambitious and lucid, Meta-Religion narrates the story of the complex intersection of religion and politics in multiple moments, places, and traditions. A hallmark of this book is the way it engages the religious and political history of Islam and Muslim societies in conversation with other religious traditions. What emerges from this exercise is a rich and fascinating picture of the complicated and at times conflicting ways in which religiously diverse and plural societies have been managed through particular political arrangements and ideologies in different historical moments.

In our conversation we talked about the idea of meta-religion, different varieties of meta-religion in India, Rome, and China, the marginalization of Islam and Muslim history in Euro-American world historical periodizations, Meta-Religion in Muslim history, Akbar and his experimentation with meta-religion, and meta-religion in the modern and contemporary context. This book will be of great interest to specialists in Islamic Studies and other scholars of religion and religious history; it will also make an excellent text for courses on Islam and world history, Introduction to Religion, and on theories and methods in Religious Studies.



61pOfUOi1FL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_During the early twentieth century, Yemeni Jews operated within a legal structure that defined them as dhimmi, that is, non-Muslims living as a protected population under the sovereignty of an Islamic state. In exchange for the payment of a poll tax, the jizya, and the acknowledged of supremacy of Islam, their lives and property were to be inviolable. Although this framework burdened Jews with some legal disadvantages, for example a Muslim’s witness testimony was worth double that of a Jew’s in court, it allowed for the integration of Jews into Yemen’s complex hierarchical social structure, and not always at the bottom of that structure.

Mark S. Wagner’s book Jews and Islamic Law in Early 20th-Century Yemen (Indiana University Press, 2015) examines how Jews negotiated this Islamic legal system, both in shariah courts and in extralegal settings. Wagner employs numerous Arabic and Hebrew sources, particularly the memoirs of prominent Yemeni Jews such as Salim Said al-Jamal, Salih al-Zahiri, Salim Mansurah, and others, and the primary document collections they have preserved. Through their first-hand accounts, anecdotes, and archives, Wagner interrogates how the Yemeni Jewish elite understood its social and political position in Yemen. These men used their knowledge of Arabic and Islamic law, and their status as intermediaries between the state authorities and the Jewish community, to preserve their own positions and to benefit other members of the Jewish community. Wagner’s work deepens our understanding of Muslim-Jewish relations in Yemen and the place of non-Muslims in Islamic law in general.





EDITOR’S NOTE: In a previous piece, Mustafa Tuna, Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor of Russian and Central Eurasian History and Culture at Duke, discussed his new book “Imperial Russia’s Muslims: Empire, Islam, and European Modernity 1788-1914″ (Cambridge University Press, June 2015) with ISLAMiCommentary — carrying his insights about the opportunity costs of Islamophobia for imperial Russia to a broader and contemporary context. Below, Tuna shares an adaptation of a talk he gave in November 2013; based primarily on the themes of the last two chapters of his book. His presentation was part of a  workshop called “Life on the Peripheries: Muslims and Jews in Poland, Imperial Russia, and the Soviet Union.” The 2013 workshop was part of Duke University’s Center for European Studies’ initiative on “Jews & Muslims: Histories, Diasporas, and the Meaning of the European.” (Supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Duke University Office of the Provost, the workshop was sponsored by the Center for European Studies, the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Duke Center for Jewish Studies, and the Duke Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies.)

The version below has been updated to include additional passages from the book, with permission from the publisher. Re-prints of this particular article are not allowed without permission of the publisher, Cambridge University Press.


by MUSTAFA TUNA for ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on JUNE 26, 2015:

Mustafa Tuna
Mustafa Tuna

In his seminal work on empires, Dominic Lieven suggests that the great empires of the second half of the long nineteenth century (1789-1914) found themselves facing a dilemma. The emerging nation-states, or the empires that could function as nation-states at least at the metropole level, mobilized their material and human resources more efficiently than the conventional empires that governed their subjects through a variety of categories, such as estates, confessions, and increasingly, ethnicities.

Efficiency called for uniformity or at least it seemed so to the imperial statesmen of the late-nineteenth century. And uniformity called for merging long-established categories into some form of a homogenous whole. However, not only was the nature of that homogenous whole unclear, but also attempting such mergers carried the strong potential of agitating the empires’ subjects. Moreover, agitated subjects could in turn agitate imperial agents, therefore leading to a state of mutual hostility.

This situation has been documented quite well in the context of the late-Russian empire and especially with regard to its Muslim subjects in the Volga-Ural region. The works of Ayşe Azade-Rorlich, Robert Geraci, Paul Werth, and Elena Campbell, for instance, stand out in this regard. One can add several Russian and Tatar-language sources to the list too. Although these scholars approach the matter with many different and sometimes contradicting agendas, the overall consensus seems to be that the assimilationist policies of the tsarist state in late-imperial Russia lay at the foundation of the bitterness that characterized the tsarist central state establishment’s relations with the Volga-Ural Muslims and especially with their elites.

In this presentation I would like to look at the same phenomenon using the microeconomic concept of “opportunity cost” and suggest that yes, hasty attempts to forge a nation-state out of a multiconfessional, multilingual, and multiethnic empire cost Russia its existing and functional imperial model. This model was founded by Catherine the Great in the late-eighteenth century, it seems to have worked well at least until the 1860s or so, and the late-nineteenth-century attempts for achieving uniformity destroyed it. But, what was also lost in the process were opportunities for actually improving that model further without attempting the impossible task of homogenizing the empire. Continue reading


Marion Homes Katz
Marion Homes Katz

Recently, there have been various debates within the Muslim community over women’s mosque attendance. While contemporary questions of modern society structure current conversations, this question, ‘may a Muslim woman go to the mosque,’ is not a new one. In Women in the Mosque: A History of Legal Thought and Social Practice (Columbia University Press, 2014), Marion Holmes Katz, Professor of Islamic Studies at New York University, traces the juristic debates around women’s mosque attendance.

Unknown-1Katz outlines the various arguments, caveats, and positions of legal scholars in the major schools of law and demonstrates that despite some differing opinions there was generally a downward progression towards gendered exclusion in mosques. were engaged in at the mosque, the time of day, the permission of their husbands or guardians, attire, and the multitude of conditions that needed to be met. Later interpreters feared women’s presence in the mosque because they argued it stirred sexual temptation.

Katz pairs these legal discourses with evidence of women’s social practice in the Middle East and North Africa from the earliest historical accounts through the Ottoman period. In our conversation we discuss types of mosque activities, Mamluk Cairo, women’s educational participation, the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the transmission of knowledge, European travelers accounts of Muslim women, night prayers, mosque construction, debates about the mosque in Mecca, and modern developments in legal discussions during the 20th century.


In September 2014 the Duke Islamic Studies Center (which manages the Transcultural Islam Project of which TIRN is a part), announced its official institutional affiliation with New Books in Islamic Studies — a bi-weekly audio podcast featuring hour long conversations with authors of exciting new research. For an archive see HERE.