by AMARNATH AMARASINGAM for NEW BOOKS IN GLOBAL CONFLICT on NOVEMBER 5, 2014:
[Cross-posted from New Books in Global Conflict] Michael Cook, a widely-respected historian and scholar of Islam begins his book with a question that everyone seems to be asking these days: is Islam uniquely violent or uniquely political? Why does Islam seem to play a larger role in contemporary politics than other religions? The answers that are provided for these questions, particularly in the media, range from the ludicrous to the islamophobic. Cook, on the other hand, embarks on a much more nuanced and learned attempt at answering the question.
His book, Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective (Princeton University Press, 2014), rightly begins with the assumption that if there is something unique about Islam in this regard, the uniqueness of it can only be understood through comparative study of other religions and their engagement with politics. Cook looks at Hinduism and Christianity’s involvement in modern political life and places them alongside Islam, delving deeper into issues of political identity, warfare, and social values. What he finds is interesting, and goes to the heart of almost every debate taking place in a wide variety of fields like religious studies and the sociology of religion. Listen as we talk with him about his book, about contemporary global politics, ISIS and Al-Qaeda, as well as fascinating future projects.
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