Monday, August 04, 2008

Notable Recent Publications in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies

CHOICE PICK: Shi'ite Lebanon: Transnational Religion and
the Making of National Identities
by Roschanack Shaery-Eisenlohr

By recasting the relationship between religion and nationalism in the Middle East, Roschanack Shaery-Eisenlohr proposes a new framework for understanding Shi'ite politics in Lebanon. Her study draws on a variety of untapped sources, reconsidering not only the politics of the established leadership of Shi'ites but also institutional and popular activities of identity production. Shaery-Eisenlohr traces current Shi'ite politics of piety and authenticity to the coexistence formula in Lebanon and argues that engaging in the discourses of piety and coexistence is a precondition to cultural citizenship in Lebanon. As she demonstrates, debates over the nature of Christianity and Islam and Christian-Muslim dialogue are in fact intertwined with power struggles at the state level.

Since the 1970s, debates in the transnational Shi'ite world have gradually linked Shi'ite piety with the support of the Palestinian cause. Iran's religious elite has backed this piety project in multiple ways, but in doing so it has assisted in the creation of a variety of Lebanese Shi'ite nationalisms with competing claims to religious and national authenticity. Shaery-Eisenlohr argues that these ties to Iran have in fact strengthened the position of Lebanese Shi'ites by providing, as is recognized, economic, military, and ideological support for Hizbullah, as well as by compelling Lebanese Shi'ites to foreground the Lebanese components of their identity more forcefully than ever before.

Shaery-Eisenlohr challenges the belief that Shi'ite identity politics only serve to undermine the Lebanese national project. She also makes clear that the expression of Lebanese Shi'ite identity is a nationalist expression and an unintended result of Iranian efforts to influence the politics of Lebanon.

by Parvaneh Pourshariati

"This is a monumental work of first-class scholarship. Its publication represents a landmark, and it immediately becomes the point of departure for further work on the many subjects it deals with. I can think of few other books I have read over the years that can match this work's astounding combination of originality, bold vision, clarity of presentation, meticulous examination of the sources, and practical puzzle-solving. I learned immensely from reading it. Dr Pourshariati's book is in my view one of the most important individual contributions to our understanding of the history of Iran since Christensen's L'Iran sous les Sassanades, published seventy years ago. Especially remarkable is the breadth of the author's agenda, and the way in which she has convincingly woven together different strands. These include: the political rivalry of the great families, the Sasanians' collapse before Byzantine and Muslim attacks, the religious diversity of medieval Iran, questions of historiography, the substance of the Iranian popular epic, and the important details to be gleaned from seals and other documents. Any one of these would be (and for many scholars has been) a subject for full immersion for many years, but Pourshariati has integrated each into a complex and meaningful whole, even as she has made signal contributions to the more detailed study of each one."--Fred M Donner, Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago

edited by Reidar Visser and Gareth Stansfield

The fall of Saddam Hussein's regime may have marked a watershed moment in Iraqi history, but to the majority of Iraq's eighteen governorates, the most dramatic shifts in power have yet to occur. In 2008, federal entities will begin to form in south Kurdistan, triggering a series of fundamental changes in Iraq's state structure. This open-ended process is poorly understood in the West, with many believing that federalization will lead to the creation of three large regions based on Iraq's dominant ethno-religious communities: Shiite Arabs, the Sunni Arabs, and the Kurds. However, if the Iraqi constitution is upheld, such an outcome is actually quite unlikely. According to the Iraqi charter, ethnicity does not play a role in the delineation of Iraq's federal map. Instead, regions geographically defined by the conversion or amalgamation of existing governorates will form the building blocks of the new Iraq. In this volume, contributors offer the first comprehensive overview of regionalism as a political force in Iraq. Their essays present a richly detailed yet cogent analysis of the political and geographical challenges Iraq will face in the upcoming decade.
Desiring Arabs
by Joseph Massad

Sexual desire has long played a key role in Western judgments about the value of Arab civilization. In the past, Westerners viewed the Arab world as licentious, and Western intolerance of sex led them to brand Arabs as decadent; but as Western society became more sexually open, the supposedly prudish Arabs soon became viewed as backward. Rather than focusing exclusively on how these views developed in the West, in Desiring Arabs Joseph A. Massad reveals the history of how Arabs represented their own sexual desires. To this aim, he assembles a massive and diverse compendium of Arabic writing from the nineteenth century to the present in order to chart the changes in Arab sexual attitudes and their links to Arab notions of cultural heritage and civilization.

Islamic Liberation Theology: Resisting the Empire
by Hamid Dabashi

In this richly detailed criticism of contemporary politics, Hamid Dabashi argues that after 9/11 we have not seen a new phase in a long running confrontation between Islam and the West, but that such categories have in fact collapsed and exhausted themselves. The West is no longer a unified actor and Islam is ideologically depleted in its confrontation with colonialism. Rather we are seeing the emergence of the US as a lone superpower, and a confrontation between a form of imperial globalized capital and the rising need for a new Islamic theodicy.

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