Today we welcome a guest post from Bruce B. Lawrence, who is co editor, with Carl W. Ernst, of the Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks series at UNC Press. This year marks the Fifteenth Anniversary of the series. You can find out more about the series and its books here.
Celebrating the Fifteenth Anniversary of the Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks Book Series at UNC Press
When Carl Ernst and I were attending a major conference in Kyoto in spring 2017, several Japanese scholars also participating in that conference asked us about the Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks series (ICMN) at UNC Press. Carl and I explained a bit about the genesis, scope, and goal of ICMN, but we quickly realized that we had just scratched the surface of what could and should be said about this innovative initiative from UNC Press. We later found a more adequate response: we sent each of the universities with which our Japanese hosts were affiliated a full set of all the volumes published to date. Last year there were twenty volumes, now (in late fall 2018) there are twenty-two, with another two imminent, and others on the way.
I hope that this blogpost, which helps to celebrate ICMN’s fifteenth anniversary this year, will provide an interesting read about the series that consistently brings Carl and me—and, we hope, those in the fields of Islamic studies, religious studies, Asian studies, world history, art history, and many other areas as well as types of readers—deep satisfaction and much food for thought.
If the number of twenty-four is remarkable, still more remarkable is the genesis of this series, its ongoing management, and its continued success. Elaine Maisner, UNC Press executive editor and ICMN series sponsoring editor, is the best taskmaster–at once friendly, efficient, and patient. What you’d hope for in an editor. But Elaine was also the progenitor of the ICMN series. It was Elaine who prompted Carl and me to think about this series well before 9/11, and certainly after. It was a time when public attention and academic discourse regarding Islam became both more intense and more fractious. Could it be an opportune moment to launch a series that looked at Muslim networks across space and time? Could it also reckon with the elements–economic and social, religious and political, at home and abroad–that characterize Islamic civilization as part of the newly networked world ushered in by the new millennium but even more by what Manuel Castells labelled the Information Age?
Elaine–and UNC Press–answered YES to all these queries, and such was her energy and determination that Carl and I signed on, intending to do no more than eavesdrop on Elaine’s efforts as in-house editor, helping her to forge ahead with a high profile list of contributors to this new series.
How wrong we were! Elaine quickly enlisted us to provide names, to propose titles, to pursue leads, to make hard decisions, and, above all, to engage our colleagues and also students to rethink with us what are the missing perspectives, and what might be useful books, on Islamic civilization and Muslim networks.
Few will be surprised at the number of works, as the series has developed since its formal inception in 2003 with the publication of Carl’s now classic Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World, that reflect an interest in the Asian subcontinent, variously known as Hindustan, India, Indo-Pakistan, India-Pakistan-Bangladesh, or just South Asia. Both Carl and I were trained as specialists in History of Religions with special attention to Islamic South Asia, and even more to the tradition of mystical reflection and practice known as Sufism. Some volumes home in on Sufi thought and practices in and beyond South Asia: Ebrahim Moosa, Ghazali and the Poetics of Imagination (2005), Omid Safi, The Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam (2006), Scott Kugle, Sufis and Saints’ Bodies (2007), Karen G. Ruffle, Gender, Sainthood and Everyday Practice in South Asian Shi’ism (2011), Sa’diya Shaikh, Sufi Narratives of Intimacy (2012), and Scott Kugle, When Sun Meets Moon (2016).
Other volumes relate to South Asia but tangentially to Sufism: Sufia Uddin, Constructing Bangladesh (2006), Iftikhar Dadi, Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia (2010), Jonah Steinberg, Isma’ili Modern, Irfan Ahmad, Religion as Critique (2017).
Still other volumes relate to networks that exceed both South Asia and Sufism: Carl W. Ernst, Following Muhammad (2003), miriam cooke and Bruce B. Lawrence, eds., Muslim Networks from Hajj to Hip Hop (2005), Roxani Eleni Margariti, Aden and the Indian Ocean Trade (2007), Fatemeh Keshavarz, Jasmine and Stars (2007), and Gary Bunt, iMuslims (2009) and Hashtag Islam (2018).
Elaine was intent on asking some common queries about Islam, with a popular engagement but a revisionist response to underlying issues that these queries raise. Her interest, as also her leadership, provided the impetus for Sahar Amer, What is Veiling? (2014), Bruce B. Lawrence, Who is Allah? (2015), and Ebrahim Moosa, What is a Madrasa? (2015).
Two books reflect the African experience of Islam: Rudolph T. Ware III, The Walking Qur’an, (2014) and Edward E. Curtis IV, The Call of Bilal (2014), while still another treats material culture, in this case, architecture: Kishwar Rizvi, The Transnational Mosque (2015).
Carl’s Following Muhammad provides an anti-text on how to rethink Islam beyond categories of time, space and discipline. It remains the best-selling book in the series, and while that place atop the ICMN list may not be challenged, its role as a guidepost for articulate engagement with Islam will be magnified by several forthcoming volumes in ICMN: Simon Wolfgang Fuchs, In a Pure Muslim Land (2019), and Babak Rahimi and Peyman Eshaghi, eds., Muslim Pilgrimage in the Modern World (2019).
It is evident that ICMN can, and should, be applauded for what it has produced in the past fifteen years. It offers multiple perspectives–from junior and senior scholars, Muslim and non-Muslim, Afro-Asian and Euro-American, and all genders–that crisscross disciplines and foster fresh insight into the varied nature of Muslim networks and the resilient persistence of Islamic civilization. ICMN books aim to bring Islamic studies into vibrant conversations with the best ideas in history and theory. With Elaine’s surveillant eye, and her ability to enlist series editors and authors alike to pursue their fondest literary ventures, ICMN will celebrate other milestones beyond its fifteen-year mark, but the pause, and the applause, for this milestone is itself worthwhile.
And a footnote comes from the just concluded Yale Law School Symposium on Marshall Hodgson. One of the major discussants, Hedayat Heikal, of Harvard Law School and American University in Cairo, noted that ICMN–yes our series–was among the best conduits for Hodgson’s legacy and the fruitful rethinking of Islamic(ate) civilization. She noted, as an example, the recent book by Irfan Ahmad, Religion as Critique: Islamic Critical Thinking from Mecca to the Marketplace. May ICMN continue to thrive!
Bruce B. Lawrence is Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Humanities Professor Emeritus of Religion at Duke University. You can read his previous UNC Press Blog posts here.