Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lecture by Chase F. Robinson, Tuesday, April 27, 6 pm, Room C203, The Graduate Center, CUNY

*LECTURE: Tuesday, April 27, 6 pm (followed by reception)*

*Room C203, The Graduate Center, CUNY*

*365 Fifth Avenue (at 34^th Street)*

*Chase F. Robinson*

*History and Medieval Studies, The Graduate Center, CUNY*

*“The Politics of Islamic History: Some Reflections on Method and
Perspective”*

/ABSTRACT:/ The myth of Islamic origins that prevails nowadays
describes the creation of a religio-political order in early
seventh-century Arabia, which, through conquest and a tradition- and
Qur’an-based theocratic order, installed Muslims as the ruling elite
of a huge multinational empire. This empire fulfilled God’s design
and accordingly privileged Muslims over their non-Muslims subjects;
even so, it legislated a religiously tolerant society, one in which
knowledge (and, sometimes, science) were patronized. The main
features of this myth have been the subject of intense and
controversial scrutiny over 25 years or so. My concern is not with
that controversy, but with what Jose Casanova calls the ‘paradigmatic
power of the myth of origins’. My paper explores several overlapping
questions.

One, put very provisionally, is how ‘Islamist’ strains of modern
thought, which insist that religion take public form, highlight the
anomalous status of European prescriptions of privatized
religiosity—and with it, the assumed relationship between modernity
and secularization. From this perspective, the polemics surrounding
Islam form part of a set of larger polemics about citizenship and
liberal society.

A second, explored in moderately more detail, is how, as Rushdie has
said, the past ‘irradiates’ the present. Islamists may hearken back
to what they claim as ‘original’ Islam, but they have constructed a
distinctly modern Islam, which breaks from pre-modern forms in its
gross conflation of ethics and law. To see this and other
prescriptions poised as descriptions, one needs to interrogate the
categories of historical and sociological analysis that we
conventionally use, as well as specific modernists’ reconstructions
of early Islamic history.

/BIO/: Chase F. Robinson, Provost and Distinguished Professor of
History at The Graduate Center, CUNY since 2008, is a leading expert
on early Islamic history. Before coming to the Graduate Center, he
was professor of Islamic history at Oxford University, beginning in
1993, chairing Oxford’s Faculty of Oriental Studies from 2003 to
2005. His books include /Empire and Elites after the Muslim Conquest:
//The Transformation of Northern Mesopotamia/ (Cambridge, 2000); /A
Medieval Islamic City Reconsidered: An Interdisciplinary Approach to
Samarra/ (Oxford, 2001); /Islamic Historiography /(Cambridge, 2003);
/Abd al-Malik/ (Oxford, 2005); /The Legacy of the Prophet: The Middle
East and Islam, 600-1300/ (Cambridge, 2009 ); and /The Formation of
Islam, Sixth to Eleventh Century /(vol. 1 of the 6-volume New
Cambridge History of Islam, 2009). Professor Robinson has received
grants and fellowships from the British Academy, the Woodrow Wilson
Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the
Humanities, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and the
American Research Center in Egypt.

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