Faculty News


Prof. Dan Miron awarded Honorary Doctorate of Hebrew Letters

May 23, 2013

Prof. Dan Miron, Leonard Kaye Professor of Hebrew Literature, was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Hebrew Letters by the Jewish Theological Seminary on May 23, 2013. Miron was honored for his authorship of more than 1,000 essays and 40 books examining the many facts of Jewish literature in modernity, making this literature more widely accessible. They noted Miron’s receipt of the National Jewish Book Award for Scholarship in 2011 for his ground-breaking “From Continuity to Contiguity – Toward a New Jewish Literary Thinking” as well as previous accolades including the Israel Prize for Hebrew Literature, the Bialik Prize for Excellence in Jewish Studies, the Manger Prize for Yiddish Literature, and the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award.


Tolerance, Democracy, and Sufis in Senegal edited by Mamadou Diouf published by Columbia University Press

January 8, 2013

This collection critically examines “tolerance,” “secularism,” and respect for religious “diversity” within a social and political system dominated by Sufi brotherhoods. Through a detailed analysis of Senegal’s political economy, essays trace the genealogy and dynamic exchange among these concepts while investigating public spaces and political processes and their reciprocal engagement with the state, Sunni reformist and radical groups, and non-religious organizations.

The anthology provides a rich and nuanced historical ethnography of the formation of Senegalese democracy, illuminating the complex trajectory of the Senegalese state and reflecting on similar postcolonial societies. Offering rare perspectives on the country’s “successes” since liberation, the volume identifies the role of religion, gender, culture, ethnicity, globalization, politics, and migration in the reconfiguration of the state and society, and it makes an important contribution to democratization theory, Islamic studies, and African studies.


The World of Persian Literary Humanism by Hamid Dabashi published by Harvard University Press

December 20, 2012

What does it mean to be human? Humanism has mostly considered this question from a Western perspective. Through a detailed examination of a vast literary tradition, Hamid Dabashi asks that question anew, from a non-European point of view. The answers are fresh, provocative, and deeply transformative. This groundbreaking study of Persian humanism presents the unfolding of a tradition as the creative and subversive subconscious of Islamic civilization.

Exploring how 1,400 years of Persian literature have taken up the question of what it means to be human, Dabashi proposes that the literary subconscious of a civilization may also be the undoing of its repressive measures. This could account for the masculinist hostility of the early Arab conquest that accused Persian culture of effeminate delicacy and sexual misconduct, and later of scientific and philosophical inaccuracy. As the designated feminine subconscious of a decidedly masculinist civilization, Persian literary humanism speaks from a hidden and defiant vantage point—and this is what inclines it toward creative subversion.

Arising neither despite nor because of Islam, Persian literary humanism was the artistic manifestation of a cosmopolitan urbanism that emerged in the aftermath of the seventh-century Muslim conquest. Removed from the language of scripture and scholasticism, Persian literary humanism occupies a distinct universe of moral obligations in which “a judicious lie,” as the thirteenth-century poet Sheykh Mosleh al-Din Sa’di writes, “is better than a seditious truth.”


Oppressed in the Land? Fatwas on Muslims Living under Non-Muslim Rule from the Middle Ages to the Present by Alan Verskin published by Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers

September 30, 2012

Do "good Muslims" have to live in a country governed by Muslims? If so, what are they obliged to do if their homeland is conquered by non-Muslims? If not, what kinds of conditions need to exist in a non-Islamic country in order for Muslims to live there, and how does living in such a country affect religious practice and how should religious identity affect political loyalty? Over the centuries, Muslims have developed a wide variety of ways to answer these questions. There are opinions that it is desirable for Muslims to live in non-Muslim lands, there are opinions that it is forbidden for Muslims to live in such lands, and there are many opinions in between.

This anthology of fatwas (Islamic legal opinions) showcases diverse reflections by Muslims upon the political, social, and theological ramifications of living in places with non-Muslim governments.These documents represent the learned and influential views of some leading figures from the fourteenth through the twenty-first centuries, reflecting on experiences of Muslim communities in medieval Christian Spain, British-controlled India, French colonial North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Bosnia, the United States, and Israel/Palestine.Included are the opinions of such famous theological and political thinkers as Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1327), Rashid Rida (d. 1935), and Nasir al-Din al-Albani (d. 1999).

Providing newly translated fatwas together with informative introductions and explanatory notes, Oppressed in the Land is a valuable resource for anyone interested in Islamic law, comparative religion, the experience of colonialism, and world history. Most importantly, it provides concrete examples showing how religious communities respond to changing circumstances in ways that allow for intellectual evolution while providing authenticity and grounding in tradition.

The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity's Moral Predicament by Wael Hallaq published by Columbia University Press

November 20, 2012

Wael B. Hallaq boldly argues that the "Islamic state," judged by any standard definition of what the modern state represents, is both an impossible and inherently self-contradictory concept. Comparing the legal, political, moral, and constitutional histories of pre-modern Islam and Euro-America, he finds the adoption and practice of the modern state to be highly problematic for modern Muslims. He then conducts a more expansive critique of modernity's moral predicament, which renders impossible any project resting solely on ethical foundations.

The modern state not only suffers from serious legal, political, and constitutional issues, Hallaq argues, but it also, by its very nature, fashions a subject inconsistent with what it means to be, or to live as, a Muslim. By Islamic standards, the state's technologies of the self are severely lacking in moral substance, and the Muslim state, as Hallaq shows, has done little to advance an acceptable form of genuine Shari'a governance. The Islamists' constitutional battles in Egypt and Pakistan, the Islamic legal and political failures of the Iranian Revolution, and similar disappointments underscore this fact. Nevertheless, the state remains the favored template of the Islamists and the ulama (Muslim clergymen). Providing Muslims with a path toward realizing the good life, Hallaq turns to the rich moral resources of Islamic history. Along the way, he proves political and other "crises of Islam" are not unique to the Islamic world nor to the Muslim religion. These crises are integral to the modern condition of both East and West, and recognizing such parallels enables Muslims to engage more productively with their Western counterparts.


Define and Rule by Mahmood Mamdani published by Harvard University Press

November 29, 2012

In Define and Rule, Mahmood Mamdani focuses on late century colonial statecraft when Britain abandoned the attempt to eradicate difference between conqueror and conquered and introduced a new idea of governance based on highlighting difference. Mamdani explores how lines were drawn between settler and native as distinct political identities, and between natives according to tribe. Out of that colonial experience issued a modern language of pluralism and difference.

A mid-nineteenth-century crisis of empire attracted the attention of British intellectuals and led to a reconception of the colonial mission, and to reforms in India, British Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies. The new politics, inspired by Sir Henry Maine, established that natives were bound by geography and custom, rather than history and law, and made this the basis of administrative practice.

Maine´s theories were later translated into "native administration" in the African colonies. Mamdani takes the case of Sudan to demonstrate how colonial law established tribal identity as the basis for determining access to land and political power, and follows this law´s legacy to contemporary Darfur. He considers the intellectual and political dimensions of African movements toward decolonization by focusing on two key figures: the Nigerian historian Yusuf Bala Usman, the Nigerian historian, and Tanzania´s first president, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.