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Jamal EliasAisha’s Cushion: Religious Art, Practice, and Perception in Islam

Harvard University Press, 2012

by SherAli Tareen on April 23, 2015

Jamal Elias

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In his remarkable new book Aisha's Cushion: Religious Art, Practice, and Perception in Islam (Harvard University Press, 2012), Jamal Elias, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, presents a magisterial study of Muslim attitudes towards visual culture, images, and perception. Through meticulous historical and textual analysis, Elias successfully unravels the stereotype that there is no place for visual images in Islam, or that calligraphy represents the only normative form of art in Islam. He shows that throughout history Muslims have approached the question of images and art in a much more nuanced and complicated fashion, while negotiating important philosophical, theological, and perceptual considerations. He argues that "Muslim thinkers have developed systematic and advanced theories of representation and signification, and that many of these theories have been internalized by Islamic society at large and continue to inform cultural attitudes toward the visual arts." What is most unusual about this book is the almost overwhelming range and varieties of sources that Elias marshals to construct his argument. The reader of this book travels through a glittering arcade of intellectual histories populated by texts on philosophy, Sufism, alchemy, dreams, optics, and architecture and monuments. This painstakingly researched and lyrically written book is sure to delight the intellectual palate of specialists and non-specialists alike.

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Peter GottschalkReligion, Science, and Empire: Classifying Hinduism and Islam in British India

April 13, 2015

When did religion begin in South Asia? Many would argue that it was not until the colonial encounter that South Asians began to understand themselves as religious. In Religion, Science, and Empire: Classifying Hinduism and Islam in British India (Oxford University Press, 2012), Peter Gottschalk, Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University, outlines the contingent and […]

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M. Brett WilsonTranslating the Qur’an in an Age of Nationalism: Print Culture and Modern Islam in Turkey

April 6, 2015

Muslim debates regarding the translation of the Qur'an are very old. However, during the modern period they became heated because local communities around the globe were rethinking their relationship to scripture in new social and political settings. M. Brett Wilson, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Macalester College, provides a rich history of how this […]

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Raymond FarrinStructure and Qur’anic Interpretation: A Study of Symmetry and Coherence in Islam’s Holy Text

March 23, 2015

Interest in the structure of the Qur’an has its beginnings in the ninth century CE with Muslim scholars. Since that time, Muslim and Western scholars have debated the coherence of the Qur’an’s structure. Raymond Farrin, professor of Arabic at the American University of Kuwait, opens his newest book, Structure and Qur’anic Interpretation: A Study of Symmetry and […]

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Sophia Rose Arjana, "Muslims in the Western Imagination" (Oxford UP, 2015)

March 10, 2015

In Muslims in the Western Imagination (Oxford University Press, 2015), Sophia Rose Arjana explores a variety of creative productions—including art, literature, film—in order to tell a story not about how Muslims construct their own identities but rather about how Western thinkers have constructed ideas about Muslims and monsters. To what extent are these imaginary constructs […]

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Cabeiri RobinsonBody of Victim, Body of Warrior: Refugee Families and the Making of Kashmiri Jihadists

February 19, 2015

The idea of jihad is among the most keenly discussed yet one of the least understood concepts in Islam. In her brilliant new book Body of Victim, Body of Warrior: Refugee Families and the Making of Kashmiri Jihadists (University of California Press, 2013), Cabeiri Robinson, Associate Professor of International Studies and South Asian Studies at […]

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Neilesh BoseRecasting the Region: Language, Culture, and Islam in Colonial Bengal

February 18, 2015

[Cross-posted from New Books in South Asian Studies] In his new book Recasting the Region: Language, Culture, and Islam in Colonial Bengal (Oxford University Press, 2014), Neilesh Bose analyses the trajectories of Muslim Bengali politics in the first half of the twentieth century. The literary and cultural history of the region explored in the book reveal the pointedly Bengali ideas of Pakistan […]

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John RenardIslamic Theological Themes: A Primary Source Reader

February 6, 2015

Islamic theology is generally understood or approached in terms of its systematic or speculative forms. In Islamic Theological Themes: A Primary Source Reader (University of California Press, 2014), John Renard, Professor of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University, has produced a collection of primary sources that thinks through theological deliberation far beyond the narrow strictures […]

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Isra YaziciogluUnderstanding Qur’anic Miracle Stories in the Modern Age

January 23, 2015

In Understanding Qur’anic Miracle Stories in the Modern Age (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2013), Isra Yazicioglu draws connections between an array of scholars, from different time periods and cultures, in order to make sense of miracles and miracle stories in the Qur’an. What are miracles? Why do they occur in stories? And how does the […]

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Kavita DatlaThe Language of Secular Islam: Urdu Nationalism and Colonial India

December 24, 2014

In her brilliant new book, The Language of Secular Islam: Urdu Nationalism and Colonial India (University of Hawaii Press, 2013), Kavita Datla, Associate Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College, explores the interaction of language, nationalism, and secularism by focusing on the religious and social imaginaries of important twentieth century Muslim scholars from the state of […]

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