Zareena GrewalIslam is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority

New York University Press, 2013

by Elliott Bazzano on April 15, 2014

Zareena Grewal

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Zareena Grewal‘s monograph Islam is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority (NYU Press, 2013), seamlessly interweaves ethnographic research with an in-depth historical perspective in order to yield an unparalleled account of American Muslims and their intellectual and spiritual journeys. Where does knowledge come from? Where does Islam come from? Can Americans find it in California, or must they travel to Egypt, or Syria? How does skin color, religious conversion, and national origin play into these queries? In order to answer these questions and many more, Grewal guides the reader through a complex history of Islam in the United States–including key institutions, important figures, and critical events–while also recounting her ethnographic research from Cairo, Damascus, and Amman. Grewal follows the stories of American youth as they travel overseas in search of something they believed could not be found domestically, yet at the same time, these students seek to return to the United States after acquiring what they set out to find. How their idiosyncratic identities and concerns play out in their respective locales offers a frame in which Grewal explores her larger questions surrounding authority, identity, and religious truth. The monograph is an example of scholarly rigor while simultaneously welcomes non-specialists to explore the challenges she puts so eloquently into words. Islam is a Foreign Country is thoroughly digestible and although with big ideas often come big words, Grewal’s prose proves inviting and absorbing, making it an absolute pleasure to read and a conversation starter for any number of audiences.


Nathan SchneiderGod in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet

April 7, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Religion] Nathan Schneider‘s monograph, God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet (University of California Press, 2013), explores the timeless challenge of how to explain God. Are such explanations rational? Why are some attempts more popular than others? Indeed, can one really “prove” God? Isn’t it called “faith” [...]

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Ayesha ChaudhryDomestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition: Ethics, Law, and the Muslim Discourse on Gender

March 29, 2014

How do people make sense of their scriptures when they do not align with the way they envision these texts? This problem is faced by many contemporary believers and is especially challenging in relation to passages that go against one’s vision of a gender egalitarian cosmology. Ayesha Chaudhry, professor in the Department of Classical, Near [...]

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Joshua DublerDown in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison

March 19, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Religion] In almost every prison movie you see, there is a group of fanatically religious inmates. They are almost always led by a charismatic leader, an outsized father-figure who is loved by his acolytes and feared by nearly everyone else. They’re usually black Muslims, but you also see the occasional born-again Christian gang. [...]

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Ellen J. AmsterMedicine and the Saints: Science, Islam, and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877-1956

March 16, 2014

What is the interplay between the physical human body and the body politic? This question is at the heart of Ellen J. Amster’s Medicine and the Saints: Science, Islam, and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877-1956  (University of Texas Press, 2013). In this pioneering, interdisciplinary study, Professor Amster explores the French campaign to colonize Morocco through medicine. [...]

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Karen Pechilis and Selva J. RajSouth Asian Religions: Tradition and Today

March 6, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in South Asian Studies] If you’re going to teach a broadly themed survey course, you’ll probably need to assign some readings. One option is to assemble one of those photocopied course readers, full of excerpts taken from different sources. However, what you gain in flexibility may be sacrificed in coherence of presentation. A [...]

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Ahmad Atif AhmadThe Fatigue of the Sharī‘a

March 1, 2014

In the book, The Fatigue of the Sharī‘a (Palgrave, 2012), Ahmad Atif Ahmad explores a centuries-old debate about the permanence, or impermanence, of God’s law, and guidance, in the lives of Muslims. Could God’s guidance simply cease to be accessible at some point? Has such a “fatigue” already taken place? If so, how could one know [...]

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Afsar MohammadThe Festival of Pirs: Popular Islam and Shared Devotion in South India

February 18, 2014

Several studies about Islam in Asian contexts highlight the pluralistic environment that Muslims inhabit and interplay of various religious traditions that color local practice and thought. In The Festival of Pirs: Popular Islam and Shared Devotion in South India (Oxford University Press, 2013) we are given a first hand account of the devotional life and [...]

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Rebecca WilliamsMuḥammad and the Supernatural: Medieval Arab Views

February 3, 2014

Rebecca Williams’ book Muḥammad and the Supernatural: Medieval Arab Views (Routledge, 2013) is one of the newest additions to the Routledge Studies in Classic Islam series. Despite the Qur’anic proclamation that the only “miracle” which served as proof of Muhammad’s propethood was the Qur’an itself, miracles and supernatural events have been ascribed to Muhammad in [...]

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Ahmed El ShamsyThe Canonization of Islamic Law: A Social and Intellectual History

January 10, 2014

In his brilliant new book, The Canonization of Islamic Law: A Social and Intellectual History (Cambridge UP, 2013), Ahmed El Shamsy, Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Chicago, explores the question of how the discursive tradition of Islamic law was canonized during the eighth and ninth centuries CE. While focusing on the religious [...]

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