Sunday, September 13, 2020

Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong

Back in my evangelical days, I feel like I was steered away from Karen Armstrong by the reactions of my theologically conservative friends for some reason. I don’t remember any specifics, but somehow I got the impression that her A History of God was anti-Christian. Since my drift from the faith I had picked up a couple of her books at library sales, this and her book on the history of religion and violence. Reading this, I suspect that whoever gave me that impression was probably based on the fact that her approach is more from a place of comparative studies and the books about other religions that had currency in the circles I was in were from the perspective of how Christianity disproved other systems. But again, I don’t remember specific conversations, but a general impression. Despite my apostasy, I am still very interested in religion and after reading this, I’m looking forward to more of her work.

While I’m no expert, this strikes me as a very good one volume history of Islam. It’s particularly good on at least three fronts. First, Islam, in the west anyway, tends to be portrayed as a monolithic thing, and this does a great job of showing the various threads of the religion and undermining that presentation. Secondly, if one reads it with an open mind, it does a good job of describing the conditions under which the Muslim world first came into contact with western modernity which in turn goes a long way toward explaining the subsequent history between the cultures. Finally, her chapter on fundamentalism contextualizes the more extremist end of Islam as part of a wider phenomenon as religions come to terms with the modern world. While fundamentalism in the Muslim world gets the most press, it does show up in most world religions.

Highly Recommended.

Owned But Previously Unread 2020 71/75

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