Islam and Modernity in Central Eurasia
Current events have brought the Islamic religion and its putative supporters to the headlines of the daily media, usually in ways that emphasize the Arab-Israeli conflict and/or the equally painful results of terrorist acts and smart bombs. The task of bringing knowledge of Islam to a broad non-Islamic public requires more than news items or political rhetoric; rather, it demands serious and fair reading of the primary sources of the religion and its attendant cultures, as well as appreciation of the rich diversity within dar al-Islam (the world of Islam) and the centuries of internal conflict and controversy among intellectuals, poets, and men of God.
In recent centuries, followers of the Islamic faith, as those of other literate, manuscript traditions rooted in the teachings of one or another prophet or thinker presuming to speak for God(s) or man, have been challenged by forces collectively identified by the slippery concept of modernity. As a result of these forces—epistemological, above all, but technological, social, economic, and political as well—disenchantment, disequilibrium, and displacement abound globally, not least in those regions long guided by Islamic principles. In Central Eurasia, where Islam has roots since the eighth century, the path along modernity’s continuum has been a veritable tightrope, whereon even the sure-footed have lost their balance. How Muslims of this region, often in comparison with Muslims elsewhere and adherents of completely different manuscript traditions, have responded since the middle of the nineteenth century to the perception, reality, and representation of modernity is the primary theme of this course.