RS 140 Reading Introductions

4/18:

All Voll, all the time!

Voll ch 6 reads like an avalanche of the last twenty years of current international events: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey....

Here is the strategy I recommend for this chapter: Use your best judgment. You've waded through this stuff already, so you know how Voll works. Concentrate on the summaries. Then pick a few countries where there is both some variety and some interest on your part, and concentrate on them. Look for "continuity and change" between contemporary Islamic cultures and their antecedents fifty, one hundred, and two hundred years ago. Look back at your summaries for help here.

Finally, help fuel discussion tomorrow by identifying interesting questions to ask on contemporary Islam around the world, and asking them in class.


4/11:

Let's concentrate discussion on Zebiri, but leave a little time for Voll.

For Voll ch 5, we'll stick with our usual strategy, but cut it down even more. Read the introduction (p 231). Pick one area to study more closely from 231-277. Then pay more attention to the "Special Experiences of Islamic Minorities" section: USSR, China, and especially Lebanon and Palestine (285f) and the West (286f). Then read the conclusion (287f). Each of these examples shows Islam acting and reacting to the same forces we saw earlier in ch 4, but from less firmly established positions.


4/2:

For Voll ch 4, we'll do something similar to what we did for ch 3.

The early part of the chapter (pp 152-161) tells twentieth century Islamic history at the general level. This is the most important part of the chapter. As you read it, note the prominence of features of Western history: statism ("state-ism," the rise of the modern nation state), socialism, secularism. Here Muslim societies are interacting deeply with Westernization, not just at the military/colonial level, but now integrally at the cultural level. The story here is much like the story of the whole developing world, whether Muslim or not.

After the introduction, pick one region: Arab East (pp 161-190), Northern Tier (190-215), or Magrib (215-230). Pick an area you find interesting, especially if it's an area you studied last week. Of course I know you won't recognize many of the names. Just read the material to get an impression of what's going on. This is a little like one chapter on the history of twentieth century Europe; non-Europeans would find European figures, intellectual movements, geography, and culture unfamiliar and confusing too. Now you know how it feels!

Note the confluence of secularism and fundamentalism (just as in the U.S.), along with the competing political visions of traditionalism, nationalism, and socialism, along with the competing loyalties of ethnicity, nation, social class, and of course religious identity. Ironically, you're on familiar territory here; the Muslim world is looking more and more modern (thus "Western") during this period.

I'm sure you don't need special advice on M&C. You guys are pros by now!


3/26:

Zebiri ch 1 is a brief history on the encounters between Christians and Muslim since the rise of Islam. This is an important chapter, since it frames the rest of the book.

For Voll ch 3, read the general introduction (pp 84-85). The last paragraph (last full paragraph on 85) details four general trends in nineteenth century Islam. The rest of the chapter details each trend with several areas of the Muslim world. I'm going to have you pick one area for each trend. This will greatly reduce the reading load for this and future chapters. So:

Read the introduction to "Adaptationist Westernizers" (85-87) carefully enough to know what he means by this general type of response. Then read any one of the next sections: "The Central Ottoman Empire" (87-92), or "Islam and Nineteenth-Century Egypt" (93-97), or "Islam and Reform in Tunisia" (97-100), or "Morocco: Traditional Monarchy" (100-104), or "The Qajar Dynasty: Monarchy in [Iranian] Shi'i Society" (104-108). Then read the section's summary (109).

Get the idea? You'll do that for each of the four types. I plan to do that for the rest of the book, occasionally identifying regions you will have to read about, but usually letting you choose. Think about areas of the world you are especially interested in, which you may want to try to read in every chapter, to give you a running history through the whole period (say, Indonesia, Arabia, or Ottoman Turkey). This won't always be possible, because the clusters of regions change in each chapter. But it will lend extra coherence to the history.

Next, read the introduction to "Militant Reaction and Reorientation" (109). This introduces a different set of areas which share a different response to European domination in the nineteenth century. Now read about one of the following illustrations of that trend: India (110-115), Southeast Asia (115-119), Algeria (119-121), or Russia (121-125). Then read the summary (125-126). By the time you have finished this section, make sure you understand the general trend, how it differs from the previous trend, and how it works in your one region.

Next, read the introduction to "Imperialism and Revivalism Without Modernism" (126). Now read about Mecca and Medina (126), or Arabian Peninsula and Western Indian Ocean (129-137), or the Sanusiyyah Tariqah in Sufism (138-139), or Sudan (139-141). Then read the summary (141). Here, regardless of which section you read, I would like you to read also about Wahhabis on 130-132. If you need background, refresh your memory by reviewing pp 53-56.

Finally, read the intro to "Revivalism Without European Imperialism" (141-142). Make sure you get it. Then read about either Western and Central Africa (142-147) or China (147-149).

Conclude with the overall conclusion to the chapter on 149-151, which will pull it all into perspective. That wasn't so bad, was it?


3/5:

Read M&C (which stands for Murata & Chittick, not Muslims and Christians) before you read Voll. Consider M&C part I more important than Voll, but please don't neglect Voll entirely.

You are probably learning that John Voll is slow going. Don't despair. This is a book that presupposes exposure to many events in world history that we won't be covering. So I am expecting that you will feel lost fairly often as you read this book. I included it anyway because despite its complexity, it is probably the best available work for our needs. And I think you'll get the hang of it as we go along.

I will be pointing out the parts you should concentrate on. The rest you can skim. (The dark cloud has a silver lining!)

It will help you navigate the material to keep in mind that Voll has identified three lines of analysis which will pervade the book: local conditions, modern issues, and Islamic continuity (25). Read pp 24 and the top half of 25 to get its general point. Read it twice if you need to. Google or ask about unfamiliar terms. Skim to the top of 31. Skim the Ottoman material (31-49, especially 31-41) deeply enough to understand what Voll is doing: chronicling the decline of the Ottomon Empire and its consequences for Islam in the area. The Ottoman Empire is the last great Muslim empire. It fell after the Ottomans "lost" World War I. This is probably not a history you have studied, but it is deeply important for everything in the twentieth century Middle East.

Pp 49-53 are a little more important: they describe the way Ottoman decline affected Arabian influence in Mecca and Medina. These cities are the destinations of Muslim pilgrimmages (the Hajj) and thus served as hubs for cultural and theological exchange ever since the rise of Islam. They are like permanent Muslim convention centers. So though they are politically marginal during the eras of the great Muslim empires, theologically they are central. This feature gets more directly important on pp 53-56, which you should read closely, on the rise of Wahhabism. Wahhabis are modern Muslim reformists that have become vastly influential since a Wahhabi family, the house of Saud, came to power in Saudi (Saud-i) Arabia. When oil became valuable, these folks suddenly had the means to bankroll their reformation all over the Muslim world. So these pages are very important indeed.

You can go back to skimming on pp 56-83, then read the conclusion (p 83) closely. You're glossing over important stuff, but there's only so much we can cover. If you are especially interested in a particular part of the world (say, for future mission or travel), then you'll probably want to read up on that area more thoroughly. I know you won't understand a lot of terms yet. But the more you see them in context, the more you'll pick up as we go along.


1/22:

Today I promise to talk about Talmud rather than Football.

You will want to read Wylen ch 14 first, then proceed to Holtz ch 2. (More to come on that later, maybe.)


1/17:

There's not really much to say for Thursday. The readings are all straightforward chapters from Wylen. We'll be pursuing two parallel tracks: Features of Jewish belief (chapters 5 and 7), and the point of departure between ancient and rabbinic Judaism, which is the Jewish War of 66-70. I am not anticipating some cosmic connection between these two tracks. Unless our presenter finds one, I'm expecting to talk about them more or less separately.

I really do want to encourage you to ask in class the questions you put on your summaries. Don't be shy! If experience is a guide, many are terrific questions. I want others to benefit from our hard thinking, and you to benefit from theirs.


 

1/15:

Don't be intimidated!

The apparently massive reading for Tuesday beaks down into a mammoth essay on biblical narrative, a shorter one on biblical law, and another short one on biblical poetry. Among these, about fourteen pages are basically reading recommendations, which you should only bother to skim (and return to later for great summer reading).

Half the assigned reading is on narrative. It's fascinating – the material on specific passages is wonderful. But much is illustration of basic features. I am assuming that in your summaries and presentations, the features rather than the illustrations will take precedence. These descriptions are clustered on pp. 31-32, 37-51, and 62-71. Concentrate on these pages.

Concentrate even more on the chaper on biblical law. This is where Christians are least familiar with, and most prejudiced against, Jewish reading practices.

If you thought the Bible's poetry had all been herded into the Psalms, you will be pleasantly surprised by the chapter on biblical poetry, which shows the rich effects of the Bible's juxtaposition of poetry, law and narrative. If your eyes glaze over a bit on the structures of Hebrew poetry (pp. 114-118), I understand. I'm left-brained too. I get more excited about the following section, which discusses the various roles of Hebrew poetry in its wider literary contexts.

Let these essays widen your expectations for the different ways the Bible works in Israel. With necessary adjustments, they work in many of these ways among Christian communities. When Christians and Jews read the Scriptures together and to each other, wonderful things can happen.


 

1/10:

These two readings make the point that the Pentateuch, or Torah, is fundamental to Judaism in every age. It is Ground Zero, on which everything else builds (Holtz, 13). Wylen chapter 2 is too straightforward to need my introduction, and has plenty of material in it to occupy your thoughts. Holtz's introduction is straightforward too. Enjoy its foretaste of Israel's "love affair with the text" of God's instruction.

One extra reminder: Make sure your summaries conform to the requirements I've specified. I don't want to be handing them back!


 

1/8:

You won't be submitting reading notes for these readings, but they are still important, if only for the context they provide. Wylen chapter 1 begins to fill in some details I have left open in my first lecture, regarding the diverse ways Jews understand themselves. Pages 10-13 also map Jewish history into a very helpful scheme of three periods: biblical, rabbinic, and modern. Familiarize yourself with all of them. The biblical period is pretty well covered by OT and NT classes, so we will concentrate our efforts in the last two. (Wylen's simplicity is helpful for first-time students, but it also hides many critical nuances. As we read on, we will see that the transitions between periods are marked by fundamntal shocks. Indeed, the whole modern period is really a succession of shocks to earlier Jewish traditions that are really unprecedented since the first and second centuries CE: the Enlightenment, new tolerance and social freedom in Christian lands, American immigration, Zionism, and the Shoah [Holocaust]. But more on these things later.)

Pay closer attention to Wylen chapter 12, which fills in much needed detail at the "start" of our Jewish history. I will try to cover this chapter in Thursday's short presentation, because it is critical. So even though you aren't writing it up, you will need to read it before you go on to the next readings.