The Study of Islamic Culture and Politics: An Overview and Assessment

Publication Abstract

Moaddel M. 2002. "The Study of Islamic Culture and Politics: An Overview and Assessment." Annual Review of Sociology 28: 359-86.

Among the four major world cultural traditions--Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity--Islam appears to have the most pervasive role in contemporary politics. The vast and varied spectrum of the scholarly works that have addressed this distinctive phenomenon started with a tradition that presumed a conflict between Islam and political modernity, while noting the centrality and universality of the faith for Muslims. This conception runs contrary to the admission of the reality of secular politics in historical Islam. If there is, on the contrary, a congruity between Islam and modernity, one still needs to provide an account of the speecificity of Muslim politics. Addressing this issue, another tradition stressed that because of its very survival into the modern era, the great Islamic tradition can play a significant role in political modernization and nation building. While this argument may be true in the cases of the historical experiences of a number of Islamic countries in the early twentieth century, it is not consistent with the overly transnational and other worldly objectives of radical Islamism of late. A third tradition opted for the analysis of the macro social processes in order to account for the rise of political Islam, while a fourth focused on the micro processes of the objectification of religion and the fragmentation of religious authority to explain Muslim politics. These explanations, however, would be incomplete without a serious assessment of the role of the rentier economy in the rise of Muslim exceptionalism. Following a critical assessment of the extant literature, this essay makes several suggestions for future research.

[Full Text Link - restricted access may apply]