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Jamal EliasAisha’s Cushion: Religious Art, Practice, and Perception in Islam

Harvard University Press, 2012

by SherAli Tareen on April 23, 2015

Jamal Elias

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In his remarkable new book Aisha's Cushion: Religious Art, Practice, and Perception in Islam (Harvard University Press, 2012), Jamal Elias, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, presents a magisterial study of Muslim attitudes towards visual culture, images, and perception. Through meticulous historical and textual analysis, Elias successfully unravels the stereotype that there is no place for visual images in Islam, or that calligraphy represents the only normative form of art in Islam. He shows that throughout history Muslims have approached the question of images and art in a much more nuanced and complicated fashion, while negotiating important philosophical, theological, and perceptual considerations. He argues that "Muslim thinkers have developed systematic and advanced theories of representation and signification, and that many of these theories have been internalized by Islamic society at large and continue to inform cultural attitudes toward the visual arts." What is most unusual about this book is the almost overwhelming range and varieties of sources that Elias marshals to construct his argument. The reader of this book travels through a glittering arcade of intellectual histories populated by texts on philosophy, Sufism, alchemy, dreams, optics, and architecture and monuments. This painstakingly researched and lyrically written book is sure to delight the intellectual palate of specialists and non-specialists alike.

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Lital LevyPoetic Trespass: Writing Between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine

April 6, 2015

Since the beginning of the 20th century, Jewish settlement in Palestine and the revival of Hebrew as a national language have profoundly impacted the relationship between Arabic and Hebrew. In a highly contentious political environment, the two languages have been identified with opposing national movements – Hebrew associated with Jews and Arabic with Palestinians. Lital […]

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Aristotle TziampirisThe Emergence of Israeli-Greek Cooperation

March 30, 2015

Aristotle Tziampiris is The Emergence of Israeli-Greek Cooperation (Springer, 2015). Tziampiris is Associate Professor of International Relations and Director of the Center for International and European Affairs at the Department of International and European Studies at the University of Piraeus. The recent fiscal debt crisis in Greece has drawn world attention to the country’s position […]

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Sophia Rose Arjana, "Muslims in the Western Imagination" (Oxford UP, 2015)

March 10, 2015

In Muslims in the Western Imagination (Oxford University Press, 2015), Sophia Rose Arjana explores a variety of creative productions—including art, literature, film—in order to tell a story not about how Muslims construct their own identities but rather about how Western thinkers have constructed ideas about Muslims and monsters. To what extent are these imaginary constructs […]

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Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix KuehnAn Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban/Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970-2010

March 5, 2015

[Cross-posted in New Books in National Security] Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn's An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban/Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970-2010 (Oxford University Press, reprint edition 2014) offers what is in many ways is an untold, insider's account of the birth of the Taliban and Al Qaeda during the anti-Soviet jihad, and […]

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Bedross Der MatossianShattered Dreams of Revolution: From Liberty to Violence in the Late Ottoman Empire

February 24, 2015

The Young Turk revolution of 1908 restored the Ottoman constitution, suspended earlier by Sultan Abdul Hamid II, and initiated a new period of parliamentary politics in the Empire. Likewise, the revolution was a watershed moment for the Empire’s ethnic communities, raising expectations for their full inclusion into the Ottoman political system as modern citizens and […]

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Christian C. SahnerAmong the Ruins: Syria Past and Present

February 12, 2015

[Cross-posted from New Books in National Security] Christian C. Sahner's Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present (Oxford University Press, 2014) resists easy categorization into genre: it as at once a travel log, an impassioned lecture on Syrian antiquity, and a commentary on Syria's long journey into its present disaster. Sahner offers a unique perspective as an academic with […]

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Gohar HomayounpourDoing Psychoanalysis in Tehran

December 19, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Book in Psychoanalysis] In Doing Psychoanalysis in Tehran (MIT Press, 2012) — part memoir, part elegy, and part collection of clinical vignettes — Gohar Homayounpour takes a defiant position against the Orientalizing gaze of Western publishers, editors, and journalists who search in her book for the exotic Iranian subject and the trauma of the Eastern Other. She […]

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General Daniel BolgerWhy We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

December 12, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in World Affairs] During the past several years, numerous books and articles have appeared that grapple with the legacy and lessons of the recent U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This development should surprise few. The emergence of the jihadist group ISIS in Iraq and Syria raises profound questions about what the U.S. […]

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Vahid Brown and Don RasslerFountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973-2012

November 14, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in National Security] Vahid Brown and Don Rassler's Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973-2012 (Oxford University Press, 2013) is a meticulously researched and remarkably detailed exposition of the Haqqani network's growth and ongoing importance among Pakistani militant organizations. Beginning with an expansive history of the Haqqani family's background, and subsequent emergence as a critical lynchpin in […]

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