Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Sep/10

17

Taking the Western side in religious history

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A reader recently asked me about a history of Islam which did not exhibit the strong biases evident in Karen Armstrong’s body of work. I don’t know what to recommend really because I don’t read too many popular works of Islamic history with a broad sweep, almost all of them are too weighted down with extraneous ideological garbage (mind you, I am able to filter it out pretty easily, but in many of these books the garbage is too much to dig through). But, I would recommend all readers to Philip Jenkins’ histories of Christianity. I have just finished The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died, and can recommend it. Jenkins is an Episcopalian, and generally seems to have sympathy with religious traditionalists, though not necessarily of the fundamentalist stripe. I don’t agree with him on everything, but his biases and theoretical agendas weigh relatively lightly and transparently through his narratives. Additionally, it is obvious that Jenkins’ has particular sympathy with Christians and Christianity, though he does a good job of evaluating the scholarship without letting his own sentiments cloud his assessments too much. I know some readers may be attracted to Rodney Starks’ most recent polemics, such as God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, to counteract the anti-Western bias in the popular historical literature (e.g., The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain). If Philip Jenkins is Hugh Hefner, Rodney Stark is Larry Flynt. I know that a Hustler “spread” fits the bill on occasion, but in the end something a bit more tasteful and understated (and frankly, accurate) is more edifying to all.

3 comments

  • Kevin Lawrence · September 17, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Bob Wright’s recent Evolution of God has some fairly detailed chapters on Muhammed’s life. He tries a little too hard to fit the facts to his narrative, but I learned a lot from it anyway.

  • Eric Dennis · September 17, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    What “ideological baggage” are you referring to in the popular accounts? I assume you are referring, e.g., to Robert Spencer as the primary scholarly ideological opponent of Islam in popular culture. I’m curious to know what particular criticisms you have of his or cognate work.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 17, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    you assume wrong. i linked to *ornament of the world*, shouldn’t you be able to infer from that? re: spencer et al. (bostom), i’ve read some of their stuff. it’s not more ideological than the pro-multiculturalist stuff. history is filled with lots of data which can arrange for your own analytic purposes.

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