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The Islamic World (James Baldwin)

As a historiographical category, the “Islamic World” has a controversial past. Critics of the concept argued that it glossed over the great diversity of a vast region, and that it unjustifiably foregrounded Islam as the fundamental force structuring and guiding these societies. In the hands of scholars who instinctively associated progress with secularism, the “Islamic World” became one of several tools with which the modern, dynamic West was distinguished from the moribund, irrational Orient. But the category Islamic World may also have much to offer the global history project. Global historians are interested in global connections created by culture, commerce, migration, and transnational political forms such as empire. These are the things that held together the Islamic World, which created not only a global religion but two global languages (Arabic and Persian), encompassed vital global trade routes (the Indian Ocean and the Silk Road), was home to many diasporas (Greek, Jewish, Armenian, Hadrami), and produced numerous great empires (Abbasid, Timurid, Ottoman, Mughal, British).

In this seminar we will consider key questions that emerge when studying the Islamic World from a global history perspective. What makes the Islamic World a coherent unit? What connection does the Islamic World have with Islam? How do we characterize relations between the Islamic and the non-Islamic worlds? How should historians balance the globalizing pressure of the Islamic World with the local particularities of different Muslim societies? Is the Islamic World still meaningful in the age of modern globalization?



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