A new book by a former (and favorite) professor of mine, the wonderful Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab, has recently been published by Columbia University Press: Contemporary Arab Thought: Cultural Critique in Comparative Perspective
The book is a study of contemporary Arab debates on culture. It examines the analyses presented by prominent Arab thinkers in the second half of the twentieth century regarding questions of cultural malaise, cultural decline and cultural renaissance. It puts these debates in the historical context of modern Arab thought spanning the last two centuries and focuses on the post 1967-defeat (in the war against Israel) period that witnessed a mounting polarization between holistic ideologies on the one hand and self-reflective critiques on the other. It breaks new ground in the understanding of contemporary Arab intellectual life by viewing it from three original perspectives:
1. First by focusing on the self-reflective critical turn at a time when attention has been almost exclusively devoted to the ideological side of this intellectual life, whether islamist or nationalist.
2. Secondly by recognizing and examining the political understanding of the cultural malaise among critical thinkers, an understanding that has been systematically overshadowed by a culturalist reading of the malaise, by actors and observers alike.
3. And thirdly by breaking the isolation to which the production and study of the Arab debates on culture have been hitherto confined, by putting them in a comparative post-colonial perspective. Indeed, more than any other region, the Arab world has been consistently stigmatised with exceptionalism.
Hence the main questions the book explores are the following:
1. How has contemporary Arab critique approached questions of cultural malaise? Which issues has it addressed and what shape has this critique taken?
2. To what extent and in what sense have Arab critical thinkers of the post 1967 era seen the cultural crisis as a political one? How old is this political perception of cultural problems in modern Arab thought and what are its implications for the democratic struggle in the Arab world?
3. How do the concerns expressed and approaches adopted in these Arab debates compare with debates in other post-colonial regions of the world such as Africa and Latin America? What patterns of thought does such a comparison reveal across regions, cultures, religions and races? What does it tell us about the post-colonial nature of the Arab debates and what significance does this telling have for our understanding of contemporary Arab thought?
(From Press Release)