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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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Ritu G. KhanduriCaricaturing Culture in India: Cartoons and History in the Modern World

April 20, 2015

Caricaturing Culture in India: Cartoons and History in the Modern World (Cambridge University Press, 2014) is a wonderful piece of visual anthropology by Ritu Gairola Khanduri, which uses the history of cartoons, from colonial to current times, to talk about various aspects of Indian society from the state, to political society to modernity. Through archival […]

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Peter GottschalkReligion, Science, and Empire: Classifying Hinduism and Islam in British India

April 13, 2015

When did religion begin in South Asia? Many would argue that it was not until the colonial encounter that South Asians began to understand themselves as religious. In Religion, Science, and Empire: Classifying Hinduism and Islam in British India (Oxford University Press, 2012), Peter Gottschalk, Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University, outlines the contingent and […]

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Dhara AnjariaCurzon’s India: Networks of Colonial Governance, 1899-1905

March 25, 2015

I won't speak for you, but I find it utterly remarkable that the British were able to "rule" India. Britain, of course, is a small island off a small continent some significant distance from most of its colonies. India, in contrast, is essentially a continent unto itself and the home of an ancient, sophisticated civilization. How […]

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Mukulika Banerjee



Why India Votes?

March 18, 2015

Why India Votes? (Routledge, 2014) is the latest book by Mukulika Banerjee and is a deep, engaging and continually surprising account of elections in India. Weaving together ethnographic research in fieldsites across the country, the book privileges the voice of ordinary voters as they experience the campaign, play with language and enter the polling booth. […]

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Cabeiri RobinsonBody of Victim, Body of Warrior: Refugee Families and the Making of Kashmiri Jihadists

February 19, 2015

[Cross-posted from New Books in Islamic Studies] The idea of jihad is among the most keenly discussed yet one of the least understood concepts in Islam. In her brilliant new book Body of Victim, Body of Warrior: Refugee Families and the Making of Kashmiri Jihadists (University of California Press, 2013), Cabeiri Robinson, Associate Professor of International Studies and South Asian […]

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Neilesh BoseRecasting the Region: Language, Culture, and Islam in Colonial Bengal

February 18, 2015

In his new book Recasting the Region: Language, Culture, and Islam in Colonial Bengal (Oxford University Press, 2014), Neilesh Bose analyses the trajectories of Muslim Bengali politics in the first half of the twentieth century. The literary and cultural history of the region explored in the book reveal the pointedly Bengali ideas of Pakistan that arose as an empire ended […]

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Meir Shahar and John Kieschnick, eds.India in the Chinese Imagination: Myth, Religion, and Thought

February 11, 2015

[Cross-posted from New Books in Buddhist Studies] In India in the Chinese Imagination: Myth, Religion, and Thought (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), eleven scholars (including editors John Kieschnick and Meir Shahar) examine the Chinese reception of Indian ideas and myth, and address Chinese attempts to recreate India within the central kingdom.  Beginning with Victor Mair’s argument that it was Buddhist theories about […]

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Nausheen H. AnwarInfrastructure Redux: Crisis, Progress in Industrial Pakistan and Beyond

February 4, 2015

In Infrastructure Redux: Crisis, Progress in Industrial Pakistan and Beyond (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), Nausheen H. Anwar explores double-edged narratives of development. Through detailed case studies of Sialkot and Faisalabad, as well as analyses of development in Pakistan since independence and the impact of liberalized trade policies on industrial labour, the book explores how ideas of both crisis […]

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Pamela PriceThe Writings of Pamela Price: State, Politics, and Cultures in Modern South India: Honour, Authority, and Morality

January 22, 2015

The Writings of Pamela Price: State, Politics, and Cultures in Modern South India: Honour, Authority, and Morality (Orient BlackSwan, 2013) is a wonderful collection of ten essays by historian Pamela Price, that originally appeared between 1979 and 2010. The essays, as well as touching on the concepts of honour, authority and morality in different south […]

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