Ernest Gellner: Idealized to a Fault
If there is any one book by an anthropologist purporting to explain Islam or Muslim Society that should be avoided because it is so summarily patched together and indignantly indifferent to available scholarship, that text could easily be Ernest Gellner’s Muslim Society, which appeared in the Cambridge Studies in Social Anthropology series in 1981. One reason this book does not hold together is that the twelve chapters are mostly previously published articles and book reviews from 1963 to 1979. Despite a lengthy first chapter stating many of the themes to be replicated in not very dissimilar variation throughout the compilation, the primary rationale for the text as a whole appears to be that these themes were “gestating for over a quarter of a century.”2 While I have no academic death wish to impugn the reputation of Gellner as one of the preeminent British social anthropologists of his generation, nor his profound influence as a teacher and mentor, I do find his approach to understanding and writing about Islam severely flawed; Muslim Society serves as an ideal [sic] lesson for what not to do in anthropological analysis of Islam.3
KeywordsAggressive Relation Oscillation Theory Muslim World Western Scholar Muslim Society
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