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The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization Paperback – February 1, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bulliet, a history professor at Columbia University and a former director of the Middle East Institute, offers a short, insightful book about Islam and Muslims that actually provides hope for the future. The book consists of four essays arguing that Islam and Christianity have tremendous common roots and history—as much as, or more than, Christianity and Judaism. Bulliet also contends that Western Christian policymakers and commentators, when encountering Islam, have reacted with knee-jerk Islamophobia and generalizations rather than thoughtfulness. Bulliet envisions a future, 20 years off at least, where Islamic countries will have active democracies. He also debunks the popular view that Islam has an inherent separation of church and state problem; Christians have had similar issues in the past, as he shows with the Church of England and other examples. Bulliet's optimism—which is backed up by solid arguments—is alluring, particularly where his counterparts can offer only gloom-and-doom scenarios. Bulliet's most brilliant insight, which comes in the last chapter, is the recognition that those Islamic movements on the fringe eventually become the center of Islam. The new leaders of Islam—probably those on the edge now, who have shown more diverse, tolerant attitudes—have not yet been heard from, he says. Although portions are written densely, this book is a quick, informative, and encouraging read.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Richard Bulliet's The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization re-examines most of the pieties of the West about the Muslim world and Islamic politics (and about the West itself) and finds them not only wrong but wrongly conceived.... He argues that modern European and Muslim history are deeply intertwined and that one cannot be understood in isolation from the other, thereby launching a profound challenge to teachers, historians and policy-makers.

(Juan Cole, University of Michigan The International Journal of Middle East Studies)

[An] insightful book about Islam and Muslims that actually provides hope for the future.... this book is a quick, informative, and encouraging read.

(Publishers Weekly)

A clearly written book, aimed at the general reader...requires a place on the library shelf

(Steve Young Library Journal)

Presents a persuasive case for viewing Islam and the West... [a]brilliant new book

(Emran Qureshi Toronto Globe and Mail)

Seeks to bridge a gap between Islam and the West... His solution is to try to patch things up by emphasizing all that Islam and Christianity have in common.

(Daniel Lazare The Nation)

As Bulliet writes... there is a far better case for 'Islamo-Christian civilization' than there is for a clash of civilizations.

(Washington Monthly)

Offers a rich lode of penetrating insights.

(L. Carl Brown Foreign Affairs)

A positive and challenging proposal, underscoring the importance of the phases we use in defining our world.

(Future Survey)

Obviously, this is an important book with the important proposal to familiarize everyone with the term "Islam-Christian civilization". Let us take heed.

(Murad Wilfried Hofmann The Muslim World Book Review)

It deserves the widest possible readership, addressing as it does with wit and insight one of the most freighted issues of our times.

(Malise Ruthven Times Literary Supplement)

Bulliet's ideas are collectively imaginative and a major contribution... No reader will see the history either of Christendom or Islam in quite the same way.

(Ronald Davis Domes)

Great scholarship and vision... Bulliet offers rare insights in the Islamic and the (post)-Christian worlds.

(Johannes J. G. Jansen International History Review)

An excellent touchstone... this is not a volume that should be ignored.

(John J. Curry, Ph.D. Digest of Middle East Studies)

[A] wise and wonderful book.

(Howard J. Dooley Journal of World History)

[These essays] emanate from a fair-minded approach to strident debates - written, if you will, from the center.

(International Journal of Middle East Studies)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; New Ed edition (February 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231127979
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231127974
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #293,894 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I have been teaching at Columbia University since 1973. Before that I taught at Harvard for six years and at UC Berkeley for two. All that redeems me from being identified as a pure academic is the enjoyment I derive from writing fiction. My first novel, Kicked to Death by a Camel, was nominated for an Edgar in the category of Best First Mystery. Some readers have maintained that the best thing about it was the title. Neither Kicked to Death nor any of my subsequent novels met much commercial success, but they enabled me to make stories out of my personal experiences, mostly during travels to the Middle East.

My academic writings deal either with Islam, human-animal relations, or the history of technology. In all three cases, my greatest satisfaction comes from asking unusual or previously unasked questions and exploring innovative methods in trying to answer them. When I came to Columbia, a colleague who was opposed to my appointment predicted that I would never write "real" history. Maybe I haven't. That's for others to judge. All I can say is that I don't think I have written any history that could have been written by someone else.

Personally, I come from Rockford, Illinois and consider myself a lapsed Methodist. That is to say, I recognize that the conduct of my life has been strongly influenced by the social expectations of Methodism, but I have long departed from the theology and rituals of any church. I have no personal or family roots in the Middle East or in Islam--or on a farm, for that matter. Though my early research and writing concentrated on the social and economic aspects of medieval Islam, and of Iran in particular, after the Iranian Revolution I became more actively involved in contemporary affairs. In particular, I pay close attention to religious political currents in the Muslim world and to the ups and downs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which I feel constitutes one of the major political and social experiments of our time.

After 40+ years as a Middle East/Islam specialist, I'm pretty tired of reading about that subject. My reading preferences lean more to science fiction (William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson, Richard Morgan), graphic novels (Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Garth Ennis, Mike Carey, Brian Vaughan), and experimental novelists (John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis).

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Carool Kersten on March 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In recent years media attention for the Muslim world has increased tremendously and many reputable scholars of Islam have joined the flurry of publications that is released month after month. With Following Muhammad -- a thoughtful essay on Islamic spiritual traditions -- Sufism expert Carl Ernst has attempted to counterbalance the torrent of books on political radicalism. Bernard Lewis, the nestor of Islamic history writing, took the easy way and jumped the bandwagon of Islam-bashing by rehashed his 1999 Vienna Lectures Series under the title What Went Wrong?

Partially in response to Lewis, fellow-historian Richard Bulliet of Columbia University dusted off some of the manuscripts in his archives and then elaborated further on these earlier musings. His The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization consists of four essays and, although the first one was drafted more than thirty years ago, they have been reworked into a remarkably consistent argument.

Refashioning that earliest essay, from which the book has taken its title, into a rebuttal of Huntington's Clash of Civilizations thesis, Bulliet explains that there are more similarities than differences between Christendom and the Muslim Middle East. The conversion processes during the earliest centuries shared many features; in particular the slow percolation of the new religions into the lower social strata. As contacts became more intensive during the middle periods, it is true that mutual hostility increased but even then peaceful exchange was more common than violent interaction.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By ML VINE VOICE on March 16, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Bulliet, a learned, articulate, and persuasive writer, argues that we should reject Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" rhetoric and embrace the notion that Islamic/Middle Eastern Civilization and Christian/European Civilization are one. Sort of. I say "sort of," because he doesn't really think that Islam and Christendom form a single civilization; rather, he sees them as sibling civilizations that have each shaped the other's development much more profoundly than is commonly acknowledged today.

The strengths of Bulliet's book are, on one hand, in showing that Christianity and Islam, and Europe and the Middle East, have not merely been rivals, but have frequently had fruitful exchanges in the past; and, on the other hand, in critiquing Huntington's arguments and scholarship. These -- plus the slimmness of the volume and the fluidity of the writing -- make the book worth reading. (The biggest revelation to me was that when the Islamic Caliphate sprang up and began rapidly conquering territory, it almost immediately gained control of two of Christianity's five patriarchates and presumably a similar proportion of that day's Christians. This undoubtedly contributed to the Great Schism in Catholicism.)

The primary weakness of the book is apparent in its title. By making an argument about "civilization," Bulliet accepts Huntington's terms of argument. "Civilization" is a shorthand that both authors use for an amalgam of societies, religious institutions, empires, nation states, etc. To talk about Islamic and Christian "civilizations" as if these were clear and coherent entities persisting across time and space for centuries does too much violence to the historical record and weakens Bulliet's attempt to disarm manicheans like Huntington. What is "Christian civilization"?
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29 of 36 people found the following review helpful By L. F Sherman on January 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Four chapters of this marvelous book deliver a strong, thoughtful, compelling message about understanding the past, present, and possible future of Muslim societies on their own terms. Would that pundits and media `experts' provide at least some part of this maturity. Bulliet eschews polemic and bitterness to provide sound perspective some of the most essential themes of public discourse and policy regarding the world of Islam.

The whole book is a compelling alternative to common (and shallow, ideological, Islamphobe) views promoted by Neocons and others. Whatever your present perspective, understanding will be sharpened by careful reading of this excellent book.

The only thing I do not like is the title, which makes a point but has mislead some reviewers already so that they dismiss or misunderstand the sound arguments presented.

The first chapter condemns Huntington's thesis about the "Clash of Civilizations" indicating how it is both misleading and damaging. (Bulliet might have added it has been used for aggressive, hateful, and misguided policies that obscure economic, oil, and geostrategic motives). Christianity and Islam as social, political, and institutional matters are "siblings" not clashing civilizations and excellent comparative analysis about responses to often similar needs are enlightening.

The second chapter "What Went On" provides much insight and more than the entire book with a similar title that has been widely promoted for those who want to think that they have answers "What Went Wrong". It is insightful and fascinating on topics ranging from expansion and conversion to the social and institutional place of clerics, law, religious hierarchy.
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