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Modernity and the Millennium [Paperback]

Juan R. I. Cole
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 15, 1998 0231110812 978-0231110815 0

Modernity and the Millennium is the first book to chart responses in the Muslim Middle East to modernity through an examination of the evolution of the Baha'i faith--a millenarian movement led by the nineteenth-century Iranian prophet Baha'u'llah ("the Glory of God"). This volume illuminates the complexity and ambiguity that characterized the changing relationship of Baha'u'llah and his followers to modernity, considered as a transnational and fluid political and cultural field of contestation. The insights presented here into these responses to modernity illuminate not only the genesis of a new world-religion but also important facets of Middle Eastern-particularly Iranian-social and cultural shifts in the nineteenth century.

Drawing on the work of Habermas, Giddens, Touraine and Bryan Turner, among others, Juan R. I. Cole considers some of the ways in which Middle Eastern society was affected by five developments central to modernity: the lessening entanglement of the state with religion, the move from absolutism to democracy, the rise of sovereign nation-states, the advent of nationalism, and the women's movement. He explores the Baha'is' positive response to religious toleration, democracy, and greater rights for women and their "utopian realist" critique of nationalism, militant Jacobin secularization, industrialized warfare, and genocide, oppression of the poor and working classes, and xenophobia.

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Editorial Reviews


"Modernity and the Millennium is a highly sophisticated analysis of a significant and neglected body of writings in the context of the major intellectual trends of the latter part of the nineteenth century." -- Said Arjomand author of The Turban for the Crown: The Islamic Revolution in Iran

This reflective and insightful work. . . will commend itself especially to those who are concerned with modernist doctrine, Baha'i responses to that doctrine, and the implications of both for a fuller understanding of important facets of Middle Eastern history. -- Review


A highly sophisticated analysis of a significant and neglected body of writings in the context of the major intellectual trends of the latter part of the nineteenth century.

(Said Arjomand, author of The Turban for the Crown: The Islamic Revolution in Iran)

Product Details

  • Series: History and Society of the Modern Middle East
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (May 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231110812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231110815
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,200,508 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
36 of 45 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This volume is an important study contributing to an understanding of
the place of Baha'u'llah, the Founder of the Baha'i Faith, in the
intellectual milieu of the late 19th century Middle East. It is not,
however, a definitive or well-rounded study on Baha'u'llah. Dr. Cole
has been selective about what to emphasize or ignore -- such as some
of Baha'u'llah's more challenging claims to divinity and spiritual
authority, passages in Baha'u'llah's writings that undermine the
author's thesis that Baha'u'llah was strictly committed to a
western-style principle of rigid separation of church and state, and
other interpretations of Baha'u'llah's writings which are regarded as
authoritative by Baha'is. Nevertheless, Cole's is a useful study of
the liberality of spirit and wide-ranging influence exerted by
Baha'u'llah upon the most important of his Middle Eastern
contemporaries. It should not be read as a definitive description of
Baha'u'llah's doctrine or as a comprehensive intellectual history of
Baha'u'llah's influence, for it was not the Middle Eastern
intellectuals but ordinary people who accepted Baha'u'llah's claims to
prophethood and built the international Baha'i community. Dr. Cole's
book was not written to address Baha'u'llah's longer-range spiritual
influence upon ever more followers, the vast majority of whom are in
underdeveloped countries. ...
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26 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Non-Scholar' view February 8, 2000
I found the book to be very ingrossing. I looked forward to reading sections of it twice a day. As part of my background, I have studied and participated in Sufi activities (1972-1976) and have been a Baha'i since 1972.
The book is, by-and large, very readable, very interesting and sheds some light on the circumstances and conditions of the time of the Babi and Baha'i revelations. I feel I have a better understanding of the culture, customs and history of that time. I also welcome the perspective which the author brings to the subject.
As for any controversy regarding this book or its author, the book contains a few points which may disturb the comfort level of some readers, but nothing that shakes my Faith in the essence of the Revelation, or cause me to question the author's point of view or motives.
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22 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important Study of the Early Baha'i Movement November 21, 1999
Juan R.I. Cole's *Modernity and the Millenium* is perhaps among the most important studies of the early Baha'i movement written the past twenty years. Cole's comparative focus and analysis of political ideas and philosophies in a nineteenth century Middle Eastern setting highlights the impact and relevance of various strands of European Enlightment thought such as democracy, religious reform and liberalism upon an Iranian millenarian movement such the Baha'i Faith. A must read for any serious student of the Babi/Baha'i movement and especially the Nineteenth Century Middle East.
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30 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sorely Needed Baha'i Text October 26, 2000
While there exists a plethora of apologetic material on this young religion (for the most part provided by Baha'i officialdom which maintains a vigilant eye on any and all material written by its adherents), there is precious little available that addresses the Baha'i faith from an academically sound historical approach. Modernity and the Millenium is one of the few texts to bridge the gap, written by a follower of the Baha'i prophet Baha'u'llah who is also an academically respected and published historian. Modernity and the Millenium provides fresh insights about the contextual universe of both Baha'u'llah and his religion. Highly recommended reading for professional historians and researchers, as well as the interested layperson.
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23 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A serious and academic study of Baha'i history February 8, 2000
If believers in the Baha'i religion are looking for unthinking and uncritical support for their previously held assumptions and beliefs about Baha'i history, this is not the book for them. They are best advised to look to other popular and religiously approved books, of which there are many. Dr. Cole's book is the first fully scholarly and academic study of this period of the Baha'i religion to be published by a university press. It is a full-dress, academic work--and if you find that sort of thing boring, then again you are advised to steer clear and read the popular literature that is available. However, if you are interested in brilliant and original scholarship, well this is it! The book is a thoroughly documented, original, and insightful history and interpretation of the political and social teachings of Baha'u'llah (1817-1892), the founder of the Baha'i religion. This is not an orthodox retelling of Baha'i history, but a new and important contribution to the growing field of Baha'i Studies.
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