2016

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Winning Title

Christian Lange
Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions   (Cambridge University Press)

The Muslim afterworld, with its imagery rich in sensual promises, has shaped Western perceptions of Islam for centuries. However, to date, no single study has done justice to the full spectrum of traditions of thinking about the topic in Islamic history. The Muslim hell, in particular, remains a little studied subject. This book, which is based on a wide array of carefully selected Arabic and Persian texts, covers not only the theological and exegetical but also the philosophical, mystical, topographical, architectural and ritual aspects of the Muslim belief in paradise and hell, in both the Sunni and the Shiʿi world. By examining a broad range of sources related to the afterlife, Christian Lange shows that Muslim religious literature, against transcendentalist assumptions to the contrary, often pictures the boundary between this world and the otherworld as being remarkably thin, or even permeable.

‘This book is quite simply a scholarly masterpiece, a path-breaking and fascinating piece of research.  It will remain THE study of Islamic eschatology for a long time to come’
Anonymous reviewer

Runners up

Karen Bauer
Gender Heirarchy in the Qur’an  (Cambridge University Press)

This book explores how medieval and modern Muslim religious scholars ('ulamā') interpret gender roles in Qur'ānic verses on legal testimony, marriage, and human creation. Citing these verses, medieval scholars developed increasingly complex laws and interpretations upholding a male-dominated gender hierarchy; aspects of their interpretations influence religious norms and state laws in Muslim-majority countries today, yet other aspects have been discarded entirely. Karen Bauer traces the evolution of their interpretations, showing how they have been adopted, adapted, rejected, or replaced over time, by comparing the Qur'ān with a wide range of Qur'ānic commentaries and interviews with prominent religious scholars from Iran and Syria. At times, tradition is modified in unexpected ways: learned women argue against gender equality, or Grand Ayatollahs reject sayings of the Prophet, citing science instead. This innovative and engaging study highlights the effects of social and intellectual contexts on the formation of tradition, and on modern responses to it.

 

Nadav Samin
Of Sand or Soil   (Princeton University Press)

Why do tribal genealogies matter in modern-day Saudi Arabia? What compels the strivers and climbers of the new Saudi Arabia to want to prove their authentic descent from one or another prestigious Arabian tribe? Of Sand or Soil looks at how genealogy and tribal belonging have informed the lives of past and present inhabitants of Saudi Arabia and how the Saudi government's tacit glorification of tribal origins has shaped the powerful development of the kingdom’s genealogical culture.