Since it came out in 2017 The Islamic Enlightenment has enjoyed much success and critical attention, being shortlisted for the British Academy’s Nayef al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding, the Baillie Gifford Prize, formerly the Samuel Johnson Prize, and the Orwell Prize, as well as being longlisted for the Cundill History Prize and named a book of year by the Wall Street Journal, the Sunday Times and the Times Literary Supplement. Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens and Homo Deus, has called The Islamic Enlightenment 'eye-opening...while both Islamic extremists and Western bigots find it convenient to stress the incompatibility of Islam and modernity, Christopher de Bellaigue shows that Islam is whatever Muslims make of it, and that at least some Muslims have made of it something very modern.' In The New York Times, Jason Goodwin wrote that 'this brilliant and lively history deserves nothing but praise', while Bettany Hughes, author of Istanbul, wrote, 'the work itself incarnates the essence of enlightenment'.
Islamic Enlightenment? To look at the Middle East's current movements of fundamentalist revival, you might think it never happened. In fact, from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present day Islamic society in its Middle Eastern heartlands has been transformed by modern ideals and practices, and the retreat of religion under a wave of secular knowledge defined by rationalism.
Who were the scholars, scientists, artists and administrators who brought about these remarkable changes-from the adoption of modern medicine to the emergence of women from purdah and the development of democracy-and and is their legacy now under threat from a burgeoning counter-Enlightenment? Spanning more than 200 years of Middle Eastern history, and encompassing the Arab, Turkish and Persian worlds, the Islamic Enlightenment describes the collision of an ancient civilisation with new ways of living in the world.
NEWS and Articles
‘Who is the world for? Me and you? Or all its organisms in perpetuity?’ Questions prompted by three books on the Ganges, which I write about in the NYRB.
Subtler than Said: Noel Malcolm’s Useful Enemies, reviewed here, is an examination of how Europe’s early-modern elite viewed Islam.
The seductions of jihad: the journalist Anne Seierstad has written a fascinating account of how it happens, as I explain here in the NYRB.
Far from being an irrelevant take on English class connections, Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time demands to be recognised as one of the literary achievements of the twentieth century. Click for my essay in the Nation.
Death and taxes are the only certainties. But death is increasingly bespoke, as my investigation into Dutch euthanasia shows. Read my Guardian Long Read: Has Euthanasia Gone too Far?
My half-hour BBC documentary exploring the subject of loneliness, acclaimed by the Sunday Times as ‘simply superb,’ and by the Spectator as ‘extraordinarily direct and honest,’ can be heard here.
The English are in love with football again. Read my New York Review essay about the English Romance.
Patrick Melrose is the everyman of upper class vice, or rather he was, as I argue in the New Yorker.
The fate of 'bullshit Britain' - my Guardian review of two vital new histories.
Off all the factors in Europe’s Muslim crisis, perhaps the most fundamental is that 'Islam is never part of any general consideration of values in a successful modern society.' See my NYRB essay.
Can't quite digest 350 pages of close-type text to learn about the Islamic Enlightenment? Read this blini-sized Spectator summary of the main arguments.
Is Religion making a come-back? See my essay in the Financial Times.
For The Nation I wrote an appreciation of the dark but brilliant Paul Kingsnorth and his England.
President Trump and his advisers paint Muslims as enemies of modernity. The neglected history of an age of Middle Eastern liberalism proves them wrong. My Guardian Long Read
Pankaj Mishra's Age of Anger was one of the most talked about books of 2017. For my FT review click here
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is perhaps the world's most successful politician. My Guardian Long Read on the subject.
Patricia Crone (1945-2015) was an exceptional scholar and her Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran will be read for decades to come. Read More
How is France going to solve its prison radicalisation problem? My Guardian Long Read piece explains. Read more
'Not Like Argo' - the travails of being a tour guide in Iran, for which I won a 2015 Foreign Press Award. Read more
Follow Christopher on Twitter: @bellaigueC