440 pages, 22 b/w photos
In Reading Darwin in Arabic, Marwa Elshakry questions current ideas about Islam, science, and secularism by exploring the ways in which Darwin was read in Arabic from the late 1860s to the mid-twentieth century. Borrowing from translation and reading studies and weaving together the history of science with intellectual history, she explores Darwin's global appeal from the perspective of several generations of Arabic readers and shows how Darwin's writings helped alter the social and epistemological landscape of the Arab learned classes.
Elshakry shows how, in an age of massive regional and international political upheaval, these readings were suffused with the anxieties of empire and civilizational decline. The politics of evolution infiltrated Arabic discussions of pedagogy, progress, and the very sense of history. They also led to a literary and conceptual transformation of notions of science and religion themselves. Darwin thus became a vehicle for discussing scriptural exegesis, the conditions of belief, and cosmological views more broadly. Reading Darwin in Arabic also acquaints readers with Muslim and Christian intellectuals, bureaucrats, and theologians, and concludes by exploring Darwin's waning influence on public and intellectual life in the Arab world after World War I.
"Thoroughly researched [...] [A] densely argued and fascinating book [that] gives extensive coverage to such matters as missionary ambitions and strategies in the Middle East, Muhammad Abduh's attempts to reform al-Azhar as a teaching institution, the rise of Pharaonism as a cultural movement, the growing sense of an Islamic civilization with a history, the eleventh-century Sufi al-Ghazali's overweening presence in philosophical debates, and Arab interest in Atatürk's reforms."
– Robert Irwin, Times Literary Supplement
"Elshakry's book is a remarkable feat of scholarship that builds on an impressive base of sources [...] I believe Reading Darwin in Arabic will serve as a beacon of insight and inspiration for scholars of the Middle East and historians of modern science."
– Harun Küçük, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Science
"A tour de force, this book moves on a spectacular trajectory from Darwin's original texts to their translation, interpretation, and contestation in zones that remain terra incognita to most scholars today. Elshakry shows for the first time how science-and-religion issues that still agitate Americans were first brought to Ottoman Syria and Egypt by Americans themselves – and, tellingly, she points up multiple ironies in the creative and often unexpected ways in which evolutionary ideas were appropriated by Muslims and Christians alike. To an age obsessed by 'the clash of civilizations,' Reading Darwin in Arabic will be revelatory."
– James Moore, coauthor of Darwin and Darwin's Sacred Cause
"A novel and important contribution to our understanding of the globalization of science in the nineteenth century. Marwa Elshakry's study will appeal not only to scholars of the modern intellectual and political history of the Middle East but also to an audience in the history of science, especially those working on imperial and colonial histories of science."
– Timothy Mitchell, author of Colonising Egypt
"This pathbreaking book opens up a new world of understanding about the encounters of science in an era of imperial rivalries and nationalist ambitions. Following networks of travel, print, and translation across the Arabic-speaking world, Marwa Elshakry not only brings to life a vibrant intellectual culture too little known in the West but also illuminates contemporary global debates about tradition, faith, and evolutionary science."
– James A. Secord, University of Cambridge
ONE / The Gospel of Science
TWO / Evolution and the Eastern Question
THREE / Materialism and Its Critics
FOUR / Theologies of Nature
FIVE / Darwin and the Mufti
SIX / Evolutionary Socialism
SEVEN / Darwin in Translation
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Marwa Elshakry is associate professor in the Department of History at Columbia University, where she specializes in the history of science, technology, and medicine in the modern Middle East. She lives in New York.