The Anthropology of Islam By Gabriele Marranci (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2008. 182 pages.)

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Rachel Newcomb



Gabriele Marranci’s latest book, The Anthropology of Islam, examines the
history and current status of anthropological work focusing on Islam.
Despite its title, this work seems less intended as an overview of the anthropology
of Islamthan as a critique of the field. Essentialism,Marranci argues,
still marks prominent works of anthropology that focus onMuslims. Edward
Said’s critique of Orientalism and anthropology’s post-1980s “crisis of representation”
notwithstanding, Islam and Muslims are still represented in
many anthropological texts as fixed and unchanging, tethered to an imagined,
unitary tradition. Anthropological studies have not yet caught up with
the impact of migration, the Internet, or other global processes, and thus they
represent Muslims abroad as caught between cultures or locked in an
inevitable crisis of identity in which a rigidly defined faith is found to be at
odds with the pluralism of western life.
The approach Marranci advocates involves examining the diverse ways
Muslims feel and experience their religion, as well as the complex networks
and interactions in which they locate themselves, particularly in the West.
“‘Muslim,’” he writes, “has an emotional component attached to it. They
feel to be Muslim. Then, and only then, the ‘feeling to be’ is rationalized,
rhetoricized, and symbolized, exchanged, discussed, ritualized, orthodoxized
or orthopraxized” (p. 8). Drawing on cognitive neuroscience, the author
advocates exploring identity practices through this “feeling to be” Muslim ...

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