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Islam and the English Enlightenment, 1670-1840

Humberto Garcia

Publication Year: 2011

A corrective addendum to Edward Said’s Orientalism, this book examines how sympathetic representations of Islam contributed significantly to Protestant Britain’s national and imperial identity in the eighteenth century. Taking a historical view, Humberto Garcia combines a rereading of eighteenth-century and Romantic-era British literature with original research on Anglo-Islamic relations. He finds that far from being considered foreign by the era’s thinkers, Islamic republicanism played a defining role in Radical Enlightenment debates, most significantly during the Glorious Revolution, French Revolution, and other moments of acute constitutional crisis, as well as in national and political debates about England and its overseas empire. Garcia shows that writers such as Edmund Burke, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, and Percy and Mary Shelley not only were influenced by international events in the Muslim world but also saw in that world and its history a viable path to interrogate, contest, and redefine British concepts of liberty. This deft exploration of the forgotten moment in early modern history when intercultural exchange between the Muslim world and Christian West was common resituates English literary and intellectual history in the wider context of the global eighteenth century. The direct challenge it poses to the idea of an exclusionary Judeo-Christian Enlightenment serves as an important revision to post-9/11 narratives about a historical clash between Western democratic values and Islam.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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p. vii

List of Figures

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xv

This volume examines how sympathetic literary and cultural representations of the Islamic republic contributed significantly to Protestant Britain’s evolving self-definition between 1670 and 1840. Radical Protestant accounts about the Islamic republic—in which the Prophet Muhammad, the wise legislator, restored constitutional rule...

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pp. xvii-xviii

A book of this massive scale and chronology will inevitably be disputed among scholars for years to come, but the many debts I have acquired while writing it, from a dissertation to a final manuscript, are beyond dispute. My primary debt is to Robert Markley. As a dedicated advisor and meticulous reader, he spent innumerable hours reading and rereading...

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Introduction: Rethinking Islam in the Eighteenth Century

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pp. 1-29

Islamic republicanism is a term that describes how radical Protestants in eighteenth-century England self-consciously recast Islam in constitutional-nationalist terms, and in this book I argue for this action’s crucial significance. My theoretical premise is that “Mahometanism” (a commonplace Christian nomenclature for Islam) marks the occasion for what Jacques Derrida designates as the return...

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1 A True Protestant Mahometan: Henry Stubbe, Ottoman Hungary, and the Siege of Vienna

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pp. 30-59

Radical Protestantism achieved historical, philosophical, and ideological coherence in part through its sympathetic identification with Islamic republicanism, a flexible trope that casts Mahomet’s Christian prophetic monarchy as a supplement to English constitutional virtue. As Matthew Birchwood and Nabil Matar have consistently shown...

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2 Letters from a Female Deist: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Muslim Women, and Freethinking Feminism

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pp. 60-92

Written between 1717 and 1718 while traveling to the Levant with her husband, the English ambassador Edward Wortley, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s The Turkish Embassy Letters (1763) is usually read as a feminist text obsessed with one emblematic episode: her eroticized encounter with the Turkish women of the hammam (private bathhouses off-limits to men) as described in an April 1717 letter. ...

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3 In Defense of the Ancient Mughal Constitution: Edmund Burke, India, and the Warren Hastings Trial

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pp. 93-125

In February 1788 in Westminster Hall, Edmund Burke condemned Warren Hastings, the East India Company’s governor-general from 1773 to 1784, for committing worse injustices in India than his Muslim counterparts in the Mughal empire. According to Burke, Hastings should be impeached for importing tyranny to Hindustan, a nation protected by the long constitutional rule of a “Mahometan Government.” ...

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4 Ali Bonaparte in Hermetic Egypt: The Colonial Politics of Walter Savage Landor’s Gebir

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pp. 126-156

One of most subversive moments in Walter Savage Landor’s epic poem Gebir (1798) occurs in book 6, when Tamar, a poor shepherd and Gebir’s brother, falls madly in love with an Egyptian nymph who takes him on a magical flight over Europe. In the middle of this episode, Landor inserts a provocative vision about...

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5 The Flight and Return of Mohammed: Plotting Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s and Robert Southey’s Unitarian Epic

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pp. 157-188

Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were enthusiastic about writing a grand Miltonic epic to be titled “The Flight and Return of Mohammed.” In the months of July–August 1799, they drafted their plans for their collaborative project, which was to describe some of the historical events that shaped Muhammad’s life (see appendixes). ...

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6 A Last Woman’s Eschatology: The Avenging Turks in Mary Shelley’s The Last Man

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pp. 189-222

Mary Shelley’s interest in a syncretistic account of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is best exemplified in Percy Shelley’s The Assassins: A Fragment of a Romance (1814–15), an unpublished work that she edited and transcribed.1 This incomplete “fragment” romance aligns the historical narrative of the Jewish diaspora following General Titus’ sacking of Jerusalem in ad 70 with an Oriental tale...

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Epilogue: Postcolonial Reflections

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pp. 223-231

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams could not foresee that his reflections on the selective accommodation of the Shar’ia within the framework of UK statutory law would erupt into an international controversy the day after he delivered his foundational lecture at the Royal Courts of Justice on February 2008. ...

Appendix A: Outline of “MOHAMMED”

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pp. 233-234

Appendix B: Southey’s Sketch of “MOHAMMED”

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pp. 235-236


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pp. 237-296

Works Cited

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pp. 297-333


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pp. 335-346

E-ISBN-13: 9781421405322
E-ISBN-10: 1421405326
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421403533
Print-ISBN-10: 1421403536

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 5 b&w illustrations.
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 794700769
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Islam and the English Enlightenment, 1670-1840

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Subject Headings

  • English literature -- 18th century -- History and criticism
  • English literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism
  • Enlightenment -- Great Britain.
  • Great Britain -- Relations -- Islamic countries.
  • Islam in literature.
  • Islamic countries -- Relations -- Great Britain.
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