In his review of the Russian translation of Michael Kemper’s study of Islamic ideologies and scholarship in the Volga-Urals region of present-day Tatarstan and Bashkortostan in 1789–1889, Alexander Knysh stresses the uniqueness of Kemper’s approach, which is the result of his solid training in Islamic studies. This distinguishes him from “regular” historians of the Volga region who are not capable of placing works of Islamic scholars within the “general Islamic discourse.” Unlike them, Kemper is qualified to establish and demonstrate the interplay of local and external Muslim influences and trends. Knysh finds Kemper’s study to be a significant intellectual achievement, although not flawless. In his review, Knysh specifically considers those Islamic trends (“discursive arenas”) that became reinterpreted in the Volga region where they acquired new meanings. He suggests that Kemper’s explanations of these transformations, although in some cases very nuanced and informative, in general seem somewhat unclear and controversial. The major theme of Knysh’s discussion is Kemper’s usage of Max Weber’s model connecting capitalism and the rationalization of religious consciousness (the regional version of “sober” Sufism). Another discussion point deals with the alleged isolation of the Muslim discourse in the Volga region from the Russian intellectual context. Knysh also fails to find a convincing explanation in the book regarding when exactly Western discourses started to force out traditional Muslim ones. He asks whether Westernization is an indispensable condition of modernization, and whether the latter is possible without the former. In Knysh’s view, nowhere does Kemper discuss the concept of “Islamic modernization” itself. Knysh’s overall appraisal of the book is very high. While he points out many deficiencies of the Russian translation, he still characterizes the Russian edition of Kemper’s book as a major historiographic contribution.


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pp. 333-344
Launched on MUSE
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