On a fairly regular basis here on the blog, I talk about new books with some kind of religion theme.
Most of the time I do this after receiving and reading (or deeply scanning) books from publishers. That's what I did this past Thursday when I wrote about an interesting new book called Great Muslims of the West.
But sometimes I read about a new book that I think would be of interest to you readers and, without having read it myself, pass along the thoughts of others about it. That's what I'm doing this weekend, partly because it has a connection to that Great Muslims book.
It's called The Republic of Arabic Letters: Islam and the European Enlightenment, and you can read what The New Republic published about it here.
I'm not sure two books make a trend, but it does seem to me that scholars, sociologists, historians and others are paying more attention to the ways in which Islam has moved into and affected life in the West from its origins on the Arabian peninsula.
In some ways, that's an old story. We know, for instance, that many of the slaves dragged to the U.S. from African were Muslims, so Muslims -- slave and free -- have been on the North American continent for a long time. And we know that Islam played a large role in Spain at one point as well as in several countries in Central Asia, which is at least arguably on the eastern edge of what today we call the West.
The new book by Alexander Bevilacqua is described in the New Republic piece as a "tour de force study of the origins of modern Islamic scholarship in the West and its central role in the Enlightenment."
At one point, of course, Islamic nations were leading much of the world in architecture, math and other fields, and you can see evidence of that (as I have) in such countries as Uzbekistan. But for many reasons the last 500 or so years have seen a decline in the ways in which Islam has spearheaded artistic and cultural world developments.
These two books can help all of us understand why that has happened by understanding the history of Islam in the West.
Indeed, that also may help us figure out Islam's future.
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AN EVOLVING BOOK LIST
And speaking of books I haven't read, a Catholic biologist has written a new one that affirms evolution as the means by which humans have reached a higher level of consciousness, self-awareness, creativity and intelligence, this RNS report says. Human Instinct, by Kenneth R. Miller sounds like one a lot of us should read.