Quick Questions for Michael Cook

05-21 CookMichael Cook is a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. He studied history and Oriental Studies at King’s College, in Cambridge, England, and completed his postgraduate studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, where he taught and researched Islamic history until 1986.

Cook’s research interests are largely concerned with “the formation of Islamic civilization, and the role played by religious values in that process,” particularly the strict value systems of Islam and the subsequent adherence to “al-amr bi`l-ma`ruf roughly, the duty of each and every Muslim to tell people off for violating God’s law.”

His latest book, Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective (Princeton) was published in April 2014. Cook is also the recipient of the 2014 Holberg Prize. He continues to supervise graduate dissertations and contributes regularly to corresponding publications in his field of study.

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?

Michael Cook: A dim awareness – I must have been only 18 at the time – that the study of Islamic history was vastly underdeveloped compared to the study of Western history. I figured that I’d get a higher yield on my limited abilities if I went into Islamic history – and I did.
What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

It asks a big, obvious question about Islamic and politics that academics tend to avoid, and it makes a good-faith effort to come up with an answer.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

Mr. Unwin, my high school math teacher, once told me that as a mathematician, I was “OK – but nothing special.” The next day I became a historian.

What are you reading right now?

A book about the archaeological record of early Christianity. I’m curious how much we would know about the religion if Christianity had perished in the early fourth century.


Experiment till you’ve found what works for you.


Describe your writing process. How long did it take you to finish your book? Where do you write?

I have an idea at the back of my mind, so I start mulling it over and making random notes on scraps of paper. Then I sit down at home and write out a draft in one sitting. After that, I check the scraps of paper for anything I’ve forgotten. Finally, having set the draft aside for at least a few days, I come back to it and spend a lot of time tinkering with it. But you ask about a whole book – well, this one took me ten years.

PUP: Do you have advice for other authors?

Experiment till you’ve found what works for you. And if nothing works for you, find something else to do with your life – brick walls are not the best place to beat heads. If you’re interested in technique, pay attention to what other writers get up to, and not just writers in your chosen genre. I once learned a lot from reading an analysis of the craft of writers of crime fiction of the “hard-boiled dick” variety.

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Michael is the author of:

05-21 Cook1 Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective by Michael Cook
Hardcover | 2014 | $39.50 / £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691144900
568 pp. | 6 x 9 |eBook | ISBN: 9781400850273 |Reviews Table of Contents Introduction[PDF]

Edmund Fawcett discusses Liberalism: The Life of an Idea [VIDEO]

Love it or hate it, liberalism is here to stay–and it has a long and fascinating history. Edmund Fawcett explains more about his forthcoming book Liberalism: The Life of an Idea in this wonderful video interview with Natalia Nash. How do we define liberalism? Edmund Fawcett explores the underlying ideas that guide the liberal story here:

Learn more about Edmund Fawcett and Liberalism at the Princeton University Press site.

BOOK FACT FRIDAY

FACT:  “In 2012, the year 1433 of the Muslim calendar, the Islamic population throughout the world was estimated at approximately a billion and a half, representing about one-fifth of humanity. In geographical terms, Islam occupies the center of the world, stretching like a big belt across the globe from east to west. From Morocco to Mindanao, it encompasses countries of both the consumer North and the disadvantaged South. It sits at the crossroads of America, Europe, and Russia on one side and Africa, India, and China on the other. Historically, Islam is also at a crossroads, destined to play a world role in politics and to become the most prominent world religion during the 21st century. Islam is thus not contained in any national culture; it is a universal force.

“In creating The Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought (EIPT), our goal was to provide a solid and innovative reference work that would trace the historical roots of Islamic political thought and demonstrate its contemporary importance. The editors first met for a workshop in fall of 2007 at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where we agreed on a framework for the encyclopedia and drafted a list of entries. The EIPT was conceived as a combination of broad, comprehensive articles on core concepts and shorter entries on specific ideas, movements, leaders, and related topics. We intended to make the EIPT accessible, informative, and comprehensive with respect to the contemporary political and cultural situation of Islam, while also providing in-depth examination of the historical roots of that situation. The core articles on central themes were designated to provide the framework for the reader to integrate and contextualize the information provided by the plethora of articles on more specific subjects. It is our hope that this organizational structure will enable the EIPT to serve as a reference work of the first order for both beginners and specialists and to support undergraduate and graduate courses on Islamic political thought.”

–Gerhard Bowering, from the introduction of The Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought

We invite you to read the full introduction online: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9446.pdf

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought
Edited by Gerhard Bowering
Patricia Crone, Wadad Kadi, Devin J. Stewart, Muhammad Qasim Zaman, associate editors
Mahan Mirza, assistant editor

The first encyclopedia of Islamic political thought from the birth of Islam to today, this comprehensive, authoritative, and accessible reference provides the context needed for understanding contemporary politics in the Islamic world and beyond. With more than 400 alphabetically arranged entries written by an international team of specialists, the volume focuses on the origins and evolution of Islamic political ideas and related subjects, covering central terms, concepts, personalities, movements, places, and schools of thought across Islamic history. Fifteen major entries provide a synthetic treatment of key topics, such as Muhammad, jihad, authority, gender, culture, minorities, fundamentalism, and pluralism. Incorporating the latest scholarship, this is an indispensable resource for students, researchers, journalists, and anyone else seeking an informed perspective on the complex intersection of Islam and politics.

For more information and sample entries, please visit:
http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9446.html