Modernity, Civilization and the Return of History
Anthony F. Shaker, Vernon Press, 2017,
ISBN: 978-1-62273-185-5, 574 pages
Anthony F. Shaker (PhD, McGill University) is a philosopher and scholar of Islamic thought and civilization. The biographic notes on the back cover of this book state Shaker "is currently exploring the idea of productive dialogue in the framework of civilization, not the passive exchange across cultures.” This book does a good job of explaining what that sentence means.
Shaker displays a remarkable knowledge of Islamic thought and understanding as he digs deep into the roots of our modern ideas of civilization, and dismisses the conceit that ‘civilization’ begins with western Europe. His underlying view is that every branch of science known to us today owes a great debt to the systematic inquiry that has its roots in Islamic philosophy.
The book links works of European philosophy (German thinking, Heidegger in particular) with Hikmah (Islamicate philosophy). The cover notes tell the reader that the research so thoroughly recorded in this book brings to the fore material that was not previously available to modern scholars. For that reason alone, this is an important book and a great boon to scholars.
The generous footnotes go a long way toward illustrating concepts brought forth, and substantiates the author's challenges to conventional modern thinking.
There is considerable text that dissects the work of other modern thinkers and, often, shows that work to be filtered through the writer’s own preconceived views – some of which suggests a degree of ‘lazy thinking’ [my phrase, not Tony’s] that leads to careless analytic thought.
I think it is best if I don’t try to filter the work through my own modest understanding of the subject. Reviews included in the book say more than I could:
A truly innovative and original work, comprehensive, balanced, and relevant to any investigation into an understanding of modernity. The author does a remarkable job of drawing from Western and Islamicate philosophy in a comprehensive and rigorous manner that exposes the reader to an intense, descriptive analysis of the problems encountered in interpreting history…. [this is] one of the most scholastic and ambitious undertakings I have ever encountered, extremely well-written … I stand in admiration of this work.
Geran F. Dodson,
University of North Georgia
… an extraordinary rich book … This is compulsory reading for anyone who seeks inspiration from the past that can be usefully used in the present.
Professor of Islamic Studies,
Keough School of Global Affairs,
University of Notre Dame.
This fascinating book adopts a radically interdisciplinary approach in order to sort out modernity by questioning that which we call philosophy … genius.
Professor of Philosophy,
San Francisco State University
Axis of Logic has published several of Shaker’s essays and while they all exhibit scholarship and clear understanding of his subjects, this book reaches far beyond to examine things not just from a ‘current events’ perspective, but also from the philosophical underpinnings of our own modern thought. Shaker says “what we call modernity cannot be fathomed without making [the] historical connection” between our times and “the spirit of scientific investigation associated with a self-conscious Islamicate civilization."
The book is heavily footnoted and includes an extensive bibliography and index to back Dr Shaker’s studies. When we discussed this book (and review), Tony cautioned it might require a substantial amount of fore-knowledge. I have some background in philosophical study and the study of history, but I confess much of the work in this book is aimed at someone with greater knowledge than I have – although when I persisted, the message became clear. I do understand enough to recognize this work as a profound piece of scholarship.
This is a book for students of philosophy, history, religious studies, or theology and not a book you would pick up for casual reading. Despite some of the material being beyond my own level of scholarship, it is not at all difficult to see that the approach of the book is unique, that the level of inquiry and argument is clear, concise, and well-supported by source material. It’s certainly clear enough for me that I was able to follow the argument, even if I did sometimes falter with many of the references to Islamicate thinking and history. Still, I recommend the book highly.
Dr. Anthony F. Shaker is a former visiting scholar at McGill University. He has published several scholarly books in philosophy, including Thinking in the Language of Reality, and writes articles on contemporary politics and strategic issues relating especially to the Middle East.
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