Ummah as a Muslim Race: A Global Intellectual History of Pan-Islamism

Historiography of the Middle East

A lecture by Cemil Aydin (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Since when has the geopolitical idea of the Muslim World become important for international politics? How can we understand the continuities and changes in the political utilization of the assumption that all the Muslims constitute a political unity?

Conceived as the antithesis of Western Christian civilization, the idea of the Muslim world emerged in the late-nineteenth century, when European empires ruled the majority of Muslims. It was inflected from the start by theories of white supremacy, but Muslims had a hand in shaping the idea as well. Muslim intellectuals played an important role in envisioning and essentializing an idealized pan-Islamic society that refuted claims of Muslims’ racial and civilizational inferiority.

After playing a key role in reshaping the imperial politics of the Ottoman Caliphate, the idea of the Muslim world survived decolonization and the Cold War, and took on new force in conflicts of the late-twentieth century. Standing at the center of both Islamophobic and pan-Islamic ideologies, the idea of the Muslim world continues to hold the global imagination in a grip that will need to be loosened in order to begin a more fruitful discussion about politics in Muslim societies today.

Cemil Aydin grew up in Turkey and studied at Boğaziçi University, İstanbul University, and the University of Tokyo before receiving his Ph.D. degree in History and Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University in 2002. He is currently teaching courses on global history and Asian history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Cemil Aydin’s publications include his book on the Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia (Columbia University Press, 2007), “Regionen und Reiche in der Politischen Geschichte des Langen 19 Jahrhunderts, 1750-1924 (Region and Empire in the Political History of the Long 19th Century” in Geschichte Der Welt, 1750-1870: Wege Zur Modernen Welt (A History of the World, 1750-1870)“ (Beck Publishers, July 2016) pp: 35-253, and The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History (Harvard University Press, Forthcoming 2017 Spring)

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Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2017