Debating Muslims: Cultural Dialogues in Postmodernity & Tradition // Review

Article excerpt

The title of Fischer and Abedi's book, Debating Muslims: Cultural Dialogues in P ostmodernity and Tradition, sets the stage for an interesting and challenging look at an impo rtant geopolitical area (Iran) and an intellectual debate in modern anthropology (postmodernism). The two are, of course, not separated but are rather intertwined in the text, or, as the auth ors note: "... there is an increasing cultural interreference, or cross - cultural reading, or play b etween hegemonic cultural forces and counter discourses of resistance, subversion, and alternativ e realities" (p. xxxi).

As one would expect with a "postmodern" theme, the book can be read and int erpreted at a number of different levels of understanding. This perspective in itself is bo th an aspect of postmodern literary criticism and a basic assumption of Shi'ite Muslim thought i n Iran, thus combining, at a quite fundamental level, the two approaches. The structure of t he book proceeds along the same vein constantly interspersing Bakhtinian and other insig hts into the communicative importance of dialogue and discursive interaction with the similar Shi'ite Muslim stress on the dialectical disputation method of teaching and learning.

There is no question but that Fischer and Abedi's book is an extremely erud ite study covering not only a vast literature in anthropology, philosophy, linguistics, li terary criticism, etc., but also an equally in - depth knowledge of excellent Persian and Arabic s ources which makes the work quite useful for specialists in the field.

The main problem with the book, however, is that it reads like a collection of working papers that might have ended up as journal articles (in fact, Chapter Seven is a reprinted journal article), were they not brought together in this book. As such, they appear rat her loosely strung together with little to join them except a rather vague sense of a dialogic proc ess among Iranians and postmodernists. Despite this weakness, each of the chapters stands on its o wn with interesting and challenging insights.

Chapter One is a fascinating life - history written by Abedi recounting his life experiences in Iran and the U.S. As such it covers socialization, psychology, class dynamics , politics, folk religion, clerical styles and social changes in Iran in the 1960s and 1970s. In itself it provides, as the authors note, a useful introduction from "the ground up" of life in a Mus lim society. Chapter Two covers a wide range of topics, but centres on interpretations of the Qur'an from literary (postmodern) perspectives as well as from within the Islamic tradition discussing, for example, fundamentalist vs. liberal interpretations in a changing Iran. Fischer supplements and juxtaposes these interpretations with graphic media such as posters, postage sta mps and film adding a new and fascinating dimension to religio - political discourse in the m odern world. …