Marshall Hodgson changed the way I view the world more than any other historian I have read. Before I read his monumental The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, my head was filled with all sorts of musty ideas and prejudices inherited from the Victorian era and before, passed down through generation after generation of unthinking repetition; it was as though he pried open a window in my skull and let the breeze of his insights blow all that crap out and provide me with a fresh start. The amazing thing is that although a first version was published a half-century ago and the book in its current state almost thirty years ago, it has made so little impact on the world at large; widely respected scholars like Bernard Lewis, not to mention the media and the public at large, continue to repeat the same claptrap about unchanging, universal Islam and brave but primitive desert Arabs and, well, you know the story. That Wikipedia article on Hodgson has a decent summary of his achievement:
In The Venture of Islam Hodgson reimagined the terminology and focus of Islamic history and religion: He critiqued terms like tradition for ḥadith and Islamic Law for sharīʿah. The focus on the Arab world that had characterized the Euro-American study of Islam was also rethought by Hodgson who argued that it was the Persianate world (his coinage) that was the locus of the most influential Muslim thought and practice from the Middle Period onwards. Most importantly he distinguished between Islamic (properly religious) and Islamicate phenomena, which were the products of regions in which Muslims were culturally dominant, but were not, properly speaking religious. Thus wine poetry was certainly Islamicate, but not Islamic.
Hodgson’s writings were a precursor to the modern world history approach. His initial motivation in writing a world history was his desire to place Islamic history in a wider context and his dissatisfaction with the prevailing Eurocentrism of his day. Hodgson painted a global picture of world history, in which the ‘Rise of Europe’ was the end-product of millennia-long evolutionary developments in Eurasian society; modernity could conceivably have originated somewhere else.
When I say I read the book, however, I should qualify. I bought and read Volume 1 and Volume 2 twenty years ago, but for some reason I didn’t pick up the third volume—perhaps the store was out of stock—and by the time I finished the first two and wanted more, the third was either unavailable or outrageously expensive. At any rate, my excellent sister-in-law got me a copy for my birthday, and I’m now reading it with great pleasure. I’ll reproduce here one linguistic nugget from the first chapter, “The Safavî Empire”:
Writers used to cite it as a paradox that Ismâ’îl, ruler of ‘Persia’, wrote his verse in Turkic, while his rival, Selîm, ruler of ‘Turkey’, wrote his verse in Persian. The paradox springs only from a misuse of the term ‘Persia’ for the Safavî empire, which included Persians, Turks, and Arabs equally, and the term ‘Turkey’ for the Ottoman empire, an even more unfortunate misnomer. In itself there is nothing paradoxical in the leader of a tribal grouping writing in the popular tongue, Turkic, while the head of an established state writes in the cultivated tongue, Persian.
I have myself taken pleasure in disseminating that paradox, and will doubtless continue to do so because it’s such fun, but his brisk demolition of it is typical of his clear-headed approach to things.
A couple of tidbits related to things Islamicate:
1) Peter Brown, in his NYRB review of Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Treasures of Islamic Manuscript Painting from the Morgan, refers to “the great poet Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī of Konya” and then consistently as “Rūmī,” complete with macrons. This is idiotic. While I approve in general of reproducing foreign diacritics, which should be a simple matter in this age of computer typesetting, there are no macrons in his name as written in the languages relevant to his milieu, which is جلالالدین محمد بلخى. In English, he is known as Rumi, or in fuller form as (e.g.) Jalaluddin Rumi, and adding diacritics that will benefit no one is simple ostentation. Hodgson refers to him as Jalâluddîn Rûmî, but that’s because he indicates all long vowels with diacritics throughout, as is appropriate in a scholarly publication. If Brown wanted to go that route for whatever reason, he would have had to refer to Nizāmī rather than Nizami, Sūfī rather than Sufi, etc. But again, what’s the point in an NYRB review?
2) Looking up something else in Vasmer, I ran across the entry магомет (the Russian equivalent of Mahomet):
“ругательство” (Чехов). Вероятно, заимств. с Запада, причем западноевроп. слова восходят к араб. Мuḥammad “Магомет” […]. Отсюда прилаг. магомета́нский, др.-русск. Бохмитъ (Лаврентьевск. летоп.); народн. Мухое́д, мухоеда́ньская ве́ра – от му́ха и есть; см. Савинов, РФВ 21, 45.
I like very much both the Old Russian form Бохмитъ [Bokhmit] (clearly influenced by Бог [Bog] ‘God’) and the popular variant Мухоед [Mukhoed] (looks like ‘fly-eater’).