The development of mass education and the mass media have transformed the Islamic tradition in contemporary Egypt and the wider Muslim world. In Putting Islam to Work, Gregory Starrett focuses on the historical interplay of power and public culture, showing how these new forms of communication and a growing state interest in religious instruction have changed the way the Islamic tradition is reproduced.
During the twentieth century new styles of religious education, based not on the recitation of sacred texts but on moral indoctrination, have been harnessed for use in economic, political, and social development programs. More recently they have become part of the Egyptian government's strategy for combating Islamist political opposition. But in the course of this struggle, the western-style educational techniques that were adopted to generate political stability have instead resulted in a rapid Islamization of public space, the undermining of traditional religious authority structures, and a crisis of political legitimacy. Using historical, textual, and ethnographic evidence, Gregory Starrett demonstrates that today's Islamic resurgence is rooted in new ways of thinking about Islam that are based in the market, the media, and the school.
Gregory Starrett is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.
“Starrett has cleared new analytical ground on which unorthodox and critically disorienting approaches to Islam can be developed. . . . Those still looking for new frameworks of ethnographic theory (and new methodologies for ethnographic practice) will find a wealth of them in Starrett's book. Putting Islam to Work contributes to an already vibrant literature on alternative forms of modernity . . . and it will serve as a practical guide to anthropologists who must work in settings defined not only by the peculiarities of place, but by historical processes . . . that are nowadays experienced, and can be apprehended analytically, only by way of mass mediation.”—American Anthropologist
“Starrett's provocative discussion of the Egyptian case provides a framework for analyzing religious manifestations of modernity which reaches far beyond the confines of religious schooling, Egypt, and, indeed, Islam.”—American Ethnologist
“Unlike most of the prevailing literature on this issue, Putting Islam to Work offers refreshing, innovative, and provocative insights and analyses.”—The Journal Of The Royal Anthropological Institute
“In what amounts to a powerful argument for complexity over parsimony, Starrett challenges us to rethink basic assumptions, not only about the nature of political and religious contestation in Egypt, but about the reigning paradigms within which they are conventionally analyzed. Readers . . . cannot but be struck by the keen intelligence, subtlety, and insight that pervade Starrett's book.”—Political Science Quarterly
"A sound contribution to our knowledge of the uses of tradition and modernity by states, of the social life of Islamic texts, and of the historical roles of schooling in social change."—John Bowen, author of Muslims through Discourse