Varieties of Muslim Experience Encounters with Arab Political and Cultural Life
by Lawrence Rosen
University of Chicago Press, 2008
Cloth: 978-0-226-72616-8 | Paper: 978-0-226-72617-5 | Electronic: 978-0-226-72618-2


In Varieties of Muslim Experience, anthropologist Lawrence Rosen explores aspects of Arab Muslim life that are, at first glance, perplexing to Westerners. He ranges over such diverse topics as why Arabs eschew portraiture, why a Muslim scientist might be attracted to fundamentalism, and why the Prophet must be protected from blasphemous cartoons. What connects these seemingly disparate features of Arab social, political, and cultural life? Rosen argues that the common thread is the importance Arabs place on the negotiation of interpersonal relationships—a link that helps to explain actions as seemingly unfathomable as suicide bombing and as elusive as Quranic interpretation.

 Written with eloquence and a deep knowledge of the entire spectrum of Muslim experience, Rosen’s book will interest not only anthropologists and Islamicists but anyone invested in better understanding the Arab world.


Lawrence Rosen is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University and the author of many books, including Bargaining for Reality and The Culture of Islam, both published by the University of Chicago Press.


"Rosen tackles such issues as Arab ideas of justice, human rights, reading the Koran in the West, representations of the Prophet. . . . A provocative, elegantly written book on which to ponder."
— Choice

"Lawrence Rosen's eloquent new book, Varieties of Muslim Experience does offer the well-read reader a fascinating persperctive on what Rosen sees as the central themes of 'Arab culture,' woven together from stories, anecdotes, and closely observed examples from anthropological and other literature. . . . Rich in profound and thought-provoking ideas, Rosen's book is highly recommended."—Anthropological Quarterly
— Carl Davila, Anthropological Quarterly



Introduction: Presenting and Re-presenting Islam

ONE: Just and Not Just

1 Junk Democracy: Middle East Meets Middle America

2 What (If Anything) Went Wrong? Personalism, Institutions, and the Unfractionated Self

3 Why Do Arab Terrorists Kill Themselves?

4 On the Meaning of Ownership: The Problematic of Property inMoroccan Culture

5 Islamic Concepts of Justice

TWO: Readings and Re-readings

6 Reading the Quran through Western Eyes

7 Why Portraits Hold No Meaning for Arabs

8 Protecting the Prophet: Understanding Muslim Reactions to the Danish Cartoon Controversy

9 Theorizing from Within: Ibn Khaldun and the Understanding of Arab Political Culture

THREE: Representatives and Representations

10 Knowledge Forms: Scientists as Fundamentalists

11 Expecting the Unexpected: Cultural Components of Arab Governance

12 Power and Culture in the Acceptance of “Universal” Human Rights