Renaissances: The One or the Many? / Edition 1

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One of the most distinguished social scientists in the world addresses one of the central historical questions of the past millennium: does the European Renaissance deserve its unique status at the very heart of our notions of modernity? Jack Goody scrutinizes the European model in relation to parallel renaissances that have taken place in other cultural areas, primarily Islam and China, and emphasizes what Europe owed to non-European influences. Renaissances continues that strand of historical analysis critical of Eurocentrism that Goody has developed in recent works like The East in the West (1996) or The Theft of History (2007). This book is wide-ranging, powerful, deftly argued and draws upon the author's long experience of working in Africa and elsewhere. Not since Toynbee in The Study of History has anybody attempted quite what Jack Goody is undertaking in Renaissances, and the result is as accessible as it is ambitious. This book will be of interest to students of the Renaissance and of the history of western civilization more generally, to anthropologists, sociologists and all those with an interest in the construction of modernity.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...a magisterial book..." -Times Literary Supplement

"...valuable and stimulating work." -Sumit Guha, Canadian Journal of History

"Jack Goody’s Renaissances appears as the oeuvre of a senior scholar standing on the peak of a mountain and looking back over his journey with the broad perspective that only many years of scholarship can bring. Goody is well known and respected as an anthropologist of wide interests and skills, whose early work on Africa and later work on literacy have allowed him to become, more recently, a comparative scholar on a global scale." -Emily Michelson, The Journal of Modern History

"It is rare to find a monograph that is so passionately argued, and motivated by such a clear authorial vision."
-Carla S. Nappi,University of British Columbia

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521745161
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 1/31/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 332
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jack Goody is Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology in the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of St John's College. Recently knighted by Her Majesty The Queen for services to anthropology, Professor Goody has researched and taught all over the world, is a Fellow of the British Academy and in 1980 was made a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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Table of Contents

List of plates viii

Acknowledgements ix

Introduction 1

1 The idea of a renaissance 7

2 Montpellier and medicine in Europe 43

3 Religion and the secular 62

4 Rebirth in Islam S. Fennell 94

5 Emancipation and efflorescence in Judaism 145

6 Cultural continuity in India S. Fennell 161

7 Renaissance in China S. Fennell 198

8 Were renascences only European? 241


1 Chronologies of Islam, India and China 275

Dynasties of Islam 276

Events in Islamic history, 622-1334 278

Periods of Indian history 279

Chinese dynasties 282

2 Four learned men 284

3 The Bagre 286

References 288

Index 304

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  • Posted July 20, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Splendid study of renaissances in many cultures

    Jack Goody, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at Cambridge University, has written a most engaging and enlightening book on renaissances. He contends that all literate societies have times of looking back, leading to a flowering of culture.

    Chapter 1 examines the idea of renaissance. Chapter 2 studies Europe's first medical school, the University of Montpellier, and the Arabic and Jewish contributions to the rebirth of that knowledge. Chapter 3 compares renaissances and looks at the growth of secular knowledge. Chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7 look at the cultural histories of Islam, Judaism, India and China. Chapter 8 sums up.

    Goody shows how the Italian Renaissance freed people from the limits imposed by the ruling religion. The Renaissance stands out because of the extent of the post-Roman decline and of Christianity's power. The Renaissance's suspension of belief opened up a more secular and humanistic way of thinking, giving more freedom to science and the arts. The supernatural hindered inquiry into the natural world by claiming that God had already answered all questions. The Renaissance opened up the wider world of pagan or polytheistic Greece and Rome, and allowed independent inquiry and the development of representational arts and the theatre. Religion gave way to science.

    Also, autocracy gave way to democracy. As he writes, "Democracy is partly involved with secularity (not inevitably but as a tendency), because the rule of the people usually implies the actuality of a secular rather than a transcendental power."

    Their empires led to Europe's states' taking a self-centred view of the world, for example, Arnold Toynbee stated that the Renaissance was 'the natural expression of the western spirit'. Goody notes "the non-intrinsic nature of cultural supremacy, that is, it does not attribute advantage or backwardness to a permanent quality of the culture such as genius or spirit or mentality but to factors that can change over the course of time." Drawing a straight line between Antiquity and the Renaissance excludes non-European cultures from the growth of civilisation.

    Culture flourished from the growth in manufacturing and international trade. As Goody writes, "Contact with these eastern cultures [Persia, India and China] helped stimulate the changes leading to the Italian Renaissance, that is to a resumption of trade, the rebirth of a wider approach, and a renewal of cultural contacts with the past and with the present." He concludes, "Europe was not alone, nor was it a cultural island."

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