Isma'ili Modern: Globalization and Identity in a Muslim Community

Isma'ili Modern: Globalization and Identity in a Muslim Community

by Jonah Steinberg


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The Isma'ili Muslims, a major sect of Shi'i Islam, form a community that is intriguing in its deterritorialized social organization. Informed by the richness of Isma'ili history, theories of transnationalism and globalization, and firsthand ethnographic fieldwork in the Himalayan regions of Tajikistan and Pakistan as well as in Europe, Jonah Steinberg investigates Isma'ili Muslims and the development of their remarkable and expansive twenty-first-century global structures.

Led by a charismatic European-based hereditary Imam, Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, global Isma'ili organizations make available an astonishing array of services—social, economic, political, and religious—to some three to five million subjects stretching from Afghanistan to England, from Pakistan to Tanzania. Steinberg argues that this intricate and highly integrated network enables a new kind of shared identity and citizenship, one that goes well beyond the sense of community maintained by other diasporic populations. Of note in this process is the rapid assimilation in the postcolonial period of once-isolated societies into the intensively centralized Isma'ili structure. Also remarkable is the Isma'ilis' self-presentation, contrary to common characterizations of Islam in the mass media, as a Muslim society that is broadly sympathetic to capitalist systems, opposed to fundamentalism, and distinctly modern in orientation. Steinberg's unique journey into remote mountain regions highlights today's rapidly shifting meanings of citizenship, faith, and identity and reveals their global scale.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807871652
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 01/17/2011
Series: Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks
Edition description: 1
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Jonah Steinberg is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Vermont.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Abbreviations xiii

Introduction: Beyond Territoriality 1

1 Antecedents and Precursors: The Historical Contexts of Isma'ili Globalization 33

2 Fluid Cartographies: Isma'ili Institutions in Global Context 59

3 Universalizing Isma'ilism: Institutionalities of Devotion and Regimes of Standardization 87

4 Into the Fold: Himalayan Borderlands and Isma'ili Modernity 107

5 Living Globality: Local Modes of Transnational Experience 143

Conclusion: Decoding Globality: Modern Isma'ilism and the Institutional Encounter 193

Notes 211

Bibliography 219

Index 231

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

This is a fascinating and unrivaled account of transnational Isma'ilism. Steinberg admirably brings together globalization theories and fascinating ethnographic material to produce a rich narrative of this interesting community. It will be the most important account of contemporary Isma'ilism yet published.—Faisal Devji, author of The Terrorist in Search of Humanity: Militant Islam and Global Politics

Jonah Steinberg's ethnographic accounts of meetings and encounters with Isma'ilis are fascinating and valuable, giving voice to the actors with respect to ethnicity, language, and religion. An incredibly innovative and provocative book.—John Richard Bowen, author of Religions in Practice: An Approach to the Anthropology of Religion

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