Muslim History and Social Theory: A Global Sociology of Modernity

  • Book Title:
 Muslim History And Social Theory
  • Book Author:
Dietrich Jung
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  • 1 Remaining Modern: An Introduction 1
  • 2 Multiple, Entangled, and Successive Modernities: Putting
  • Modernity in the Plural 13
  • Multiple Modernities: Bringing Religion and Tradition Back In 16
  • Entangled Modernities and Colonial History 21
  • Successive Modernities as Ideal Types 25
  • Conclusion 29
  • 3 Functional Differentiation, Theories of Emergence,
  • and World Society: The Macro Level of Modernity 33
  • Functional Differentiation and World Society 36
  • Theories of Emergence and Global Modernity 44
  • Autochthonous Border Demarcations in the Muslim World 47
  • Conclusion 51
  • 4 Contingency, Modern Subjectivity, and Cultural Types:
  • The Micro Level of Modernity 55
  • Contingency and Uncertainty: The Culture of Modernity 59
  • Modern Subjectivity Formation: The Double Nature
  • of the Modern Subject 63
  • Modern Cultural Types: The Hybridity of the Modern Subject 66
  • Conclusions 75
  • 5 Modernization, Organization, and Global Cultural
  • Scripts: The Meso Level of Modernity 79
  • World Culture, World Polity, World Society 83
  • World Culture, Functional Differentiation, and Pluralistic
  • Modernities 88
  • Constructing Islam as a Modern Religion 93
  • 6 Conclusions: Global Sociology of Modernity and World History 101

Remaining Modern: An Introduction

Abstract We are all modern. That is the core message of this book. Yet, what does it mean to be modern? How do we understand the modern condition in light of a multiplicity of concepts of modernity in contem- porary social theory?

The introduction will show the way in which these questions will be answered in the subsequent chapters of this book. Moreover, it will put the argumentation of the book into both a scholarly context with  respect to Islamic  studies and  social theory  as well as a biographical context.

We are all modern. That is the core message of this book. Yet, what does it mean to be modern? How do we understand the modern condition in light of a multiplicity of concepts of modernity in contemporary social theory?

 If we look back into the late 1950s, the world of modernity still seemed to be in order. In a widely read and then positively acclaimed book on the modernization of the Middle East, Daniel Lerner (1958), for instance, suggested that the modern transformation is a systemic process, an almost natural process of social change, in which all contemporary societies are more or less involved.

In The Passing of Traditional Society, Lerner claimed that a basic model of modernization is at the heart of this social transformation, leading on a straight path from traditional to mod- ern society. In the widely shared understanding of his time, this model was supposed to reappear in all modernizing societies regardless of their cultural differences.

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Locating the historical origin of this model in the so-called West, Lerner metaphorically concluded that the West is what “the Middle East seeks to become” (Lerner 1958, 47).1

In the 1950s and early 1960s, many scholars perceived modernization as a more or less linear, historical process of the transformation and convergence of societies toward one institutional, organizational, and cultural model.

They derived this model eclectically from the writings of classical sociologists such as Emile Durkheim, Herbert Spencer, and Max Weber, from the scientist synthesization of the classics by Talcott Parsons, and from their own observations taken from a decolonizing world. Whereas the West had basically arrived in modernity, as was their core argument, the decolonizing South was still on its way. This confidence in a secure path toward a mutually shared form of modernity meanwhile represents the modernist dream of a bygone time.

The probably too simplistic academic representations of modernity in these theories, that is to say their supposition of a linear and rather uniform social transforma- tion from tradition to modernity, have been deconstructed by postcolo- nial, postmodern, and poststructuralist thinking.

Yet despite this deconstruction, modernity as a dominant category in the mind of aca- demics and of society at large has not disappeared. The brief hype of postmodernity did not “kill off” modernity as an analytical and normative concept. On the contrary, rather the contested discourse of postmodernity eventually gave “a new lease of life” to the idea that we still live in modern times (Lee 2006, 358–59). Apparently, we remain to be modern.

In contemporary discussions in social theory, modernity returned in multiple forms. It is widely acknowledged that we remain modern, but we are modern in different ways. Contemporary scholarship has meanwhile been flooded by terms such as alternative, connected, entangled, multiple, successive, or variations of modernities.

These new approaches, which put modernity into the plural, share the desire to overcome the notions of linearity, irreversibility, and universalism that largely characterized the core assumptions of modernization theories such as presented in Lerner’s book on the modernization of the Middle East (Lee 2013, 419). Furthermore, they aim to do away with the often not questioned equation of moder- nization with Westernization. In short, it should be possible to become modern without emulating the West.

However, is there any generic meaning of modernity left in light of these pluralistic conceptualizations of modernities? Do we still know what it means to remain modern?

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In addressing these essential questions of contemporary theories of modernity, this book draws on and combines various strands of scholarly literature about modernity.

It aims to sustain one of the central claims of classical modernization theory, that is to say perceiving modernity as an inherently global condition, without repeating its flaws in predicting the very nature and direction of historical paths of modernization. Indeed, today we have to conceive modernization in historical terms as a multi- faceted, contingent process leading to a broad variety of realizations of modernity (Joas 2000, 83).

Moreover, this book argues against the still very widespread assumption that the origin of modernity as such is in the so-called West. In theorizing modernity, it stresses its global interconnect- edness and wants to support the argument that the global is not the consequence but the very condition of modernity (Bhambra 2011, 662). Yet how does modernity as a global condition then relate to its different historical realizations?

My theoretical answer to this question is both selective and synthetic. The selection results firstly from the abovementioned questions related to the delegitimization of classical modernization theory. The relevant the- ories must help to theoretically grasp the simultaneity of unity and differ- ence in modernity, its global nature and its local manifestations.

 In constructing my theoretical frame of reference, I make the search for similarities among different kinds of modernities my point of departure. With this focus on similarities, I do not want to discard differences. On the contrary, I argue that the understanding of differences has to be grounded in more precise knowledge about similarities.

 The exploration of the simultaneity of unity and difference in modernity needs a heuristic concept of global modernity against which we can interpret differences resulting from historically contingent paths of social change. Secondly, my selection of theoretical references is due to more accidental causes that are of an essentially biographical nature.

This book engages with theories that I simply happened to have read during my scholarly career.

The crucial starting point for my theoretical interest was my first encounter with three German classics on social theory. Reading Max Weber, Karl Marx, and Norbert Elias as an undergraduate was a revelation. These classical authors gave me access to an entirely new world of thought. Most impor- tantly, the reading of classical sociology set me free from the taken-for- granted conceptual premises of everyday life.

The next step took place in the context of the Luhmann/Habermas debate in Germany which characterized my graduate studies.

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 Not really sitting with any of the two camps, in the end, I might have learnt more from the intellectual encounter with Niklas Luhmann’s modern systems theory than from Jürgen Habermas’ theory of communicative action. In particular, two of Luhmann’s ideas made a lasting impression on me: the retrospect abstraction of social history in terms of sociocultural evolution and perceiving modernity as the emer- gence of world society.

 As a result, the concept of world society became one of the guiding principles in my research. However, I do not employ world society in terms of a normative cosmopolitan perspective of “our one world.” In my own work I employ the concept of world society first and foremost as a heuristic frame of reference for observing the advancement of global modernity such as has been developed by Niklas Luhmann’s modern systems theory or by the Stanford school of sociological institutionalism around John W. Meyer.

In writing this book, my attitude to social theory very much resembles the positions of the historian William H. Sewell JR and the sociologist Bryan Turner.

 In Sewell’s understanding, historians use social theory critically in adjusting, combining, and recombining elements of different theories according to their needs (Sewell 2005, 5). It is this needs-driven non-exegetic use of social theory that I apply in the following chapters. In doing so, I am equally motivated by Bryan Turner’s critique of the wide- spread “mentality of sectarianism” in sociology. Against sticking to mutually hostile schools of thoughts, Turner once advocated a synthetic strategy of combining elements of competing paradigms, as they often only address “very different issues at rather different levels” (Turner 1992, 235–36).

Consequently, this book represents an attempt to synthesize the insights of both Sewell and Turner. To make it clear right from the beginning, this is not a book for theoretical purists, I am not interested in the exegetic handling of social theories; instead, I will use them selec- tively and empirically in order to better understand the world around me.

From this position, my approach to the social theory of modernity is inseparably knitted into empirical observations. The interpretation and observation of social phenomena and theoretical and empirical research are inherently connected in a circular relationship. The theoretical elabora- tions of this book, therefore, must be accompanied by substantial empirical illustrations.

As a scholar of the Middle East and the wider Muslim world, I will choose my illustrative examples predominantly from contemporary research about and the history of Muslim peoples and not from the

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