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The Caliphate of Man: Popular Sovereignty in Modern Islamic Thought

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Duration: 1:27:18 | Added: 16 Feb 2021
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Duration: 0:35:01 | Added: 16 Feb 2021
Join us for the fourth MEC Booktalk episode where Dr Usaama al-Azami talks with guest author Andrew March about his new book, The Caliphate of Man: The Invention of Popular Sovereignty in Modern Islamic Thought, published by Harvard University Press, 2021

The book can be purchased direct from the publisher's distributor by emailing cs-books@wiley.com and quoting h0339 for a 30% discount.

Andrew March is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Masachusetts Amherst. His research and teaching interests are in the areas of political philosophy, Islamic law and political thought, religion and political theory, and comparative and non-Western political theory more generally. His first book, Islam and Liberal Citizenship: The Search for an Overlapping Consensus (Oxford, 2009) is an exploration of the Islamic juridical discourse on the rights, loyalties, and obligations of Muslim minorities in liberal politics, and won the 2009 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion from the American Academy of Religion.

Andrew has published articles on Islamic law and political thought, secularism, religion and free speech, religious freedom and the boundaries of marriage in liberal society.

The Caliphate of Man: Popular Sovereignty in Modern Islamic Thought examines the problem of divine and popular sovereignty in modern Islamic thought through the Arab Spring. Taken direct from the publisher’s webpage: A political theorist teases out the century-old ideological transformation at the heart of contemporary discourse in Muslim nations undergoing political change.

The Arab Spring precipitated a crisis in political Islam. In Egypt Islamists have been crushed. In Turkey they have descended into authoritarianism. In Tunisia they govern but without the label of “political Islam.” Andrew explores how, before this crisis, Islamists developed a unique theory of popular sovereignty, one that promised to determine the future of democracy in the Middle East.

This began with the claim of divine sovereignty, the demand to restore the sharīʿa in modern societies. But prominent theorists of political Islam also advanced another principle, the Quranic notion that God’s authority on earth rests not with sultans or with scholars’ interpretation of written law but with the entirety of the Muslim people, the umma. Drawing on this argument, utopian theorists such as Abū’l-Aʿlā Mawdūdī and Sayyid Quṭb released into the intellectual bloodstream the doctrine of the caliphate of man: while God is sovereign, He has appointed the multitude of believers as His vicegerent. The Caliphate of Man argues that the doctrine of the universal human caliphate underpins a specific democratic theory, a kind of Islamic republic of virtue in which the people have authority over the government and religious leaders. But is this an ideal regime destined to survive only as theory?

Dr Usaama al-Azami is Department Lecturer in Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford. His research explores the way in which Islamic scholars, known as the ulama, have responded to modernity, especially in the political realm. He is the author of a forthcoming monograph entitled Islam and the Arab Revolutions: The Ulama between Democracy and Autocracy.

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