Books for 2019 on Central Asia and Islam

A comment below:

Need book recommendations. What are some great books on history of Islam and history of Persian Empire and Central Asia?

Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present
Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane
The Silk Road: A New History
A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind
The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In
When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World: The Rise and Fall of Islam’s Greatest Dynasty
In God’s Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire

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Bangladesh elections

Update: This win seems too big to be credible. But I don’t really know…. Bangladesh Prime Minister Wins 3rd Term Amid Deadly Violence on Election Day

End Update
Bangladeshis Must Choose ‘Lesser of Two Evils’ in Election:

Per capita income has increased by nearly 150 percent, while the share of the population living in extreme poverty has shrunk to about 9 percent from 19 percent, according to the World Bank.

Electricity generation has also increased drastically under Mrs. Hasina’s rule, helping to boost factory production and spreading out to homes in rural areas. The rates of maternal mortality and illiteracy have also declined.

Sultana Kamal, a Bangladeshi activist who was once close to Mrs. Hasina but has become increasingly wary of her, said a win by the current government would be seen as an indifference by voters to rights concerns.

From what I know most of my family generally supports the Awami League. My parents do, and I have an uncle who is an activist in that party. As an atheist I sympathize more with parties less keen on allying with Muslims who are excited to kill atheists. But….the Awami League seems to have gotten quite a big head, and Sheikh Hasina is becoming Bangladesh’s Indira.

If it’s the choice between economic growth and human rights, I think voters would choose the former. But I suspect that many will bet that economic growth is due to endogenous forces which are not controlled by the government, and will switch parties to rebalance the political system.

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Tony Joseph’s Early Indians

My review of Tony Joseph’s new book, Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From, is now up at India Today.

In general, I liked the book, and have only minor quibbles with Joseph’s reportage of the genetic results. He has very particular interpretations of results on some questions, but his core audience of Indians will be focused on this, not the minutiae of D-statistics. For example, it seems to me that he gave a great deal of emphasis to the aboriginal heritage of South Asians in quantity and impact. This is a defensible stance, but it’s not a necessary one dictated by the results from the data.

The non-genetic assertions I had less background on, and so did some literature review by following Joseph’s copious citations. In these “fuzzier” fields it is harder to establish a consensus from what I can see (the number of opinions of linguists on any topic seems to equal the number of linguists!). The downside is certain conclusions are not there yet. The upside is there is still scholarship that will be done.

Overall, get Early Indians. But read with some caution and use it as a sourcebook for follow-up queries.

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Brown Pundits – Episode 6, Chinese history, pop culture and strategy, with Tanner Greer

The latest BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

Thanks to everyone who reviewed the podcast! Please leave more 5-star reviews. If this podcasts interests enough people I’ll be getting us on other platforms.

This week a very special episode of Brown Pundits’ BrownCast with Tanner Greer of The Scholar’s Stage, one of my favorite weblogs. If I’m a philosopher in the armchair, Tanner is a practitioner in the field. He lived for several years in China, and his observations have a contemporary salience that our discussion last week probably lacked.

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Pathans between Hind and Iran

There was a comment below on the positions of Pathans genetically in relation to South Asians and Iranians. The “Pathan” samples are from Pakistan, while “Pashtun” are from Afghanistan. What you can see is that the “Pathan” samples are more like Punjabis, while Pashtuns are like Tajiks. The Iranian samples are from western Iran. You can see that the Pakistani Pathans are definitely a little closer to UP Brahmins than to Iranians. The Afghans are a bit closer to Iranians than UP Brahmins.

Here’s Treemix:

Continue reading “Pathans between Hind and Iran”

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The power of the nameless

From the Wikipedia entry for Angkor Wat

The initial design and construction of the temple took place in the first half of the 12th century, during the reign of Suryavarman II (ruled 1113 – c. 1150). Dedicated to Vishnu, it was built as the king’s state temple and capital city. As neither the foundation stela nor any contemporary inscriptions referring to the temple have been found, its original name is unknown, but it may have been known as “Varah Vishnu-lok” after the presiding deity.

And more:

Cambodia was first influenced by Hinduism during the beginning of the Kingdom of Funan. Hinduism was one of the Khmer Empire‘s official religions. Cambodia is the home of the holy temple of Angkor Wat, the largest Hindu temple in the world. The main religion adhered in Khmer kingdom was Hinduism, followed by Buddhism in popularity. Initially the kingdom revered Hinduism as the main state religion. Vishnu and Shiva were the most revered deities, worshipped in Khmer Hindu temples….

Cham Hindus, an ethnic group in Vietnam influenced by Indic culture 1,000 years ago, are still Hindu to this day. Similarly, the people of the Indonesian island of Bali maintain continuity with the Hindu traditions of Java.

Now, consider this comment from the usual suspect:

Professor Truschke is also correct in stating that “Hinduism” is in many ways a constructed category. It was the British who used it as an umbrella term in the census for anyone who didn’t declare their religion to be something that the colonial power recognized (like Islam). Previously, people may have described themselves as worshipping a particular god.

It is curious that this person who protests for the honor of the Islamic religion casually asserts that the Hindu religion was created as a category by the British! While his religion taps at deep truths and must be respected, he can dismiss the faith of 800 million as a British fiction. The glamor of fashionable nonsense never ceases to attract this one like a moth to the flame.*

In any case, where have I heard this before? From the Wikipedia entry on caste:

There are at least two perspectives for the origins of the caste system in ancient and medieval India, which focus on either ideological factors or on socio-economic factors….

This school has focused on the historical evidence from ancient and medieval society in India, during the Muslim rule between the 12th and 18th centuries, and the policies of colonial British rule from 18th century to the mid-20th century….

This view, which emphasizes the colonial experience, is encapsulated by Nicholas Dirks’ Castes of Mind. A debased form of this is that “well acktchually…did you know the British invented caste?”

The genetic reality has falsified this. Evidence from places such as Andhra Pradesh indicates that the endogamy which is the hallmark of caste/jati dates back to 1,500 to 2,000 years ago. This is not to deny that the category and its organization was not influenced by the British, and likely earlier the Muslims, but its ultimate basis seems to be one which is deeply rooted in South Asia.

Now consider this map:

1941 British religious census, 75% of India is non-Muslim

After many centuries of rule by a religiously Muslim elite, the majority of Indians still retained a non-Muslim identity. The legacy and prestige of Islamicate conquest-elites were such that the 1857 rebellion against the British co-opted a Mughal as a figurehead, so persistent was their glamor. And yet the majority of Indians still cohered around an identity that was called “Hindu,” originally a term for Indian.

Without any knowledge of the puranas, or the elaboration of the Vedanta centuries before Islam became a permanent feature of the South Asian landscape, the fact that most Indians remained non-Muslim after centuries of Islamic rule indicates that there was a systematic social-religious system to which they adhered. The fact that they exported this social-religious system in fragments and essentials to Southeast Asia over 1,000 years ago indicates that Hinduism as we understand it was not simply a British reification!

It is sometimes common among people who follow the Abrahamic religions to classify Hinduism as “pagan.” Though theologically there is some justification for this, to be frank, this is more an aspersion than a description, bracketing Indian traditions with small-scale primal religions which were prevalent outside of Eurasian oikoumene.

Ethnographic evidence indicates that much of “Islamic Africa” was minimally Islamicized until the 20th century. Rather, local elites patronized ulema, whose remit was sharply delimited. It was modern transportation and public health that allowed for greater central integration across regions such as the Senegal. Sufi orders, in fact, benefited from European colonization in many regions of Africa because the only “high religion” tradition that was available locally was Islam, and so many heretofore pagan or nominally Muslim tribes were assimilated into the high culture matrix that was nearest to them.

The contrast with Dharmic and Chinese paganism is instructive. Only in areas where the local “high religion” tradition was moribund (e.g., Korea) or nascent (what became the Philippines) did Christianity gain widespread purchase. In the “pagan” hinterlands of the Indonesian archipelago Muslims and Christians, and later a modified form of Hinduism, gained mass conversions from peoples previously untouched by central governance.

Persistence of native Dharmic religious traditions despite Muslim cultural prominence is strong indirect evidence of a resilient high religious tradition despite debates as to its name.

Related post: Hinduism before India.

* The same person dismisses revisionism about 7th century Islam, which he takes to be authoritatively historical, while accepting at face value the idea that Hindus had no self-conception as a coherent identity before 1800.

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Brown Pundits – Episode 5, reflections on the Chinese age

The latest BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

Thanks to everyone who reviewed the podcast! Please leave more 5-star reviews. If this podcasts interests enough people I’ll be getting us on other platforms.

One of the most offensive things I have had to personally encounter in my life are people curious that a brown-skinned person would express an interest in China for purely intellectual interests (i.e., my wife is not Chinese, I have no business interests in China, etc.). As this century proceeds I think everyone, whatever one’s background, needs to rebalance their perception of what they need to be interested in, because the simple world of European supremacy between 1850 and 2000 is fading away…

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