The complex relationships and dynamics of influence in the development of global Islam and Asian history over 13 centuries are revealed in “Islam and Asia: A History,” the new book by Chiara Formichi, associate professor of Asian studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.
The book documents the historical moments when active contributions of knowledge and practice flowed between regions and cultures, from the seventh century to today. It offers an accessible introduction to these intertwined histories, with maps, illustrations and insets accompanying the text.
Formichi provides a transnational history of Asia and Islam, following the latter’s expansion over a millennium and detailing its various cultures in Central, Southeast, South and East Asia. She uses several case studies to support her thesis arguing for Asia’s central role in the development of global Islam as a religious, social and political reality – challenging the assumed dominant role of the Middle East in that development, and many polarized narratives that persist.
The book begins with an example of the early impact of Islam on Chinese culture. With cultural practices and aesthetics influenced by trade along the Silk Road, Muslim artisans developed blue-on-white porcelain in styles later popularized in, and ultimately identified with, Chinese arts. Such “archetypal Chinese aesthetics are in fact primarily rooted in the history of China’s trade with West Asia [the Middle East] and in Asia as a space of Islamicized connections,” Formichi writes.
Formichi also shows how interactions across Asia influenced Islamic practices and interpretations throughout the Muslim world, including shaping local conceptions of arts and culture, the sciences, power and bureaucracy.
“Looking at Islam and Asia as two intersecting entities,” Formichi writes, the history she explores “is a narrative of how this continental and insular expanse emerged as an interconnected space, linking the Mediterranean to the Pacific.”
This interconnectedness, she asserts, is characterized by cultures and identities shaped by “a shared sense of belonging to a community defined by religious commitment,” and explains how Asian Muslims “actively contributed to [Islam’s] devotional practices and knowledge production."
Covering 1,300 years of these histories, the book also includes chapters on “Islam as Resistance” and “De-Centering Islamic Authority,” a guide to studying Asia and Islam, and a glossary.
Formichi joined the Department of Asian Studies in 2014. She has degrees in Islamic studies from the University of Rome, and in the history of Southeast Asia from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Her research interests include a focus on Islam as a lived religion and as a political ideology in 20th-century Indonesia and Southeast Asia.
She is the author of “Islam and the Making of the Nation: Kartosuwiryo and Political Islam in 20th Century Indonesia” (2012); editor of “Religious Pluralism, State and Society in Asia” (2014) and co-editor of “Shi’ism in South East Asia” (2015) with Michael Feener of the Asia Research Institute and the National University of Singapore.