Two puzzles of modern India—one well known, the other overlooked—form the core of this book.
For fifty years, the state of Kerala has been famed, first as a home of Communists, then as a perplexing ‘model of development’. But why Communists? And why development, especially in a place where the economy usually underperformed even lowly national averages? Part of an answer lies in the unusual place of women in Kerala and their changing role in the past 200 years.
Another part lies in the other, often under-analyzed focus of this book: media and communication. Printing and publishing in Indian languages—and accompanying questions of literacy and language identity—present tantalizing puzzles.
Since data were first collected in the 1950s, Kerala’s people have been India’s greatest newspaper consumers. Do literacy and newspapers mobilize people for political action or does politicization make people into newspaper readers? To what extent do media wait on consumer capitalism before they break into the countryside to become truly mass media, as they have in India in the past thirty years?
BARBARA D. METCALF is president of the American Historical Association. She is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California, Davis, and most recently taught at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Islamic Revival in British India and coauthor of A Concise History of Modern India.
“Barbara Metcalf has helped transform the study of modern South Asian Islam by her insistence on close readings of texts; her attention to religious practice, institutions, and worldview; and her refusal to dismiss the concerns of South Asian actors. This edited volume, with its magisterial introduction, exemplifies these qualities while giving us access to a wide range of texts from throughout South Asia. She and her collaborators are owed great thanks.”
“This is undoubtedly the richest collection of materials on South Asian Islam ever to be published in a single volume. What makes it so rich is its contributors' presentation and interpretation of primary texts, rather than any attempt to broach a synthetic narrative, however complex. This approach allows the book to be used in different ways: as an introduction to the wealth of Muslim texts and practices in South Asia, as a guide to scholarly debates on South Asian Islam, and as a reference. Barbara Metcalf's introduction is a masterpiece of lucid condensation.”
“This is a book of the first importance. It offers a way of engaging with Muslims and Muslim societies that takes them out of orientalist and political discourses and instead focuses on what Muslims actually say and do. It should form approaches to Islam among generations of students. Barbara Metcalf's masterly introduction gives the whole book a rich context infused with deep historical understanding.”