Hughes, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary in Alberta, is benevolent in his intentions, and the result is a volume on the Western academic discussion of Islam that is almost stereotypically Canadian in its efforts at

Hughes, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary in Alberta, is benevolent in his intentions, and the result is a volume on the Western academic discussion of Islam that is almost stereotypically Canadian in its efforts at balance between and fairness to the two main sides.

In Hughes's presentation of these competing viewpoints, the two protagonists are familiar to most of the global intellectual public: Bernard Lewis and the late Edward Said. Hughes begins this work with an account of their bitter exchanges over the latter's Orientalism. As Hughes indicates, Lewis's critique of Said was limited to intellectual issues; Lewis accused Said of tendentious, arbitrary, reckless, and incompetent formulations. Said replied with low blows: pseudo-psychological and ideological smears, claiming that Lewis was insecure and aligned with the most radical elements on the Zionist spectrum, including the late Meir Kahane.

As Hughes aptly comments, "Welcome to the field of Islamic Studies."

The Canadian scholar, in an understated but accurate manner, clearly finds the legacy of Said wanting. Early on, he states, "My aim … is to argue that Said's account is as fraught with political and ideological assumptions as that of the Orientalism he sought to demolish. Unless we face up to this legacy, realizing that Orientalism is decidedly not a work of historiography, it becomes very difficult to move forward [emphasis in original]."

Hughes goes on to review one of the flagrant weaknesses in Said's work (as mainly detailed in The Lust of Knowing by Robert H. Irwin,[1] who remains unacknowledged here): a failure to examine adequately the pioneering research on Islam by Germans and Hungarians, many of them Jewish, such as Abraham Geiger and Ignaz Goldziher. Hughes also effectively joins the ranks of Said's opponents by his fair, if chiding, treatment of Martin Kramer's 2001 study Ivory Towers on Sand.[2] While Hughes scores Kramer's work as "over the top," he stipulates that "there is often much of validity to be found within" it.

As is appropriate for a guidebook intended for the use of academics, Hughes also takes up, more briefly, the works of such leading personalities in the field as Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Marshall Hodgson, Fazlur Rahman, Charles Adams, John Esposito, Karen Armstrong, Frederick M. Denny, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Hughes is refreshingly critical of their works, summarizing his comments by noting "the apologetic foundation on which the edifice of Islamic studies currently exists."

Situating Islam shows flaws of its own, exemplified by the sloppy references to neoconservatism and identification of the Middle East Forum's Campus Watch effort as a form of political monitoring. Nevertheless, as a survey of the current state of play in the field of Islamic studies in the West, it could have been a great deal worse and is, finally, a useful contribution.

[1] London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2007.
[2] Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001.