One rarely uses the term booming in publishing these days, but it's fair to say that academic publishing about Islam is doing just that. New books are diverse in subject matter and house of origin, as this major religion's world-shaping influence is being more closely examined.
University of North Carolina Press has three installments in its Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks series. Sahar Amer's What Is Veiling? (Sept.) will be joined in April 2015 by Ebrahim Moosa's What Is Madrasa? and Bruce Lawrence's Who Is Allah? Elaine Maisner, senior executive editor at the press, says more books are in the works to join this series. "Islamic studies is continuing to trend," she notes. "We are interested in Islamic studies beyond the conventional link with fundamentalism, and we are finding some interesting work in the area of lived religion, and of progressive Islam."
For publishers that can successfully hit the sweet spot in books on Islam in America—they need to be fresh enough to merit scholarly attention, but also mainstream enough for course adoption—the rewards can be great. At NYU, the 1998 title Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas has sold nearly 20,000 copies and was reissued in 2013 in a 15th-anniversary edition.
Oxford University Press has long had a deep list on the subject, and several key themes characterize its new titles in the field. Senior editor Theo Calderara says OUP's newest releases investigate the history of Islam (In God's Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire by Robert G. Hoyland, Oct.) and consider the complex relationships of Islam and politics (What Is an American Muslim? Embracing Faith and Citizenship by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, Feb.). In addition to producing its signature hefty handbooks on aspects of Islam, the press is adding to its Qur'anic studies program with such titles as Feminist Edges of the Qur'an by Aysha A. Hidayatullah (May).
The International Qur'anic Studies Association, which will meet for the second time November 21–24 as the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature hold their concurrent conferences on November 22–25 in San Diego, signals a vigorous global interest in Qur'anic studies. At Baylor University Press, Michael Birkel's Qur'an in Conversation (Aug.) is a lead title for fall. According to press director Carey Newman, the author "tags along with younger American Muslim scholars and clerics as they read and interpret Islam's sacred text. The result is to watch the Qur'an become an American scripture right before your eyes." Trade publisher White Cloud Press, which offers an Islamic Encounters series, is releasing Structure and Qur'anic Interpretation: A Study of Symmetry and Coherence in Islam's Holy Text by Raymond Farrin (Oct.), who teaches at the American University of Kuwait.
Sharmila Sen, executive editor-at-large at Harvard University Press, says American scholarship takes only one of many possible approaches to global Islam. "I see a new focus emerging on the concept of the global public sphere," she says. The Lives of Muhammad by Kecia Ali (Oct.; Reviews, p. 20; Profiles, p. 12), an associate professor of religion at Boston University, examines the ways in which stories about Muhammad's character and life have repurposed early materials for new cultures and circumstances. Sen also has observed in the past decade a turn away from Arab-centered scholarship to the study of Islam in other regions where the faith has flourished. Harvard has a book forthcoming on Islamic influence in West Africa, Timbuktu and Beyond: Rethinking African Intellectual History by Ousmane Kane, who teaches contemporary Islamic religion and society at Harvard Divinity School.
Sarah Stanton, senior acquisitions editor at Rowman & Littlefield, agrees on the importance of assessing Islam's global impact. The press is publishing Reasoning with God: Reclaiming Shari'ah in the Modern Age by Khaled Abou El Fadl (Oct.), who chairs the Islamic studies program at UCLA. The hefty book (580 pages) takes readers "into an in-depth discussion of ethics in Islam," she says, weaving into the narrative personal stories about Islamic jurisprudence.
The wave of publishing about Islam is likely to keep building as a cohort of new, younger scholars comes of age in the academy. Amir Hussain, editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, remembers his first time at AAR in 1992, when fewer than 100 people were specializing in Islamic studies. Fast forward 20 years, and "now there are 400 of us specialists in Islam," he says. Some of those scholars will undoubtedly produce informed yet accessible books for the general trade. "How do you tell that story and write in a way that's engaging?" asks Hussain, who is himself working on a book for Baylor University Press about Muslim contributions to American history and culture. "What you need are authors who have the training and expertise."