Home » Faculty Announcement » Middle Eastern Studies Association’s Albert Hourani Book Award

Middle Eastern Studies Association’s Albert Hourani Book Award


Professor Gershon Shafir chaired the Middle Eastern Studies Association’s Albert Hourani Award Committee which selected the recipient of the best book published on the Middle East in the past academic year. The committee actually chose two books for the award which Professor Shafir gave out at the Association’s annual conference on December 4, 2012 in Washington D.C.  The committee’s six-month reading marathon  covered the historical span from ancient Babylon to the Iraq War, the geographical expanse from North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula to Afghanistan, and the disciplinary arc from archeology, through history and cultural studies, to economic, politics, and beyond. 89 members of MESA submitted their work which provided the five committee members, according to Gershon, “with a true education.”

Though written by an anthropologist and a historian respectively, each of the winning books made a contribution to sociological thinking, the first one to the study of “collective memory” and the second by challenging Max Weber’s idea that the modern world is post-religious and consequently ‘disenchanted.’

The first Albert Hourani award went to Rochelle Davis, from Georgetown University, for Palestinian Village Histories: Geographies of the Displaced, published by Stanford University Press. The committee concluded that,  “Starting with a promising methodological innovation –namely, the study of the memory books of displaced Palestinian villagers and their descendants — this volume takes us on a remarkable journey into the study of memory. Davis examines the challenge of writing history both in the absence of sources and often by people who may never have seen or lived in the places whose history they tell.  The accounts that emerge not only counteract the villagers’ displacement from history that accompanied their displacement from land. They  also invert the hierarchies of historical and legitimizing knowledge. This eloquent and engaging treatment of the ways in which Palestinian villagers produce history is commendable for its multi-sited and interdisciplinary research, for its careful discussions of the histories of dispossession themselves, for the careful attention paid to the ethnography of both written and oral historical production, for the nuanced discussion of diverse views and debates about village histories as well as the critical role such histories play in Palestinian understandings of their presents and futures, for critical attention to omissions, elisions, and silences, and finally, for its attention to generational difference in the understanding of the importance, role, and form of those histories.”

The second Albert Hourani Award winner was Nile Green from UCLA, for his Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the West Indian Ocean 1840-1915, published by Cambridge University Press. The committee concluded that, “Bombay’s Islam tells a complex and extremely well documented story in accessible, lively — even humorous — language. The multilingual and trans-regional coverage of the book is impressive as is its use of a vast array of sources that includes hagiographies, etiquette manuals, poems, travelogues, prayer books and contracts. Green’s imaginative use of the concept of ‘religious economy’ as a broad framework saves the reader from the bipolar, dichotomous –and by now tedious— opposition of tradition and modernity. He carefully traces the social networks of Bombay’s diverse Muslim communities from the Gujarati hinterland to steamships plying the Indian Ocean between west Africa and the Arab world. It is this transnational perspective that brings into focus the unexpected proliferation and export of traditional religious publications as a result of industrialization.  In this ingenious enquiry, ‘re-enchantment’ becomes one social outcome of industrial modernity.”

%d bloggers like this: