Thomas Bauer

The Culture of Ambiguity - An Alternative History of Islam

(German title: Die Kultur der Ambiguität)
ca. 463 pages
Thomas Bauer
Foto: Thomas Bauer
© Julia Holtkötter

Thomas Bauer, born in 1961, has been Professor for Islamic studies and rabic studies at the University of Münster since 2000. Since 2007, he is a board member of the CoE »Religion and Politics« at the University of Münster. From 2002 to 2006 he was the director of the »Center for Religious Studies at the University of Münster. From 2006 to 2007 he was a Fellow at the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study. His research focuses on the history of culture and mentality in the Arabo-Islamic world and on classic Arabic literature.

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English world rights (Columbia UP), Russia (Directmedia), Arabic World Rights (Al Kamel), Slovenia (Založba Krtina), Turkey (Iletisim)


For over a thousand years, Islamic societies in the Arab world nurtured a ›culture of ambiguity‹: disparate truth claims were permitted to coexist in the interest of peaceful cohabitation. Thus, in the fourteenth century, for instance, the existence of different versions of the Qur’an and the multitude of potential interpretations was seen as enriching. For many Muslims today it is a source of great vexation.

Over the course of the past 150 years, these societies have become increasingly intolerant of all forms of ambiguity. Thomas Bauer locates the source of this end to plurality in the growing influence of Western Enlightenment thinking, which strives toward monosemy. Nineteenth century colonialism exerted a pressure to define oneself according to clear, unambiguous values and norms. In its own way, this is what contemporary Islamism is doing – by harking back to ostensibly ›traditional Islamic values‹.

Thomas Bauer interprets this drastic shift as a delayed reaction on the part of Islamic societies to the demands of Western hegemony.


»It is impossible to praise Thomas Bauer highly enough; … [his book] tells the real history of Islam that has regrettably been forgotten and suppressed.« Dirk Pilz, Berliner Zeitung

»This turns out to be one of the best books about Islam in ages and is set to become a classic of cultural studies on par with Edward Said’s Orientalism.« Stefan Weidner, Süddeutsche Zeitung