What (If Anything) Went Wrong? Personalism, Institutions, and the Unfractionated Self

in Varieties of Muslim Experience

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2008 | ISBN: 9780226726168
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226726182 | DOI:
What (If Anything) Went Wrong? Personalism, Institutions, and the Unfractionated Self

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Two recent studies attempt to account for the Arab world's apparent failure to keep pace with the economic, political, and scientific innovations of the West. Bernard Lewis's What Went Wrong? focuses on Muslim fears that foreign contacts and governmental entanglement lead to a loss of faith and self-pity, while the United Nations, in its annual Arab Human Development Report, emphasizes the lack of individual freedom and the Arabs' fear that social chaos may result if their basic assumptions are called into question. Neither focuses on the deeper cultural factors on which any assessment of the ostensibly self-defeating nature of Arab society must be grounded. Three concepts in particular may be crucial to the resistance of Arab culture to engage in Western-style reform. First, by contrast to the West, in the Arab world the “self” was never rendered divisible. Second, doubt about fundamentals has always been equated with unbelief and premonitory chaos. And third, owing to the Arabs' intense form of personalism, political institutions have never been separated from the individuals connected with them.

Keywords: Arab culture; Bernard Lewis; United Nations; Arab world; social chaos; West; freedom; self; Arabs; personalism

Chapter.  6678 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology

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