Marshall Hodgson

Marshall Goodwin Simms Hodgson (April 11, 1922 – June 10, 1968), was an Islamic studies academic and a world historian at the University of Chicago. He was chairman of the interdisciplinary Committee on Social Thought in Chicago. He was also a practicing Quaker.


Though he did not publish extensively during his lifetime, he has become arguably the most influential American historian of Islam due to his three-volume The Venture of Islam; Conscience and History in a World Civilization. The work is universally recognized as a masterpiece that has radically reconfigured the academic study of Islam and the Civilization of Muslims.[1] In addition to this, his modern importance also rests with his work on world history, which remained relatively unnoticed during his lifetime. Much of it was rediscovered and subsequently published through the efforts of Edmund Burke III of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In The Venture of Islam Hodgson reimagined the terminology and focus of Islamic history and religion: He critiqued terms like tradition for ḥadith and Islamic Law for sharīʿah. The focus on the Arab world that had characterized the Euro-American study of Islam was also rethought by Hodgson who argued that it was the Persianate world (his coinage) that was the locus of the most influential Muslim thought and practice from the Middle Period onwards. Most importantly he distinguished between Islamic (properly religious) and Islamicate phenomena, which were the products of regions in which Muslims were culturally dominant, but were not, properly speaking religious. Thus wine poetry was certainly Islamicate, but not Islamic.

Hodgson's writings were a precursor to the modern world history approach. His initial motivation in writing a world history was his desire to place Islamic history in a wider context and his dissatisfaction with the prevailing Eurocentrism of his day. Hodgson painted a global picture of world history, in which the 'Rise of Europe' was the end-product of millennia-long evolutionary developments in Eurasian society; modernity could conceivably have originated somewhere else. Indeed, he accepted that China in the 12th century was close to an industrial revolution, a development that was derailed, perhaps, by the Mongol onslaught in the 13th century:

"Occidental development had come ultimately from China, as did apparently, the idea of a civil service examination system, introduced in the eighteenth century. In such ways the Occident seems to have been the unconscious heir of the abortive industrial revolution of Sung China" Marshall G. S. Hodgson Rethinking World History: Essays on Europe, Islam and World History (Cambridge 1993), p.68.

Hodgson denied original western exceptionalism and moved the divergence of Europe forward—from the Renaissance in the 14th century to the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century. His explanations for the divergence are rooted in the idea of a 'great Western Transmutation.' This is not to be confused with the Industrial Revolution as it includes variables more diverse than just industry. Hodgson posited that all the societal elements (industry, banking, health care, police, etc.) of Western European nations became so advanced (or 'technicalized') and co-dependent that those societies were able to determine their own rate of progress.

The two most important influences on Hodgson’s thought were the French orientalist and priest Louis Massignon and the eighteenth-century American Quaker, John Woolman. From the former he learned empathy and respect for Islam, while the latter represented a critical view of Eurocentrism and an embodiment of Hodgson’s own Quaker conscience.[2]


See also

Further reading


  1. Albert Hourani, "[Review of] The Venture of Islam…, Journal of Near Eastern Studies vol. 37, 1978; pp53-62.
  2. Burke, III, Edmund in Hodgson, G.S. Marshall. Rethinking World History: Essays on Europe, Islam and World History. pps.304-305. Cambridge University Press. 1993.
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