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(Rvw of) Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane, by S. Frederick Starr. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013; pp. xl + 646.: Book Reviews

discover the means to support herself and exist in society apart from her husband; in
annulment, the couple transitioned from one person to two at law. Central to Butler’s
project, then, is to extract from the sources the snippets of light that fall on the
individual motivations and personal circumstances of divorced women. As the author is
at pains to point out, “this study examines the practice, not the theory, of divorce” (p. 4).
She is interested to answer the many outstanding questions referred to above about the
experience of divorce, such as how a couple transitioned from being one person to two
in the process of divorce, what difficulties they encountered during the process of
divorce, and how a wife “retained her personhood” (p. 3).
Chapter 1 addresses the reasons why medieval men and women divorced. Chapter 2
details the “logistics” of divorce, highlighting the extensive procedures, expense, and
time delays involved, and how litigants supported themselves through it. Chapter 3
examines the “risks” of divorce, particularly for the wife, and how its perils meant any
decision to divorce was no small matter. Chapter 4 deals with the impact on marital
property following either of the formal kinds of divorce, and how women supported
themselves as a result during and after the legal proceedings. Chapter 5 asks and
attempts to answer the question: what happened to the children, in terms of custody and
support? Chapter 6 looks at what happened after a divorce, in particular examining how
couples negotiated the “social rituals” of divorce (p. 14). The conclusion of the author
is that this narrative bucks the trend of many similar studies; indeed, Butler reaches the
finding that “women are not the victims in this story” (p. 146) but active protagonists in
determining their destiny.
While Butler ultimately does not succeed in providing the definitive answers that her
students so wanted, her findings are insightful and compelling. This monograph is yet
another example of how recent scholarship on medieval canon law in particular has
revivified interest in common law and canon law sources from the Middle Ages, not just
to trace the history of doctrine over time but as witness of the law’s impact in practice
on society.
Deakin University
S. FREDERICK STARR:Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the
Arab Conquest to Tamerlane. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013;
pp. xl +646.
S. F. Starr’s Lost Enlightenment is a magisterial undertaking written in lucid and
convincing, yet eloquent, style. It provides a rich treasure-trove of well-documented
detail concerned at its heart with the intellectual — though also cultural, economic, and
political — history of Central Asia. As the author states, “it is fair to fix the start and
finish of this great intellectual effervescence as 750 and 1150” (p. 5). Its roots, none-
theless, are traced as far back as the fifth century BCE (p. 545), with its final fading
embers glimpsed in the flurries of innovation in Timurid times (c. 1350–1500) and even
beyond, in the legacy of the Mughals, Safavids, and Ottomans, though the latter
ultimately “dissipated their great intellectual heritage, even to the point of allowing
most of the brilliant manuscript books from the Age of Enlightenment to crumble
physically and disappear from their libraries and collections” (pp. 531–2).
Notwithstanding the usual prefatory material, the book opens with an alphabetical
listing of key figures followed by a brief timeline of events spanning from 3500 BCE to
© 2015 Religious History Association
approximately the 1620s CE. Starr covers a vast array of time and material, starting in
chapter 1 with a sweeping overview of: the times, places, and people central to his
study; the three essential questions of what precisely the Central Asian Golden Age
consisted of, why/how it happened, and why/how it declined; and what will and will not
be treated. Chapters 2 and 3 paint a vivid, detailed picture of pre-Islamic Central Asia,
highlighting the various elements which contributed to the later rise of its Golden Age.
These consisted of: certain climatic conditions; a highly developed cosmopolitan urban-
ism; imperial economies; crossculturally, interreligiously, and economically stimulating
“Silk Road” trade, including interactions with and innovations from nomadic steppe
culture; and most importantly, arising from all these, the mathematics, physics, and
astronomy (science) as well as a “high level of literacy” and education “that prevailed
there” (p. 62) inspired by complex irrigation systems, competitive trade, textually-based
religious traditions, and urban governance.
Against this background, Starr overviews, in chapter 4, the Arab Islamic “assault on
the cultures of Central Asia” (p. 111). His portrayal here, and throughout most of the
book, of the largely divisive, destructive, greedy, and power-hungry Arabs and the
accompanying arrival of Islam juxtaposed against his praise for the pre-Islamic “vitality
of Central Asian culture and the people who lived it” (p. 104) is sure to arouse debate.
But this was perhaps inevitable, since in Starr’s eyes from its very inception “[t]he new
monotheist faith to which [Muhammad’s] prophesies gave rise swept up tens of thou-
sands of Bedouins in a whirlwind of conquests” ultimately “[d]riven by religious zeal
and visions of earthly riches” (p. 105). Their conquest of Persia sent “a shock wave of
fright and terror eastward into Central Asia” (p. 105). There, the “mission was to wage
jihad, a holy war directed against the nonbelievers” while “the goal, as he [Qutayba]
proclaimed with ample citations from the Quran, was for the united Arab forces to
convert or wipe out all infidels” because “the region could be ruled ‘only by the sword
and the whip’. All these tactics were means . . . [of] wiping out local religions and
spreading the faith of Muhammad” supplemented by “systematic destruction of books
and religious literature” (pp. 109–10). Indeed, “[t]he Arabs, once they managed to
subdue the region, attacked Buddhism and Buddhists with special ferocity” (p. 87)
accompanied by a demonstration of “arrogance and cultural obtuseness on the part of
Arab governors” (p. 106). Such being the case, “[i]t is not surprising that many urban
sophisticates in Central Asia looked on theirArab conquerors as savages” (p. 113), even
though “there were pious Muslims among the less brutal Arabs” (p. 111). “Accepting
reality,” however, “Arab administrators [finally] concluded that Greater Central Asia
could never be secured through military means” so that eventually “diplomatic, reli-
gious, and economic concessions were called for” (p. 116). In the end, “Qutayba and his
troops destroyed priceless treasures of Central Asian civilization, but at the same time
they released mighty cultural and political energies from that same source, and these
eventually prevailed” (p. 125).
In keeping with Starr’s overall portrayal of each, a careful reading of the outcome
depicted in the latter phrase above reveals that the “mighty cultural and political
energies” which were “released” came not from Arab or Islamic, but “Central Asian
civilization”. Indeed, one of Starr’s chief objectives in the study, explicitly stated in the
following chapter, is “to distinguish the specifically Central Asian contribution” to the
long-hailed Islamic Golden Age (p. 126) because “[i]n this great adventure of the mind,
no one exceeded the Central Asians” (155). Starr demonstrates this truth amply, but at
the sad expense of the Arabs and (his own perception of) Islamic devotion, with the
latter effectively blamed entirely for the demise of the Islamic Golden Age, first in
Baghdad and then Central Asia. True, “Islam, with its uncompromising monotheism
© 2015 Religious History Association
and notions of a First Cause, seemed to many to affirm the truths of science and
philosophy” (p. 525). But al-Ghazali’s “brilliant and devastating attack in The Inco-
herence of the Philosophers,” penned in the early twelfth century, “put the entire
enterprise of independent speculation on the defensive, not only in his own day but
for centuries thereafter” (p. 541). Ghazali’s impact reached far and wide through a
combination of his “concept of mystical truth and intuition . . . with the hegemony
of an ever-expanding but highly restrictive version of Islamic law” which together
established “a complete mechanism for suppressing the free exercise of the intellect”
(p. 544). In taking this view, Starr expressly joins ranks with “the FrenchArabist Ernest
Renan (1823–1892)” and “the Russian historian Bartold” who built off Renan’s work
in 1902 (p. 545). In the course of positing the sole influence of this post-eleventh-
century anti-intellectualist Islamic trend championed by Ghazali, Starr shows little
interest in attempting to provide a more nuanced explanation that somehow embraces
a combination of the many possible options put forth by numerous respectable schol-
ars. Instead, he “casts serious doubt on all the most widely disseminated explanations
for the waning of Central Asia’s intellectual vitality,” including possible environmental
changes affecting the economy, “the Mongol devastation,” the shift away from land to
sea routes from c. 1450 onward, the steady dwindling of noble or, likewise, royal
patronage, and/or the impact of “the purportedly less speculative culture of the Turkic
nomads” (p. 539, emphasis mine).
Such controversial matters aside, Starr’s focus on the uniquely Central Asian con-
tributions to the Islamic Golden Age is welcome, needed, well researched, and profuse.
The core of the study, ranging from chapter 5 to chapter 14, delves far deeper into the
details of the distinctly Central Asian peoples behind this vital “Age of Enlightenment”
than any short review can hope to adequately highlight. Though Starr is bound by
linguistic limitations which clearly affect his views — namely English, Russian,
German, and French — he nonetheless synthesises a vast amount of scholarship already
available on the subject, yet left scattered piecemeal throughout multiple specialised
studies. Thus, while Starr’s less-than-favourable treatment of the Arabs and “orthodox”
Islam is questionable and his over-abundance of detail at times clouds the main study,
it is nonetheless a welcome wealth of material which engages a vast array of scholarship
espousing a multitude of debated views. Overall, he succeeds in convincing at least this
reader that, “[t]o a far greater extent than today’s Europeans, Chinese, Indians, or
Middle Easterners realize, they are all the heirs of the remarkable cultural and intellec-
tual effervescence in Central Asia that peaked in the era of Ibn Sina and Biruni” (p. 4).
Georgetown University and Washington State University
MATTHEW HEDSTROM:The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American
Spirituality in the Twentieth Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012;
pp. 278.
The religious landscape of the United States is often described as a marketplace. It is a
country in which religious disestablishment and immigration give its citizens access to
an unparalleled variety of faiths. Matthew Hedstrom’s well-written and convincing
book, The Rise of Liberal Religion, argues that one tradition has succeeded beyond all
others amid this heterodoxy: liberal Protestantism. And the views of liberal Protestants
succeeded in this marketplace because of their promotion through the literal market-
© 2015 Religious History Association
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