Pretty happy about the quality of comments on my post There Is No Exception in Islam. Compare to the quality of comments on the Reddit thread for the same post. Thanks to Shadi Hamid for pointing to the post on Twitter.
One thing on comments. The space of things that someone knows about is finite. But if you talk about something I know about, and are clearly bullshitting, that’s not going to be good for your future commenting on this website in terms of my supervision. For example, if you want to talk about the Reformation and early modern Europe, you better have more than Google and Wikipedia under your belt. For example, you should at minimum have read a survey such as MacCulloch’s The Reformation, and hopefully more specialized works such as Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe.
Here’s a Bloggingheads.TV interview with Shadi on the book.
Some readers may not know this, but the philo-Hellenic thread prominent in Islam’s first few centuries persists to this day, but within the Shia tradition. Ayatollah Khomeini for example studied Aristotle and Plato with appreciation. This Greek inflection becomes very prominent among Ismailis.
As I’ve stated before, Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road, was a quick read. It was fascinating to read about how the spread of Islam into Central Asia and India elicited a reaction from Buddhists, who produced prophecies of apocalypse and counter-reaction (Zoroastrians did the same in the 8th and 9th centuries). One dynamic only cursorily explored is the centuries long flirtation of Mongol peoples with different world religions, before they settled on Tantric Buddhism. I did not, for example, know that the Oirat had had decades of leadership by individuals who were clearly Muslim (e.g., a leader whose name is Mahmud is recorded), before they finally converted to Buddhism en masse.
But more fascinating if you go back further is that the peoples of Mongolia had flirted with Christianity in the form of the Church of the East for centuries (the Church of the East is prominent within the family of Genghis Khan). One hypothesis, which seems plausible at first blush, is that in a competition between an Abrahamic religion and a Dharmic one, the Abrahamic one will inevitably win. The spread of Islam eastward on the Silk Road is clear evidence of this; it began at Kashgar around 1000 and completed at Turfan around 1400. But conversion of Mongolic and Manchu peoples to Buddhism in the middle of the second millennium after centuries of dabbling solidified the distinction between the Inner Asian Muslim and Buddhist blocs. But the lines we see as so clear and distinct (and inevitable) today were very different before 1500.
Currently I’m almost done with Valerie Hansen’s The Silk Road: A New History. It should probably be subtitled A New Archaeology, since its focus is on the earlier period when texts are few and far between, but excavations are copious. One interesting thing that Hansen mentions is that Zoroastrian Sogdians in China seem to have developed on a different track from Zoroastrians in Iran. In particular, the shift toward a monotheistic conception of Zoroastrianism is far less in evidence the Sogdian form prevalent on the eastern end of the Silk Road. Again, this parallels later tendencies toward divergence of Islam within China (which has been rolled back by the spread of world-normative Islam more recently; see the Dao of Muhammad).
Evolution of resistance against CRISPR/Cas9 gene drive.
Haplotype block dynamics in hybrid populations.
Human germline mutation and the erratic molecular clock.
I’ll be at the Evolution Meeting next weekend.