Ian Almond


On his book History of Islam in German Thought: From Leibniz to Nietzsche

Cover Interview of December 21, 2009

In a nutshell

This book is about the reception of the Muslim world in the works of eight major German thinkers, but differs from other histories of ideas on two points.  First of all, it does not consider each of these thinkers as a clear and consistent Self, a single author who had a single response to Islam. On the contrary, I treat each author as a collection of multiple selves, each of whom had very different things to say about Islam at different times.

In the chapter on Gottfried Leibniz, for example, you will really read about three Leibnizes: Leibniz’s response to Islam as a Christian thinker, as a political theorist, and as a philologist.  Leibniz, in all of these modes, had very different things to say about a faith he sometimes saw as a monster, a political rival, a corrupted version of a natural theology, and as a useful source of historical information.

The second central argument tries to show how much more German thinkers knew about the Muslim world than they let on, and how they were all-too-familiar with a sophisticated picture of their Ottoman neighbours, even if they never allowed this to impinge upon their writing.  There is a truly remarkable disconnect between the kind of information mainstream intellectuals had about the Turks and the clichés and stereotypes they chose to perpetuate in their writing.  It would be like living next door to a family of poets and teachers for years, and yet still holding to the conviction that they were farmers and manual labourers.