Interpreting Islam in China: Pilgrimage, Scripture, and Language in the Han Kitab. Oxford University Press. 2017.
Interpreting Islam in China explores the contours of the Sino-Islamic intellectual tradition through the works of some of its brightest luminaries in order to identify and explicate pivotal transitions in their engagement with the Islamic tradition. Three prominent Sino-Muslim authors are representative of major junctures within the history of Sino-Islamic thought and are used to illustrate discursive transformations within this tradition, Wang Daiyu 王岱輿 (1590-1658), the earliest important author; Liu Zhi 劉智 (1670-1724), the most prolific scholar; and Ma Dexin 馬德新 (1794-1874), the last major intellectual in pre-modern China. Through an analysis of the subjects of pilgrimage, scripture, and language this project fosters an exploration of broader issues of vernacularization, dialogics, translation, centers and peripheries, and tradition in their writings.
“Kristian Petersen contributes substantially to the intellectual and religious history of Islam in China by analyzing the Han Kitab through the lens of Religious Studies. Focused on themes of pilgrimage, scriptural translation, and the significance of the Arabic language, he skillfully attends to both the ideas and the contexts of three central Sino-Muslim thinkers. All three tried to reconnect their communities to what they perceived as a lost religious heritage, originally written in Arabic and Persian but lived and comprehended in Chinese. Petersen reconstructs an intellectual middle ground, a series of ‘dialogic environments,’ in which Islam made authentic and authoritative sense within Chinese culture at particular historical moments. Theoretically broad and contextually specific, he demonstrates that Chinese and Islamic civilizations have conversed, not simply clashed.”—Jonathan Lipman, Professor Emeritus of History, Mount Holyoke College, author of Familiar Strangers: A History of Muslims in Northwest China
“Through close readings, by turns contextual and deconstructive, of the writings of three leading Sino-Muslim scholars, Kristian Petersen unravels the translations and transfers that molded an Islam both in and for China. His case studies of the changing status of pilgrimage, scripture and sacred language among Han Kitab authors at once broadens the scope of Islamic Studies and deepens our understanding of world history by pursuing the intellectual traffic of inter-Asian interactions.”—Nile Green, UCLA, author of Sufism: A Global History
“With painstaking erudition and great care, Kristian Petersen uncovers and reconstructs many hitherto unknown bridges between Chinese Islam and the wider Islamic world. Interpreting Islam in China forges new ways of understanding and appreciating the Han Kitab, Chinese Islam’s enormous corpus, and introduces for the first time its last great author, Ma Dexin. A beautiful study of one of the remote corners of the Islamic world of thinking.”—Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, New York University, author of The Dao of Muhammad: A Cultural History of Muslims in Late Imperial China
It is “highly advisable especially for scholars who have no expertise on Islam in China to take his book seriously as a contribution to our understanding of how the Qurʾān was read and interpreted by Muslims throughout history, across space and language divides. … Petersen has taken great care, throughout the book, to go beyond a philological analysis of his sources and draw systematic conclusions that make his findings accessible, theoretically useful, and suitable for comparison with the development of Muslim scholarship, education, and scriptural exegesis in other regions of the world.
… We are still far from being able to write a history of Qurʾān translation or, more broadly, non-Arabic Muslim engagement with the Qurʾān. Books such as Petersen’s are important steps on the way to this goal. His thoughtful analysis, his insightful conclusions, and his broad reflections on the authors’ contexts, motives, and audiences provide ample potential for comparative readings.”—Johanna Pink, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, author of Muslim Qur’anic Interpretation Today: Media, Genealogies and Interpretive Communities
“Kristian Petersen’s new book is an excellent addition to the growing body of literature on the Sinophone Hui Muslims in imperial China. …The book is written in clear and accessible prose; there is no doubt that it can be used in classes for advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students. To anyone interested in an alternative—and rich—Islamic tradition lodged in the Chinese- speaking world, this book would prove an invaluable reference; and those who do have a genuine commitment to understanding China cultural and religious heterogeneity that is under increasing attack from both Han nationalists and a repressive state apparatus will be grateful for Petersen’s contribution.”—Guangtian Ha, Haverford College, author of Sound of Salvation: Voice, Gender and the Sufi Mediascape in China
“This excellent and eminently well-researched book systematically elucidates the contextual development of the fascinating Sino-Islamic philosophical tradition known as the Han Kitab. …Petersen systematically contextualizes Sino-Muslim thought to a degree not seen before, allowing him to effectively and insightfully illuminate the process of tradition creation within the Han Kitab while, simultaneously, demonstrating the value of localized interpretations of Islam. Petersen’s comparative treatment of his three authors is also a refreshing innovation; by allowing three prominent but very different Han Kitab writers to be laid out and analyzed side by side for the first time, Petersen deepens our understanding of how Sino-Islamic thought evolved. For these reasons alone, Petersen is to be applauded for his efforts.”—Alexander Wain, International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies
“Kristian Petersen’s new book, Interpreting Islam in China, is a masterful study of Sinophone Muslims in late imperial China. …It will no doubt join the groundbreaking volumes of Zvi Ben-Dor, Jonathan Lipman, Ma Tong, Wang Jianping, and many others in bringing to light voices from an important historical corner of the Islamic world.” – Tristan G. Brown, Massachusetts Institute of Technology