Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Michael Dumper's "Power, Piety, and People"

Michael Dumper is professor of Middle East politics at the University of Exeter. His many books include Jerusalem Unbound: Geography, History, and the Future of the Holy City (2014). His most recent edited volume is Contested Holy Cities: The Urban Dimension of Religious Conflicts (2019).

Dumper applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Power, Piety, and People: The Politics of Holy Cities in the Twenty-First Century, and reported the following:
Page 99 contrasts the actions of the Diocese of Cordoba, Spain with the actions of religious leaders in Banaras, India when they were confronted with events which questioned the pre-eminence of their religion in the city. The page then refers to my personal experience of ecclesiastical decision-making as the son of an Anglican bishop, before continuing to narrate a conversation with a senior clergyman in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate regarding their strategy of dealing with state authorities in Jerusalem over the centuries.

The Page 99 test works well for this book. It introduces the reader to what I regard as one of the distinctive features of the book as an academic work: its accessibility and ability to engage the reader. A few years ago I read WG Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn and also Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory and was amazed at the liberties they took with the conventional academic form, weaving personal observations, anecdotes and imaginary scenes into their examination of landscape, history and literature. It emboldened me to shake off the rather turgid cautious style I usually employed to become a bit more adventurous in the way I wrote.

So in this book, although it is thoroughly referenced and carefully argued (I still feel, even at this stage of my career, that I have to watch my back), I include travelogue, memoir, ethnographic observation, humour and ruminations with the result that it is more engaging than my previous writing. The book, covering Jerusalem, Cordoba, Banaras, Lhasa in Tibet and George Town in Malaysia, compares the management of religious conflicts in those cities and has ample scope to bring drama, colour and pageantry to the text. For example, in describing Muslim-Hindu tensions in George Town, although I was not present to observe a particular riot, I am able to draw a vivid picture of the violent night-time confrontation, partly based on reports but partly also based upon my own experience of similar tensions in Jerusalem and my own personal knowledge of everyday religious life in George Town. Page 99 gives a flavour of this way of writing which runs through the book.
Learn more about Power, Piety, and People at the Columbia University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Jerusalem Unbound.

--Marshal Zeringue