Leor Halevi wins the J. Willard Hurst Book Prize for his book Modern Things on Trial

Leor Halevi’s book Modern Things on Trial: Islam’s Global and Material Reformation in the Age of Rida 1865 – 1935 has received the J. Willard Hurst Book Prize from the Law and Society Association. The annual prize is given to the best work in socio-legal history published the previous year.

Halevi is an associate professor of history and law at Vanderbilt University. He is also the author of Muhammad’s Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society.

His new book tells the story of the Islamic trails of technological and commercial innovations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. “As Muslim societies encountered novel commodities and technologies and Muslim consumers adopted such innovations as toilet paper, hot air balloons, gramophone records, brimmed hats and lottery tickets, these strange new things provoked profound religious debates and ultimately reformed Islamic practices,” Halevi said.

Halevi’s book uses the communications of an entrepreneurial Syrian interpreter of the shari’a, Rashid Rida, who founded an Islamic magazine after immigrating to Egypt, to explore how Muslims applied their Islamic faith to the challenges and changes of the modern age. Rida’s magazine, The Lighthouse, cultivated a prosperous readership of educated Muslims eager to know whether and how their scriptures sanctioned new technologies. “Rida reached an audience throughout the British Empire and beyond it, and he preached the message that by rediscovering Islam’s foundational spirit, the global community of Muslims would thrive and realize modernity’s religious and secular promises,” Halevi said.

Based on his study of Rida’s work and international correspondence, Halevi argues that Rida helped propel Islamic nations into the modern, global age by helping Muslims to navigate the religious entanglements with new commodities and technologies. His book sheds light on culture, commerce and consumption in Cairo and other British colonial cities while offering an account of Islam’s material transformation and the reformation of its legal tradition.

Halevi is the third member of Vanderbilt’s law faculty to receive the prestigious Hurst Book Prize. Daniel J. Sharfstein received the prize in 2012 for The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White (Penguin Press, 2011), which explored how Americans think about and experience race by chronicling the history of three families whose members crossed the color barrier from black to white. Kimberly Welch was a Hurst Prize co-winner in 2019 for her book Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South (University of North Carolina Press, 2018), which also received the 2019 Cromwell Prize from the American Society for Legal History and the 2018 James H. Broussard Best First Book Prize from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic.

Modern Things on Trial was published in 2019 by Columbia University Press.

Explore Story Topics