Northwestern Events Calendar


Wahhābism: The History of a Militant Islamic Movement: A Book Discussion with Cole Bunzel

When: Wednesday, October 25, 2023
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM CT

Where: 620 Library Place, 620 Library Place , Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Rebecca Shereikis   (847) 491-2598

Group: Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA)

Co-Sponsor: Middle East and North African Studies

Category: Academic, Fine Arts, Lectures & Meetings, Religious, Multicultural & Diversity, Global & Civic Engagement


Join ISITA for a talk by Cole M. Bunzel about his recent book, Wahhābism: The History of a Militant Islamic Movement (Princeton University Press, 2023)Lunch will be served at the talk.

[This talk is being held in conjunction with the Lansiné Kaba Symposium, celebrating the life and work of historian Lansiné Kaba (PhD, Northwestern, 1972), author of The Wahhabiyya: Islamic Reform and Politics in French West Africa, 1945-1960 (Northwestern University Press, 1974).  View the Symposium Schedule here.]

Abstract for Cole Bunzel's talk

In the mid-eighteenth century, a controversial Islamic movement arose in the central Arabian region of Najd that forever changed the political landscape of the Arabian Peninsula and the history of Islamic thought. Its founder, Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb, taught that most professed Muslims were polytheists due to their veneration of Islamic saints at tombs and gravesites. He preached that true Muslims, those who worship God alone, must show hatred and enmity toward these polytheists and fight them in jihād. In this book, Cole Bunzel tells the story of Wahhābism from its emergence in the 1740s to its taming and coopting by the modern Saudi state in the 1920s, and shows how its legacy endures in the ideologies of al-Qāʿida and the Islamic State.

Drawing on a wealth of primary source materials, Bunzel traces the origins of Wahhābī doctrine to the religious thought of medieval theologian Ibn Taymiyya and examines its development through several generations of Wahhābī scholars. While widely seen as heretical and schismatic, the movement nonetheless flourished in central Arabia, spreading across the peninsula under the political authority of the Āl Suʿūd dynasty until the invading Egyptian army crushed it in 1818. The militant Wahhābī ethos, however, persisted well into the early twentieth century, when the Saudi kingdom used Wahhābism to bolster its legitimacy.

Cole M. Bunzel is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. A historian and Arabist, he studies the history and contemporary affairs of the Islamic Middle East. His previous publications include From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State (Brookings Institution, 2015), The Kingdom and the Caliphate: Duel of the Islamic States (Carnegie Endowment, 2016), and Jihadism on Its Own Terms: Understanding a Movement (Hoover Institution, 2017).  

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