Skip to content

Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment
A Global and Historical Comparison

$36.99 (P)

Award Winner
  • Date Published: September 2019
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108409476

$ 36.99 (P)

Add to cart Add to wishlist

Other available formats:
Hardback, eBook

Request examination copy

Instructors may request a copy of this title for examination

Product filter button
About the Authors
  • Why do Muslim-majority countries exhibit high levels of authoritarianism and low levels of socio-economic development in comparison to world averages? Ahmet T. Kuru criticizes explanations which point to Islam as the cause of this disparity, because Muslims were philosophically and socio-economically more developed than Western Europeans between the ninth and twelfth centuries. Nor was Western colonialism the cause: Muslims had already suffered political and socio-economic problems when colonization began. Kuru argues that Muslims had influential thinkers and merchants in their early history, when religious orthodoxy and military rule were prevalent in Europe. However, in the eleventh century, an alliance between orthodox Islamic scholars (the ulema) and military states began to emerge. This alliance gradually hindered intellectual and economic creativity by marginalizing intellectual and bourgeois classes in the Muslim world. This important study links its historical explanation to contemporary politics by showing that, to this day, ulema-state alliance still prevents creativity and competition in Muslim countries.

    • Proposes a comparative understanding of Muslim and Western European countries
    • Explains religious, social, and political developments in the Muslim world from history to present
    • Criticizes both essentialist and post-colonial explanations
    Read more


    • Joint winner of the 2020 Robert L. Jervis and Paul W. Schroeder Prize for the Best Book in International History and Politics, American Political Science Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    'In these pages can be found a grand solution to a grand problem - nothing less than The Islam Question, that is, why one religion is prone to violence, authoritarianism, and economic underdevelopment. Kuru sets out to refute the two most publicly prominent positions on this question, essentialism and post-colonialism, by unearthing centuries of political and economic development in Islam and discovering that its contemporary problems result from shifts in religious and political authority of many centuries past. In this courageous and compelling piece of scholarship, Kuru does for religion what great historical sociologists like Barrington Moore and Theda Skocpol did for democracy, dictatorship, and social revolution.' Daniel Philpott, University of Notre Dame

    'Generations of thinkers have puzzled over why the Muslim world, once intellectually creative and commercially vibrant, fell behind economically and came to symbolize repressive governance. In this meticulously researched, insightful, and provocative book, Ahmet T. Kuru attributes these interlinked transformations to complex alliances between religious officials and states. Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment will captivate scholars in many disciplines, and also the broader public interested in Islam’s intellectual, political, and economic roles through the ages.' Timur Kuran, Duke University, North Carolina

    'Ahmet T. Kuru offers a nuanced interpretation of the links between Islam and authoritarianism, in which the religion is not the culprit, but complex socio-political developments are to be blamed for the near-failure of Islamic societies to develop democracy and an innovative economy. His historical analysis sheds new light on a highly important and sensitive debate, and helps us to understand better the deep roots of the Islamic Sonderweg.' Jan Luiten van Zanden, Universiteit Utrecht, The Netherlands

    'In this far-ranging and original book, Ahmet T. Kuru explores just how it came to pass that the Muslim Middle East in the modern period experienced a dramatic decline in cultural and political dynamism relative to the societies of Western Europe. The question is one that has preoccupied comparative politics and historiography for more than a century. But no scholar has explored the issue with the sociological richness, comparative erudition, or depth of insight Kuru achieves in this book. This is one of the most important works in years on the politics and culture of Muslim modernity, and one that literally transforms the state of our knowledge.' Robert W. Hefner, Boston University

    'This volume is well suited for anyone interested in the Middle East, the Islamic world, or political and development theory.' J. Alkorani, Choice

    'Kuru … undertakes an ambitious and, on balance, successful analysis of the ills of the authoritarianism, economic backwardness, and religious violence that plague 49 Muslim-majority states.' John Waterbury, Foreign Affairs

    '[Kuru’s] central point concerning the damage caused by the entanglement of religious and political actors is a fresh and convincing perspective in a debate that has become circular and stale.' Claire Sadar, Ahval

    '[Kuru’s] book is a must-read study for anyone interested in political science, history and various other social science branches … I must stress the exhaustiveness of this book’s bibliography.' Ahmet Erdi Öztürk, Democratization

    ‘This book conveys a refreshing and nuanced historical analysis which emphasizes that understanding the historical roots of these problems leaves us better equipped not only in comprehending their full extent, but also in solving them.’ Therese Sefton, Journal of Peace Research

    'Kuru’s new book is a ground-breaking history and analysis of the evolution of the state in Muslim countries. Thoroughly researched and accessibly written.' James M. Dorsey, New Books Network

    'Without doubt, Kuru’s book is a must-read study and a pivotal source.' Abdelaziz El Amrani, Hespéris-Tamuda

    ‘… an excellent work. Rich in details with academic vigor, the book will find its place on the shelves of various disciplines. Kuru’s engaging style makes the reading a rewarding, joyful experience.’ Mustafa Gurbuz, Arab Studies Quarterly

    ‘Ahmet Kuru has done an amazing job of navigating through the academic minefield with aplomb in answering some of the questions that many even would not dare to pose. This book is undoubtedly one of the best I have read for some time. Kuru’s work should be lauded and be part of essential reading for many areas of pedagogy.’ Dipak K. Gupta, Terrorism and Political Violence

    'Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment is a tour de force that lays out the broader context for the failures of the contemporary Muslim world and the ways in which religion can shape political outcomes.' A.Kadir Yildirim, Perspectives on Politics

    'A magnum opus; it appears to be a product of painstaking inquiries, enormous bibliographical research, nuanced historical comparisons, and interdisciplinary analyses.' Serhan Tanrıverdi, Turkish Studies

    See more reviews

    Customer reviews

    Not yet reviewed

    Be the first to review

    Review was not posted due to profanity


    , create a review

    (If you're not , sign out)

    Please enter the right captcha value
    Please enter a star rating.
    Your review must be a minimum of 12 words.

    How do you rate this item?


    Product details

    • Date Published: September 2019
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108409476
    • length: 316 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 19 mm
    • weight: 0.48kg
    • contains: 5 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Present:
    1. Violence and peace
    2. Authoritarianism and democracy
    3. Socio-economic underdevelopment and development
    Part II. History:
    4. Progress: scholars and merchants (seventh to eleventh centuries)
    5. Crisis: the invaders (twelfth to fourteenth centuries)
    6. Power: three Muslim empires (fifteenth to seventeenth centuries)
    7. Collapse: Western colonialism and Muslim reformists (eighteenth to nineteenth centuries)

  • Author

    Ahmet T. Kuru, San Diego State University
    Ahmet T. Kuru is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for Islamic and Arabic Studies at San Diego State University. He is the author of the award-winning Secularism and State Policies toward Religion: The United States, France, and Turkey (Cambridge, 2009) and co-editor (with Alfred Stepan) of Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey (2012). His works have been translated into Arabic, Chinese, French, and Turkish.


    • Joint winner of the 2020 Robert L. Jervis and Paul W. Schroeder Prize for the Best Book in International History and Politics, American Political Science Association
    • Honorable Mention, 2021 Distinguished Book Award, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion
    • 2022 One of the Times Literary Supplement Best Books of the Year

Sorry, this resource is locked

Please register or sign in to request access. If you are having problems accessing these resources please email

Register Sign in
Please note that this file is password protected. You will be asked to input your password on the next screen.

» Proceed

You are now leaving the Cambridge University Press website. Your eBook purchase and download will be completed by our partner Please see the permission section of the catalogue page for details of the print & copy limits on our eBooks.

Continue ×

Continue ×

Continue ×
warning icon

Turn stock notifications on?

You must be signed in to your Cambridge account to turn product stock notifications on or off.

Sign in Create a Cambridge account arrow icon

Find content that relates to you

Join us online

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Read more Close

Are you sure you want to delete your account?

This cannot be undone.


Thank you for your feedback which will help us improve our service.

If you requested a response, we will make sure to get back to you shortly.

Please fill in the required fields in your feedback submission.