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EWIC Reviews- Joyce

Reviewed By: Deirdre Joyce
Review of Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures: Vol. 1: Methodologies, Paradigms and Sources.
Published by: Feminist Collections Vol 25, No. 4 (Summer 2004)

The greatest challenge to the interdisciplinary researcher always seems to be the weaving of the disparate disciplinary threads into a coherently fabricated whole. As research on both women and Islamic cultures has moved, separately, to the forefront of scholarship in a variety of fields, Suad Joseph and her team of editors offer us a comprehensive encyclopedia that is a the intersection of both disciplines.

The Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures (EWIC) is an ambitious project that brings together the essays of more than a thousand scholars on myriad subjects relating to women, both Muslim and non-Muslim, who live or have lived in any one of the Islamic cultures scattered around the globe. In this first volume of the six volume set, EWIC provides a strong referential basis for the underlying historical ad methodological themes that have driven scholarship in this area. As such, Volume I is divided into two sections representing (1) the historical background of women living in Islamic cultures and (2) the disciplinary--or interdisciplinary--methodologies that interpret their experience.

Organized chronologically and regionally, the first section is not only an excellent historical reference tool, covering the junction of women and Islam from the sixth century to the present, but also an invaluable historiographical tool for any beginning researcher interested in finding out where and to what extent the primary and secondary sources exist. The second section offers a critical examination of various methodological themes and their usefulness to the study of women and Islamic cultures. These twenty-two themes include but are not limited to economics, folklore, orientalism, political science, sexualities and queer studies, and oral history.

In addition to these two major categories, the editors have compiled a bibliography that is arranged by region and cross-referenced by both author name and subject matter. This is particularly helpful to a beginning researcher putting together her or his own bibliography. In fact, for academics in the early stages of research, the entire volume provides an invaluable wealth of information and scholarly stimuli. General readers will also find this volume an essential starting point in understanding the complexities of issues informing the woman’s experience in Islamic culture.

Finally, while many readers may be inclined to skip the introduction of a work such as this (preferring to go directly to the entries), I would advise them to resist that inclination here. The introduction provides a fascinating look at the EWIC project as a whole and the editorial challenges it faced. On a more practical level, the introduction also serves as a very useful guide to the structure and organization of the volumes, thereby accelerating the researcher’s search for relevant information.

We are promised, in Volumes II—V, an additional 341 topics, grouped both regionally and as general overviews (Volume VI is the index). This mammoth project purports to tell us both anything and everything there is to know about women and Islamic cultures. As the field grows, the shortcomings in these volumes will undoubtedly be discovered and their usefulness will wane. Nevertheless, my suspicion is that the growth of the field will be greatly augmented by the hard work of the EWIC project’s authors and editors.

[Deirdre Joyce, who wrote this review, recently completed an M.A. in History at the University of Wisconsin—Madison and is currently working toward a second master’s degree in Library and Information Sciences.]


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