Books that Changed Humanity is an initiative of the Humanities Research Centre, based at the Australian National University. The HRC invites experts to introduce and lead discussion of major texts from a variety of cultural traditions, all of which have informed the way we understand ourselves both individually and collectively as human beings.
Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses prompted widespread protest among Muslims when it appeared in 1988. It divided opinion in non-Muslim as well as Muslim circles, with many accusing the author of blasphemy while others admired its literary achievement and defended the author’s right to free speech. When Ayatollah Khomeini called for Rushdie’s death, the matter acquired an overt political dimension and, at the same time, was cited as evidence of engrained Islamic-Western antipathy. The central debate centred on the novel’s depiction of the Prophet, but controversy has persisted since then about the possibilities – and limits – of cross-cultural sensitivity, freedom of expression in Islam, and artistic self-censorship. All members of the public are welcome to come, listen, and share their thoughts about some great works of literature over a friendly glass of wine.
James Piscatori is Professor at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, ANU, and was, until 2016, Professor and Head of the School of International Affairs at Durham University in the United Kingdom. Previously, he was Fellow of Wadham College, University of Oxford. Professor Piscatori is the author of Islam in a World of Nation-States; Muslim Politics; and ‘The Rushdie Affair and the Politics of Ambiguity’. He has held research grants from the Ford Foundation, British Academy, Economic and Social Research Council (UK), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK), and the Australian Research Council.