Biography

I have spent much of my professional and personal life exploring the shifting boundaries between East and West, first on both sides of the Cold War divide and, for the past two decades, on the cusp between the Islamic and Western worlds. Over time, I have come to see the relationships between these seemingly polar fields as a problem not of geography or politics (or even geo-politics) but of thought, ideas, and knowledge – that is, as essential problems of epistemology.

This realization prompted me to leave behind more than 20 years as a foreign correspondent and editor, much of it in the Islamic world, and to complete a doctorate in sociology at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

Already, I had begun my journey from agency journalist to author with publication in 2003 of Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in 21st-Century Iran, co-authored with Geneive Abdo. My second book, The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization (2009), presents a narrative account of the West’s extensive borrowing from the medieval Arab and Muslim world.

Columbia University Press recently published my newest book, Islam Through Western Eyes: From the Crusades to the War on Terrorism.  This social history of ideas, based on my doctoral dissertation, attempts to explain the fact that Western images of Islam have remained to this day almost unchanged since they were first crafted from wartime propaganda at the time of the First Crusade, one thousand years ago.

Lately, I have shifted gears a bit to explore early American intellectual history as a way of uncovering the roots of today’s Digital Nation. America, and by extension much of the modern world, has lost touch with Classical notions of wisdom and mystery. This new book traces the trajectory of our national consciousness.

I have taught these and related ideas to students at Monash University, George Mason University, and, most recently, at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University.

Before beginning doctoral studies, I served as a foreign correspondent for the Reuters news agency, with posts in Moscow, during the collapse of the Soviet Union; in Turkey, during the rise of the first elected Islamist government; and in Tehran during the contentious presidency of Mohammad Khatami. I also worked as a senior editor in Reuters Washington bureau, before taking up my last foreign assignment, in Jakarta in 2006, covering radical Islamic movements across Southeast Asia.

In addition to my doctorate, I have a BA with Honors in Russian and History from Wesleyan University and was a Fellow at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute of Soviet Studies. I also studied at the Pushkin Institute of Russian language in Moscow.

About the Site

The state of public discussion, news coverage, and political debate only reinforces my conviction that the problems surrounding our world spring from of fundamental issues of thought, ideas and knowledge – that is, of epistemology.

This Web site first took shape as a way of detailing my work as I applied this notion to the history of ideas, to the so-called war on terrorism, and to the broader Western discourse of Islam. Since then, I have expanded this approach to pose broader questions: Why do we think about things the way we do? And what if we allowed ourselves to think differently?

The material on this site, along with its affiliated blogs, aspires to address those questions.