A Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Münster, Thomas Bauer’s encyclopedic knowledge of Arab and Islamic history is on full display in his book A Culture of Ambiguity: An Alternative History of Islam. Winner of the prestigious Leibniz Prize, this book is not only a celebration of the concept of ambiguity in our lives but also a reorientation of Islam’s relationship with the West analyzed through the prism of ambiguity. While Bauer’s analysis of Islam, the West, and how each define themselves fundamentally through their relationship to ambiguity is undoubtedly thought-provoking, ultimately, the book’s argument—an all-out assault on the West and the pursuit of certainty—is a bit too extreme and less than convincing.

A necessary starting point for any analysis of Bauer’s book is his definition of ambiguity, and cultural ambiguity in particular, which he defines in the opening pages of the book:

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