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Wilson Chacko Jacob

Wilson Chacko Jacob

The Wallace K. Ferguson Prize


Wilson Chacko Jacob, For God or Empire: Sayyid Fadl and the Indian Ocean World

Tracking the life of Sayyid Fadl (1825-1900) from India’s Malabar Coast to an imperial cemetery in Istanbul, Wilson Chacko Jacob’s book ventures far beyond political or spiritual biography. Indeed, the book upends conventional approaches to historical life-writing: For God or Empire is an inventive history of empires and states, along with the complex, “multi-vectored” geographic realm of the Indian Ocean itself. Ultimately, the book is a challenging experiment in historical theorizing on empire and sovereignty, drawing from the powerful paradoxes of Sufi thought. This can make for challenging reading, but that is precisely the point; even when disorienting, Jacob’s “methodology of the glimpse” is never less than exciting. The scholarship drawn together in For God or Empire is itself a lesson in thinking globally, differently, then and now: in this book we are led into, but never trapped by, imperial archives, but also a disparate range of other sources – even YouTube and Facebook. For God or Empire is a thought-provoking lesson in innovative historical theorizing and explanation: a truly path-breaking book.

Shortlisted Books

Fiona J. Griffiths, Nuns’ Priests’ Tales, Men and Salvation in Medieval Women’s Monastic Life (U of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).
David Morton, Age of Concrete: Housing and the Shape of Aspiration in the Capital of Mozambique (Ohio University Press, 2019).
Margaret E. Schotte, Sailing School: Navigating Science and Skill, 1550-1800 (Johns Hopkins UP, 2019).
Heidi J.S. Tworek, News from Germany: The Competition to Control World Communications, 1900-1945 (Harvard UP, 2019).