A British historian who specializes in Islam and religious thought was awarded the 2014 Holberg International Memorial Prize on Tuesday. Michael Cook won the NOK 4.5 million (USD 754,000) prize for his work, which the committee said “revealed new perspectives on the relationship between religion, politics and legal considerations.”
“For me this is totally unique,” Cook told newspaper Aftenposten. “This is really an important prize which comes from a place far away from the American research environment. I think it is tremendously encouraging because it gives me the feeling of having done something right.”
Cook said his interest in Islam comes from the fundamentally important role the religion has played in history. He has written several books which have been translated into dozens of languages, and his latest book Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective investigates why Islam holds a prominent role in modern politics.
Cook told Aftenposten the biggest misconception about Islam today is that the West tends to view it as either very good, or completely evil. “Neither of them are particularly useful,” he said. “It is because Islam pops up so often in the news, and much of that which is shown is oversimplified. Otherwise it is interesting to register that today extensive memory loss exists in the Islamic world about how Islam was in the past.”
The Holberg Prize is named after the academic and playwright Ludvig Holberg, who was born in Bergen in 1684. It was established in 2003, and is awarded each year to a researcher who has made outstanding contributions to the humanities, social sciences, law and theology.