Norman Anderson and the Christian Mission to Modernise Islam


Western Christians in the twentieth century viewed Islam through a lens of social and political concerns that would have appeared novel to their medieval and early-modern predecessors. Concerns about the predicament of secular ‘modernity’ infused Christian discourse with distinct assumptions that shaped engagement with Islam in fundamentally new ways.

J. N. D. (Norman) Anderson (1908–94), a highly influential British Christian scholar of Islam, embodied this new orientation in his commitment to ‘modernise’ Islam. Anderson’s engagement with Islam as a missionary, intelligence agent, scholar of Islamic law and advisor to various Muslim governments, spanned multiple decades and continents. As well as shaping Western understandings of Islamic law and its application, he was involved in debates about the end of the British Empire and the transformation of Christian missions following formal decolonisation.

Because of Anderson’s location at the intersection of so many different debates concerning Islam, his life provides unique insights into the ways in which Christians reconfigured their response to Islam in the last century. Given Christianity’s continued influence on British and American ideas about Islam, this study provides crucial insight into the persistent focus on ‘modernising’ and ‘secularising’ Islam today.


‘[The book is] meticulously researched … and will appeal to those interested in Christian-Muslim relations, Islam, Islamic law, Orientalism, and missiology in the twentieth century, as well as in modern British intellectual and religious history more broadly.’ — Journal of British Studies

‘[A] thorough depiction of the ambitious efforts of Anderson and others like him who sought to advocate for the modernization of the Muslim world.’ — CHOICE

‘[A] valuable study.’ — Reading Religion

‘An excellent book … exhaustively researched.’ —  Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations Journal

‘Todd Thompson’s book is an illuminating study of Sir Norman Anderson, a prominent Evangelical layman in the twentieth-century Church of England. As a leading scholar of Islamic law, Anderson made a significant impact on policy while wrestling with the enduring theological issue of how Christians should relate to Muslims.’ — David Bebbington, Professor of History, University of Stirling and author of Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism in the United Kingdom during the Twentieth Century

An invaluable resource for anyone interested in Christian theological reflection on Islam, the relationship between the World of Islam and the West, or debates about Islamic Law, as they developed in the period between the 1930s and the 1980s.‘ — Hugh Goddard, Director of the Alwaleed Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World, University of Edinburgh

‘Todd Thompson does an excellent job in demonstrating Anderson’s continued relevance, with very useful insights into debates on what it means to be Muslim in the twenty-first century. This book will serve as an invaluable resource for Muslims and non-Muslims interested in the evolution of British colonial and Western cultural engagement with Islam.’ — John Azumah, Professor of World Christianity & Islam at Columbia Theological Seminary and author of Islam and Christianity on the Edge


Todd Thompson is Assistant Professor of History in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. His research focuses on the intersections of British and Middle Eastern history in the twentieth century as well as the comparative histories of Western and Middle-Eastern Christian engagement with Islam.

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