A very Concise Introduction

НазваниеA very Concise Introduction
Дата конвертации19.04.2013
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Religious Decline or Religious Reorganisation?

The continuing strength of religion in the United States, the vibrancy of new religious movements, and the continuing role conservative Protestants continue to play in US political culture raises the question whether religion really declining in the West? If those who see religious decline in the West are looking in the wrong place where can we look for evidence that religion is not dying? Some sociologists and historians argue that mainstream religion is certainly declining but that “non-traditional” forms of religion like independent denominations, mega-churches, and New Age faiths are, on the other hand, vibrant and sometimes growing.

When one looks at data on religious belief rather than religious attendance in the United States, for instance, it is not clear that a sense of being religious is declining. In fact, if you look at data collected by the General Social Survey it is clear that those who don’t go to church but who claim to be religious is rising. In 1944 10% of those who didn’t attend religious meetings claimed to be religious. The percentage in 200 was 54%.

What this suggests is that in a pluralistic society like the United States many of those who see themselves as religious no longer identify with specific denominations. They seem to be instead creating custom-made religions for themselves. They are, to use a term McGuire and Beckwith borrow from social anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss bricoleurs.

As an aside, the notion that individuals were loyal to specific religious communities in the past and that they bought into official religious ideology has undoubtedly been exaggerated. The religions of India and China with their mixture of household cults, memorial shrines, and ethical teachings have usually allowed a great deal of religious bricolage and diversity though thanks to the rise of Hindu nationalism in India this may be, at least officially, on the decline.

Religion as Supply Side Economics?

One group of religious analysts who don’t buy into the notion that religion in both its social and ideological forms is declining, at least in the US, are those who argue that religion in pluralistic societies operates much like economic supply and demand models. And they use the arguments of secularization theorists that disestablishment and the privitisation of religion have led to religious decline and secularization against them.

Rodney Stark and Roger Finke (Churching of America), for instance, argue that the religious landscape in pluralistic America, a landscape where what state churches the US had were largely ineffective in establishing their power and position and of limited duration is significantly different from that of Europe where Catholic and Orthodox and later Protestant bodies became state churches throughout the continent. And they argue that since America instituted disestablishment religion has strengthened rather than declined in the United States. Finke and Stark seem to have the numbers to support their argument: in 1789, the year America enacted its Constitution, only 10% of Americans belonged to a religious body. By 1890 this number grew to 22%. By the 1970s 60% of Americans were affiliated with religious organizations.

Stark and Finke, of course, want to explain this seeming correlation between disestablishment and religious growth. In the US—and, one might wonder in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—where there is no state church, no establishment, no religious monopolies, religious groups, write Stark and Finke, compete with one another in an open religious economic market and this competition has made at least some of them religious stronger because religious groups have to compete in order to satisfy the different religious tastes of different people. Unlike in religious monopoly situations where participation in the religious marketplace is required, the United States has an open religious market and, as a result, they claim, significant participation in its religious open market.

Stark and Finke are not the only social scientists to see religion in the United States as a marketplace of religious ideas. Americans, claims social scientist Ward Clark Roof (A Generation of Seekers: The Spiritual Journey’s of the Baby Boom Generation, 1993), have become in the free religious marketplace of the US, religious consumers. One-third of Americans, Roof found, switch religious affiliation and nearly one-third of these switch religious affiliation more than once. 16% of 12-17 year olds actually belong to more than one congregation at once suggesting that they are trying on religions.

For Dean Kelley and Stark and Finke one of the keys to understanding the operation of this religious marketplace has to do with religious commitment. Kelley and Stark and Finke hypothesise that since religious people seek to maximize their religious gains, religious seekers tend to gravitate toward those groups which demand or ask a lot of their consumers or clients. Since such strict religious groups contain few if any free riders, those members who reap all the benefits of belonging to a religious group without paying the costs associated with participating, the reward for being a member of such a group is significant. Exclusivity, they claim, generates religious organizational strength. And exclusivity and the demands it makes means that those who join them are more likely to stick with the group because of how much it “costs” to join.

Stark’s and Finke’s arguments seem to be borne out by the strength of religion in the contemporary United States. Surveys show that 86% of Americans claim to be affiliated with some religion, that some 66% of Americans attend religious services regularly (compared to 40% in Canada, 38% in Spain, 25% in the UK, and 25% in Australia) that 92% of Americans claim to believe in God, that 50% of Americans claim that god is important in their lives, that some 77% of Americans claim to believe in hell, that 58% of Americans believe in the devil, and that 33% of Americans believe the Bible is the literal word of god (ironically only one-half of these can name the first book of the Bible). There are around 280 denominations and some 300,000 congregations in the US. 53% of these are Protestant (down from 80% in 1900 so the US is less Protestant than it used to be). 26.3% of these are White Protestants who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and the need for members and converts to have a born again conversion experience. Around 25% of these are Catholics. 2% are Jewish. 11% are Orthodox Christian, Mormon Christian, and Muslim. 16% of Americans are Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Jains, Muslims, Sikhs, Baha’i’s, Confucians, Pagans, Taoists, Zoroastrians, and Atheists. Only 9% of Americans say they have no religious affiliation. These religious Americans gave $106.9 billion dollars to religious organizations in 2008, most of it presumably tax free.

This doesn’t mean that there is good news for every religious group in the United States. There has been, as surveys indicate, a decline between 1950 and today in some religious groups in the United States and an increase in others. Moderate and Liberal Protestant groups such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church (which lost some 5 million members), the United Methodist Church (which has lost about 48% of its members), the United Church of Christ (the old Congregational Church which lost some 1.6 million members, a decline of around 20%), the Anglican or Episcopal Church (which lost some 2.4 million members, a decline of around 30%), the Presbyterian Church (which lost around 49% of its members), and the Disciples of Christ (which lost some 1 million members, about 45% of its members). All of these are groups that Finke and Stark claim have low levels of commitment. They also, of course, are aging.

Other American religious groups are declining as well. Jews who experienced growth thanks in large part to immigration throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries fell by 2% thanks to low birthrates, intermarriage, marriages between Jews and non-Jews, and assimilation. This decline has impacted all of the “denominations” within Jewish religious community, Reform (liberal), Conservative (moderate), and Orthodox (conservative). There has been a revival of interest among Jewish youth in Orthodox Jewish practises but Orthodoxy, even with the high birth rates of Orthodox Jews, isn’t following the pattern Finke and Stark found among conservative Protestants. Catholicism, which grew significantly in the late nineteenth and most of the twentieth century thanks in large part to immigration and high birth rates. fell in membership by some 1%. The increase in the numbers of Hispanic Catholics has offset, to some extent, the decline in European Catholics. The situation in the contemporary Roman Catholic Church is quite complex. There has also been a decline in obedience of Catholics to Catholic doctrines: one survey indicated that 96% of all Catholic women have used contraceptives despite official Catholic condemnations of contraceptive use.

While Moderate and Liberal Protestants were haemorrhageing members and Jews and Catholics were declining Conservative Protestant groups were growing. Southern Baptists grew by almost 15 million (around a 32% growth), the Church of the Nazarene gained some 560,000 members (around a 42% increase), Seventh Day Adventists grew by some 700,000 (around a 90% increase), the Assemblies of God grew by some 1.2 million (a 120% increase), Mormons grew by 4.1 million (a 130% increase), and the Church of God grew by 582, 000 (a 180% increase). Overall Conservative Protestant groups, groups that Finke and Stark claim demand deep loyalty and commitment, and which are also highly missionary oriented, were up by almost 13%. It is also worth mentioning that new religious movements continue to emerge in American society suggesting that religion and spirituality are far from dead in this industrial or post-industrial society. Ironically, another group that was growing in the United States was those with no religion. No religion grew from 8% to 14% between 1990 and 2000.

Contra Secularisation

Secularisation theory really began to fall into disfavour in the 1970s and 1980s as multilinear evolution and multiculturalism began to dominate intellectual and academic culture in the West. In an intellectual environment where every culture was regarded as an adaptation to a specific environment secularization theory seemed too strongly tied to an ideology of unilinear evolution in which the West was the pinnacle of civilization. It must be said that secularization theory often meshed with notions of scientific superiority and Western achievement but secularization remained, at its heart, a non-linear historical approach to historical change.

All of this, claim Rodney Stark and William Simms Bainbridge, who have led the academic charge against secularization theory, show that secularization is a myth. At the heart of Stark’s and Bainbridge’s The Future of Religion is the contention that secularization is a fiction. Secularisation may, they write, impact religion but it will not kill it. Yes, say Stark and Bainbridge, mainstream liberal and moderate denominations like the Anglican Church, the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, the Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian have been in a state of demographic decline since their heyday in the 1950s. But, while the category “no religion”, a category that isn’t synonymous with atheism alone but also with those who are spiritual but not part of any religious group, has grown and is growing, that doesn’t’ mean that religion in general is in a state of decline as the prophets of positivism predicted hundreds of years ago.

In fact, claim Stark and Bainbridge, the data they have collected in the 1970s and 1980s, imperfect though it may be, shows that religion is alive and well and thriving in the modern world. Liberal and moderate churches are, as we say, declining but, as the data noted above show, conservative varieties of Christian churches are actually growing. Sects are alive and well in places inhospitable to “exotic” religions such as cults, places like Tennessee, the state with the highest number of sects per million in the US and particularly in Stark’s and Bainbridge’s East South Central (Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky) with a rate of 3.19 sects per million in population). The only region that seems very inhospitable to sects in the US is New England with a rate of .25 sects per million of population. Stark and Bainbridge explain the decline of sects in New England, is was once a hotbed of sect activity in the Colonial period, as a result of migration out of New England of sectarians and the in-migration of Catholics from overseas.

Cults are also, as Stark and Bainbridge show in their analysis of data from the 1920s and 1970s and 80s alive and well not only in the US but also in Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. The areas of the US, Canada, the UK, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand (the latter has the highest cults per million rates among the listed nations) that are particularly hospitable to new religious groups are the US and Canadian Wests. The Pacific region (California, Oregon, and California) have a cults per million rate of 6.6. The South, where there once were laws against “deviant” religious groups have the lowest rates: 0.5 in the East South Central, 0.9 in the West South Central (Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas), and 1.4 in the South Atlantic (Florida, the Carolinas, Maryland, and Delaware). In Canada cults are strongest in British Columbia, the part of Canada which also has the highest rate of no religions. In the UK and Europe, where no religions have reached significant numbers in Scandinavia and Northern Europe cults have found the most fertile soil in Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Cults are active in the highly secular and increasingly diverse nation of France. Geneva, Switzerland, with its language and religious diversity, is a hotbed of cult activity. In Australia the diverse urban community of Melbourne is a hotbed of cult activity. In New Zealand the Mormon cult has had tremendous success in the Maori community. Spain, where any religion but the Catholic religion was outlawed until 1967—state repression can limit sects and cults and force them underground—and areas with still vibrant formerly state churches like Italy are not hospitable to cult activity. Nor are sects and cults particularly strong in areas with strong leftist political culture—left politics, claim Stark and Bainbridge, divert religious impulses.

It is clear when looking at the statistics above that the religious vibrancy in the US means that religion in the US is more like religion in developing nations like India than to developed nations like advanced industrial or post industrial nations Sweden, Germany, France, the UK, and sixteen other advanced industrial nations where religious affiliation and religious attendance, but not spirituality, are on the decline. That many intellectuals and scholars in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s saw secularization where there was religious vibrancy and religious reorganization is probably due to the ideology of the end of ideology, a theory that proved popular with intellectuals in the United States during those years. This end of religious ideology in an America where ideology itself had died is probably best represented in Will Herberg’s book Protestant-Catholic-Jew in 1955. For Herberg religion in America, like America itself, was becoming liberal.

Contra Religious Economics

Not everyone finds the religious economy approach of Larry Iannaccone and Stark and Finke compelling. Some social scientists counter the religious economy by arguing that many if not most people do not choose their religion “rationally” (the notion that humans are rational and make rational choices, of course, is at the heart of most contemporary economic theory). Ward Clark Roof’s study of fourteen hundred baby boomers (A Generation of Seekers: The Spiritual Journey’s of the Baby Boom Generation, Harper, 1993) found that one-third of his sample remained loyal to the childhood of their faith, one-third continued to profess the beliefs of their childhood though they no longer belonged to a religious organization, and the final one-third made the sort of choices expected if religion was the product of rational choice. Religious choice, in other words, seems to be less rational choice than the product of family tradition and family socialization. Additionally, those who identified with a religious group declined from 90% in 1990 to 81% in 2000 (B.A. Kosmin, Research Report: The National Survey of Religious Identification, 1991). As to the growth of new religious movements, as some point out, such groups are generally marginal and are more like a hobby for those who are involved in them. This is hardly a religion of strong devotion as Stark and Finke imagine.

Nor is everyone taken with the notion that it is religious groups that require high levels of commitment from their members that are growing. High commitment groups like the Amish, the Mennonites, the Hutterites, may be growing but most of that growth is from birth rate increases. The commitments these groups require from members don’t, in fact, seem all that appealing to religious “consumers”. High commitment groups like the Quakers, and the Westboro Baptist Church aren’t growing either again, one presumes, that the religion they are selling isn’t particularly appealing to the majority of America’s religious consumers. Presumably other factors are at play in why some high commitment groups are growing while others aren’t. Politics? As social insurance liberalism flowed in the period between WWII and the 1970s the moderate and liberal churches in the US grew. When social insurance liberalism ebbed after the 1970s moderate and liberal churches declined while conservative churches, which were always out there in the religious marketplace, began to grow and once again began to be noticed by the media and politicians.

The Clash of Civilisations and Religions?

With the end of the Cold War others began to jump on the religion is still important in the modern world bandwagon. The Cold War and the advent of the “war against mostly Islamic terror” has brought us another approach to what was going on broadly in the world. In 1992 Harvard Political Scientist gave a chapter which later appeared in the journal Foreign Affairs. It was entitled “The Clash of Civilisations”. Huntington’s essay, which was later turned into a book called The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of the World Order, was a response to a book by Hegelian political theorist Francis Fukayama’s The End of History and the Last Man. Fukayama argued that in the West had triumphed in the Cold War and that the conflict of that era was a thing of the past. The Hegelian end of history had come to pass. Huntington, however, begged to differ arguing that the end of the Cold War let loose other conflicts in the world, specifically a conflict between civilizations, conflict between Western Christian civilizations, Orthodox Christian civilizations, Muslim civilizations, Sub-Saharan African civilizations, Hindu civilizations, Buddhist civilizations, and Sinic civlisations.

For a map of the “clash of civilizations” see


Not everyone was enamoured of Huntington’s broad conceptualization of civilizational conflict. Some argued that tensions between the West and Muslim, Asian, and Sub-Saharan African countries had to do with the legacies of Western imperialism. Others argued that Huntington’s essay and book were theoretical justification for concerted Western action against possible threats for world dominance. Others argued that there were equally deep cleavages within cultures. For some one of the deep cleavages within cultures was one between “modernists” and “fundamentalists”.

There was a globalization of culture wars (or better a continuation of the global culture wars unleashed by the age of discovery, slavery, and colonialisation and imperialism). Some, like Samuel Huntington, saw a clash of civlisations as dominating the post-Cold War world. Huntington saw the clash between the modern, secular, multicultural, multi-gender, and tolerant, West and the traditional, paternalistic, patriarchal, intolerant Islamic world as the central tension in the post-Communist. For some 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq seemed to prove Huntington correct. What most commentators would admit about this post-Cold War world is that the United States was the last superpower standing with the collapse of the USSR and the unwillingness of Europe to build up its military forces. Like most superpowers before it the US behaved in that good old superpower way. For some America’s superpower status and its superpower actions rather than any clash of civlisations, was why there was so much animosity toward the US and, to a lesser extent America’s companion in superpower crimes the West, afoot in the “modern” world.

Global Fundamentalisms

It was in the wake of secularization theory and the clash of cultures that the term fundamentalism began to take on new meaning. Intellectuals and academics now began to wonder whether the term could be used beyond the boundaries of the United States to describe counter-secularisation movements or movements opposed to the secular and supposedly tolerant West. Can the term fundamentalism, for example, as Malise Ruthven maintains in his Fundamentalism: A Very Short Introduction, be used to describe groups around the globe who are traditionalists, who are scriptural literalists whether their devotion is to the literal “truth” of the Tanakh, the Christian Bible, the Quran, Hindu religious traditions, or the scriptures of the Baha’i faith, who are critical of feminist and homosexual rights movement, who want to control women, who are generally theocratic, and oftentimes, in the modern world, nationalist? And some scholars begin to wonder whether or not these global fundamentalisms were forms of nationalism, products of nationalism, nationalist reactions to, at least in part, Western colonization and Western imperialism including cultural imperialism, fears of losing their identity and being eliminated as a result of this perceived onslaught of the West. Are fundamentalisms, as Malise Ruthven maintains, nationalist cosmic purification and revival movements.

If we broaden out our conception of fundamentalism in this way then Christian Fundamentalism has not and has never been the only fundamentalist game in town. One can also speak of Islamic Fundamentalism, Jewish Fundamentalism, Baha’i Fundamentalism, Hindu Fundamentalism (with its sometime practise of sati, widow burning, where women by force or choice immolate themselves on their husbands funeral pyre, despite it being illegal since the late 1980s in India), Sikh Fundamentalism, and Buddhist Fundamentalism.

Islamic fundamentalism has gotten a lot of attention in the wake of 9/11, that day in September 2001 when Islamic “extremists”, flew three planes into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. For some Islamic revival movements were a reaction to and were influenced by Western imperialism. For others Islamic revival movements are sectarian movements that arose to try to purify a faith that had fallen away from the Islam of the Prophet.

So when did Islamic fundamentalism arise? For some scholars Wahhabism, founded in the 18th century by Mohammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, was the first funamentalist movement in Islam. But this assertion, of course, begs the question of what fundamentalism is and begs the question that if fundamentalisms are literalist, theocratic, ethnocentric, and anti-woman weren’t Islam, Judaism, and Christianity “fundamentalist” in the first place? Wahhab and Wahhabism maintained that all changes to Islam and the Quran since the 9th century are illegitimate and need to be expunged. Anyone who disagreed with Wahhab on this point was deemed a heretic by Wahhab who urged jihad against any and all of them. Wahhabism remained limited in its influence until the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early twentieth century. With the creation of Saudi Arabia in the wake of the British withdrawal from the region Wahhabism became the state religion of the new Saudi state. A set of religious rules were put in place which Saudis had to follow and which were enforced by the Saudi religious police and the Saudi eye for an eye legal code. The establishment of Wahhabism would, by the way, create its own tensions within the Saudi state as many true believers came to see the ostentatious and luxurious lifestyle of the House of Saud as inconsistent with the tenants of “true Islam”.

Where Wahhabism led other Islamic fundamentalisms follwed. Ahmed Barelvi (1786-1831) established Muslim networks throughout India and called for a jihad against infidel rulers. Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1839-1897), Mohamed Abdul (1845-1905), Mohammed Rashid Rida (1865-1935), and Mohammed Aqdal (1873-1938) all advocated varieties of pan-Islamicism as a way to protect Muslims from Western dominance and influence. Hasa al-Bana, a disciple of Rida, founded the Muslim Brotherhood to stimulate Islamic revival all across the Muslim world. The Brotherhood used political assassinations to achieve its goal of a pan-Islamic state guided by and founded on the principles of Islam, as they perceived it until they were outlawed by the Egyptian state in 1948. They would be the group that assassinated Sadat after he signed a peace treaty with Israel. Another source of Islamic revival, Islamic fundamentalism, and Islamic primitivism was the Deoband School in India founded in 1867 with its focus on shari’a law. By 1879 there would be 12 schools in British India influenced by the Deoband School. By 1967 there would be some 9000 schools influenced by Deoband fundamentalism across South Asia. Other Islamic fundamentalist movements arose in Pakistan including the Janniat-i-Ulema-i-Islami and Jamiat-i-Islami. It would be the madrassas or Islmaic schools of the Jamiat-i-Islami that would train many of the leading figures of the Taliban, Pakistani and Afghan.

Probably the most famous Islamic fundamentalist movement, at least in the wake of 9/11, is al-Qaida. Al-Qaida, the group founded by bin Laden, the public face of al-Qaida, and Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the strategist behind al-Qaida, was and is a reflection of its leaders, bin Laden, the Wahhabi Islamst and jihadist, and, Zawahiri, an Egyptian Islamist and jihadist. Bin Laden was born in 1957 and was the son of a wealthy and influential family who made its fortune through its ties to the Saudi royal family. Eventually bin Laden fell under the spell of Dr. Abdullah Azzan, who preached the need for Isalmic revival and jihad against Islam’s enemies in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union. Both bin Laden and Azzan would settle in Pakistan and take part in the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan mostly by raising money for the holy war cause. Bin Laden’s reputation grew during these years and he became a hero in the eyes of many who believed in both Islamic revival and jihad against the “infidel”.

Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri was born in Egypt to a prominent and wealthy family of intellectual elites, physicians, pharmacists, and chemists. Eventually, Zawahiri came under the spell of Sayyid Qutb, a born again jihadist and anti-Westerner, who had once gone to college in Greeley, Colorado. Influenced by Qutb and by the Arab defeat in the Six Day War with Israel Zawahiri soon became an Islamist, jihadist, and anti-Westerner and helped organize and unite the various Islamist factions that populated Egypt. His goal was to reform Egypt by instituting shari’a law in an Islamicised Egyptian state. Zawahiri believed that an Islamic Egypt would serve as, to borrow a phrase from Atlantic Puritanism, a city on a hill to the rest of the Islamic world bringing about a revival of Islam, or rather a revival of what Zawahiri thought of as Islam, throughout the Islamic world. He planned to do this by having Islamists infiltrate important institutions in the Egyptian state. Zawahiri’s plans didn’t come to fruition, however. And after being arrested in the wake of the Egypt/Israel peace treaty in 1979 and the assassination of Eygyptian predident Anwar Sadat in 1981 Zawahiri fled to Pakistan and found a new cause to fight for, the jihad against the USSR in Afghanistan.

Jihad, thanks to a lot of foreign aid help from the US, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, won in Afghanistan. With their holy war against the Soviet infidel over many of the militant Islamists who made their way to Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight the holy war against the “infidel” returned to their home countries or got involved in other jihads against other “infidels” elsewhere. Some Afghan Arabs, as those who came from Arab countries to fight for the holy war against the Soviets, returned to home to Algeria where they aided the Front islamique de salut in their fight against rulers who they regarded as not Muslim enough. Some returned home to Egypt where they aided groups like the Jamaah Islamiya in their fight against rulers who they didn’t regard as Muslim enough. Others headed to the Philippines where they aided Abu Sayyaf in their fight to establish a separatist Mulim state in the Philippines. Still others headed to Bosnia to help that Muslim dominated region in its fight against the Catholic Croats and the Christian Orthodox Serbians.

Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia. During the Gulf War he offered to organize a group of men to protect the Arabia from any Iraqi threat. When the Saudi rulers invited the Americans in to protect their oil fields instead bin Laden attacked Saudi Arabia’s rulers. This, bin Laden’s support of British Islamic dissidents, and the threat of arrest by Saudi police led bin Laden to flee to the Islamist Sudan in 1991. There he established business ventures, which proved to be quite profitable, and, quite separately, jihadist organizations to fight the “infidels” wherever they might be. Charities were used, in some cases, as a front for moving around jihadist funds. In 1994 bin Laden was stripped of his Saudi citizenship and the Saudis froze his bank accounts and stripped him of his assets. He managed to solve his resulting cash flow problems by obtaining funds from sympathetic wealthy businessmen from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait. Under pressure from the US and Saudi Arabia the Sudan offered to arrest bin Laden and when this didn’t pan out, they deported him. Bin Laden found a safe haven in the newly Talibanised Afghanistan in the late 1990s.

Zawahiri also returned to his homeland, Egypt, and began a campaign of violence with his Isamic Jihad against “infidels”. He was aided in this by the intelligence agency and military of the Islamist Sudan. In 1991 the Islamic Jihad killed the Egyptian interior minister. Then they attempted to assassinate Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak but failed killing 21 persons and a 12-year-old schoolgirl instead. Then they targeted Egypt’s Coptic Christians. When the Egyptian authorities captured the membership records of the Islamic Jihad, an organization in which, in classic guerilla insurgency fashion, the members of one cell had no knowledge about the membership and activities of other cells, hundreds and later thousands of Islamic jihadists were arrested.

Zawahiri managed to escape and began to travel the globe under a false passport helping Islamist groups in Austria, the Balkans, Dagestan in Russia, the Philippines, Argentina, Malaysia, Yemen, and Taiwan. Zawahiri was actually arrested by the Russians and served time in prison but was then released. Eventually, Zawahiri settled in the Sudan where he planned the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in response to the Egyptian crackdown on Islamists. When Zawahiri beheaded two boys who had been blackmailed by Egyptian intelligence to inform on Zawahiri the Sudan, under pressure from the US and Egypt expelled Zawahiri. Zawahiri found a home first in Pakistan and then in Taliban Afghanistan.

Al-Qaida had officially came into existence in February 1988 as the World Islamic Front for the Jihad Against the Jews and the Crusaders. With the merger in in 1998 al-Qaida and Egypt’s Islamic Jihad al-Qaida took their war against the “infidel” to another level. In March of 1998 40 Afghan ulema, a group of Islamic legal authorities, issued a fatwa calling for jihad against the United States and its followers. With the fatwa in hand Al-Qaida declaired holy war on the US and the West.

In the wake of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 the Sunni Taliban triumphed over the other factions trying to take control of Afghanistan. With their triumph the Taliban instituted a very strict form of Islam. Women were denied any role in Afghan public life, access to education, and were forced to wear the burqa which covered them from head to toe. Religious toleration disappeared as several historically important images of the Buddha were destroyed. Punishments for any violation of Islam were of the severe eye for an eye variety. One woman lost her thumb because she wore nail polish on it. It was in this Afghanistan that al-Qaida operated.

Thousands of Afghan Arabs and others from Pakistan, Central Asia, and Chechnya made their pilgrimage to Taliban Afghanistan to join al-Qaida’s cause. There they trained in the fine arts of bomb making, disguise, intelligence gathering, sabotage, and abduction in one of al-Qaida’s four training camps and were formed into a motivated and disciplined guerilla fighting force. Five years before 9/11 there were probably around 11,000 jihadists who had been trained by al-Qaida.

It would be a mistake, as information obtained from al-Qaida operatives or fellow travelers in the US and Europe, to think of Al-Qaida as a top down operation operated by bin Laden or Zawahiri. Al-Qaida did have committees for military actions, which proposed and organized attacks on the West, for fund raising, for intelligence gathering, and for political affairs but al-Qaida operatives and their affiliated organizations didn’t take direction from bin Laden. They took direction rather from from his rhetoric. Al-Quaida was largely a facilitator of jihadist actions by Egyptians, Pakistanis, Tanzanians, Algerians, French men and women, Palestinians, Tunisians, and others against the West not its planner.

The jihad of al-Qaida and its fellow travelers was a global war. Al-Qaida was apparently responsible for the truck bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. They were probably behind the downing of an American helicopter in Somalia and the killing of American troops during the resulting firefight. They were apparently behind the killing of US servicemen in Saudi Arabia in 1995. They were apparently behind the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. They were apparently behind the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. The Americans responded by bombing Al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia hoping to kill bin Laden. They didn’t. What they did accomplish was to turn bin Laden into even more of a hero in the Islamic cause than he had been before. Then on 11 September 2001 al-Qaida took its jihad to a new level when several Islamists with connections to al-Qaida, most of them from Saudi Arabia, flew hijacked planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. A fourth plane was brought down in a field in Pennsylvania thanks to passengers and was thought by many to be on the way to the White House or Capitol. Millions watched it all on TV including the collapse of the Twin Towers on throughout the US and around the world.

On 9/11 see http://911digitalarchive.org/

In the days after the 9/11 some Bush administration officials and some pundits claimed Iraq was responsible for the attack but it soon became clear that it was the work of Al-Qaida. Bush declared his “war on terror” to take on al-Qaida and other anti-American and anti-Western Islamist groups throughout the world. Despite the success of America and its allies, which included Saudi Arabia, the Islamist guerilla war against the “decadent West” has continued despite the death of bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011. In 2002 al-Qaida and its fellow travelers were apparently behind the bombing of a Jewish synagogue in Tunisa. In the same year they were apparently responsible for an attack on a French ship off Yemen. In the same year they were apparently responsible for a bombing of a nightclub in Bali filled with Western tourists. In 2009 they were apparently behind the attack on Christians in Pakistan.

There have, of course, been tensions between the West and Islam ever since Muslims captured the Holy Land from the Christian Byzantines. These long standing tensions have continued into the modern world. There have been tensions between “natives” and Muslims in places like France, Norway, and the Netherlands since the 1980s and beyond. In 2005 Muslim riots broke out in the banlieues, Muslim ghettos, outside of Paris and in other urban areas of France. Protesters complained about their lack of job opportunities, prejudice against them, and mandates of the secular French state which refused to allow Muslim schoolgirls to wear their religious headscarves at school. In Great Britain in September of 1988 the novel of the Indian born writer Salman Rushdie entitled The Satanic Verses, stirred controversy because of what some in the Islamic world saw as an irreverent description of the prophet Muhammad. Bookstores were bombed in reprisal and in February of 1989 Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, a death order, against Rushdie for this perceived slur against the prophet. An Iranian businessman put a bounty on Rushdie’s head. Rushdie would live under the threat of death well into the 2000s. In March of 2004 jihadists bombed commuter trains in Madrid, Spain. In the Netherlands in November of 2004 Theo van Gogh, a filmmaker and relative of the famous artist, was assassinated in Amsterdam after he and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali born critic of Islam and member of the Dutch parliament, made a film critical of Islamic patriarchy and its impact on Muslim women. In July of 2005 jihadists exploded bombs on London’s public transport system. In Denmark in September of 2005 the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad (Islam is iconoclastic and thus prohibits images of the “prophet”). Anti-Danish, anti-Western, protests, riots, boycotts, fatwas, death threats, and even threats of “terrorism” resulted. Some Western newspapers refused to reprint the editorial cartoons for fear of reprisals. All of this made some people wonder whether “tolerant” Europe and Islam, which demanded submission to its maximalist vision of Islam as the one true religion in Europe’s midst, could co-exist in new old Europe.

Explore the Jullands-Posten cartoons here


Back to the Modernist Future

Not every commentator, by the way, has seen modernization or modernity in negative hues. Karl Marx, for instance, saw capitalism, one of the if not the first incubators of modernity, as superior to feudalism in that it decreased inequalities. Cheerleaders for capitalism claimed that capitalism was improving people’s lives. Still others have claimed that modernity with its industrialization and capitalism have undermined local prejudices and inequalities. The modern Enlightenment, they claim, put the ideals of freedom and equality at the heart of Western ideological and political cultures at least rhetorically and spread these values around the globe. And while the Enlightenment may not have eliminated prejudice and discrimination in the world it did give us movements like the abolition movement, the anti-Nazi movement, the civil rights movement, and the human rights movement that tried to do just that.

In the end one might argue that the impact of modernity on our world can perhaps best be gauged by one simple fact: even the traditionalists who decry decadent Western modernity have been affected by and impacted by Enlightenment notions of freedom, liberty, and equality in its calls for Muslim liberation from Western influence and by its adaptation of modern technologies. Even Osama bin Laden used cell phones, computers, and modern weapons technologies developed initially in the decadent modern West.


So what should you take away from this chapter? Note how all of those processes that created the modern world have led to a reaction to aspects of the modern world they created particularly among “traditionalist” oriented religious groups.


Religion and Modernity

Talking History: Religion in US History, 3 July


Talking History: Jesus in the US, 6 October


Talking History: Secularism in the US, above 19 September


Gospel of Wealth

Talking History: Andrew Carnegie on the Gospel of Wealth, 8 June


Fundamentalists and Evangelicals

Billy Sunday


Billy Sunday Sermons


Aimee Semple McPherson opens the Angelus Temple


30 December 1927

Sister Aimee on Prohibition


Billy Graham Sermons



“Interview on the New Apostolic Reformation”, Rachel Tabachnick, Fresh Air, NPR, 24 August 2011


Rachel Tabachnik, “The Rise of Charismatic Dominionism”, Talk to Action, 15 August 2011


Evangelical Scandals

Jimmy Swaggert Sex Scandal, 1986


Jim and Tammy Bakker Sex and Financial Scandal 1987


Hooters, “Satellite”



Evangelical Outsiders

Louis Theroux, “The Most Hated Family in America”, BBC 2, 4 January 2007


Jesus Camp


Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, 2006

Religion and Science

Nova, “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial”, PBS, 2007


The Monkey Trial

Scopes Trial


Talking History: Larson on Scopes, 14 July


Talking History: Bryan Talks About Religion and Science, 14 July


Scene from the movie Inherit the Wind, 1960


Evangelicals React to Modernity

Ryan Lizza, “Leap of Faith: The Making of a Republican Frontrunner”


(On Michele Bachmann’s intellectual background)

Francis Schaeffer

“How Should We Then Live”


“Whatever Happened to the Human Race”


Faith and 9/11

Frontline, “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero”, PBS, 7 September 2011



World in Action, “The Shrinking World of L. Ron Hubbard”, 1968, ITV


Sources and Suggested Readings:

Mark Taylor (ed.); Critical Terms for Religious Studies

Meredith McGuire; Religion: The Social Context

Catharine Albanese: America: Religion and Religions

Timothy Miller (ed.); America’s Alternative Religions

Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, The Future of Religion: Secularization,

Revival, and Cult Formation

Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion

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