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Ancient Religions, Modern Politics

Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective

Michael Cook
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 560
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  • Book Info
    Ancient Religions, Modern Politics
    Book Description:

    Why does Islam play a larger role in contemporary politics than other religions? Is there something about the Islamic heritage that makes Muslims more likely than adherents of other faiths to invoke it in their political life? If so, what is it?Ancient Religions, Modern Politicsseeks to answer these questions by examining the roles of Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity in modern political life, placing special emphasis on the relevance-or irrelevance-of their heritages to today's social and political concerns.

    Michael Cook takes an in-depth, comparative look at political identity, social values, attitudes to warfare, views about the role of religion in various cultural domains, and conceptions of the polity. In all these fields he finds that the Islamic heritage offers richer resources for those engaged in current politics than either the Hindu or the Christian heritages. He uses this finding to explain the fact that, despite the existence of Hindu and Christian counterparts to some aspects of Islamism, the phenomenon as a whole is unique in the world today. The book also shows that fundamentalism-in the sense of a determination to return to the original sources of the religion-is politically more adaptive for Muslims than it is for Hindus or Christians.

    A sweeping comparative analysis by one of the world's leading scholars of premodern Islam,Ancient Religions, Modern Politicssheds important light on the relationship between the foundational texts of these three great religious traditions and the politics of their followers today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5027-3
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xx)
  4. Part One: Identity

    • Introduction to Part One
      (pp. 1-2)

      The preferred form of political identity in the modern world is belonging to a nation. In this conception, the world is made up of nations, just as the organization that brings them together is the “United Nations.” Each nation is entitled to its state, so that the basic building block of the international order is the nation state. This international order represents an extension to the world at large of a pattern that developed in Europe over a long period. France, for example, has been a nation state in some sense since the Middle Ages, Spain since the sixteenth century,...

    • CHAPTER 1 Islam and identity
      (pp. 3-52)

      What would be the outcome were the European conception of the nation state to encounter a tradition in which political identity had long been vested in religion rather than ethnicity? The traditional Islamic world did not lack for ethnic identities, and they certainly mattered in the political history of the region; but as will become clear in the course of an examination of several centuries of Islamic history, prevailing attitudes did not accord them the same normative status as they did to religious identity. In this setting the advent of the concept of the nation amounted to a decisive shift...

    • CHAPTER 2 Hinduism and identity
      (pp. 53-122)

      Who lives in South Asia? Of the present population of the region, between a quarter and a third are Muslims. They are, of course, very unevenly distributed: while Pakistan is as much as 97 percent Muslim and Bangladesh 83 percent, the census of 2001 showed the Muslims of India as only 13.4 percent.¹ Most of the rest of the population can be described as in some sense Hindu, with the obvious implication that it is mainly to be found in India. In this chapter it is the Hindus, not the Muslims, that are at the center of our attention, and...

    • CHAPTER 3 Catholicism and identity in Latin America
      (pp. 123-155)

      To get a sense that Catholicism might matter for political identity in Latin America, we need look no further than the Virgin of Guadalupe, and she will indeed be the first item on our agenda. But what if we do in fact persist in looking further? One can certainly muster some reasons to expect that Catholicism and political identity would interact strongly, but the actual record will show that by and large they do not. Our main task will then be to understand why this is so.

      One of the most dazzling contributions of religion to the articulation of national...

    • Conclusion to Part One
      (pp. 156-158)

      In September 1948 Indian troops put an end to the rule of the Niẓām of Hyderabad, defeating a militia that had pledged to “fight to the last to maintain the supremacy of Muslim power in the Deccan.” Earlier that year the leader of the militia had stated, “Wherever Muslim interests are affected, our interest and sympathy will go out.” The context was Pakistan, but he went on to include Palestine. He then extended the scope of his concern yet further: “Even if Muslim interests are affected in hell, our heart will go out in sympathy.”¹ This may not be quite...

  5. Part Two: Values

    • Introduction to Part Two
      (pp. 159-164)

      As the founder of a world religion, the figures with whom Muḥammad invites comparison are the Buddha and Jesus—in the nature of things he has no Hindu counterpart. Neither the Buddha nor Jesus could be reckoned a political innocent. When Ajātaśatru, the king of Magadha, planned to destroy the Vṛjjis, a thriving republican people of the day, he dispatched his chief minister to announce his intention to the Buddha and observe his reaction. The Buddha gave the minister an answer that endorsed the political traditions of the Vṛjjis while pointedly omitting to comment on the king’s plan to destroy...

    • CHAPTER 4 Society
      (pp. 165-214)

      When we sought to identify the assets and liabilities of our three religious heritages with regard to political identity, the only Western counterpart that required prior attention was nationalism. Once we turn to social values, however, things are more complicated. We have to reckon with two major axes along which social values may vary. On one axis the alternatives are egalitarianism and commitment to a hierarchic social order; on the other axis the contrast is between a high valuation of solidarity and a preference for a more loosely bound society, for example, one that leaves space for individualism. Combinations of...

    • CHAPTER 5 Warfare
      (pp. 215-248)

      Religious heritages differ widely in the stances they take toward warfare. We can easily illustrate the point with two contrasting Indian religions, Buddhism and Sikhism. On the Buddhist side one canonical text warns us that “a man or woman who kills living beings, who is murderous, who has blood on his or her hands, who is given to blows and violence, who is without pity for living beings” will earn a rebirth “in a state of misfortune, an unhappy place, a state of affliction, hell.”¹ In case anyone should think that soldiers might be professionally exempt from this fate, another...

    • CHAPTER 6 Divine jealousy
      (pp. 249-308)

      Several passages of the Pentateuch speak of the deity as “a jealous God.”¹ The point is always to warn the Israelites not to succumb to the temptations of idolatry or the worship of other gods; one passage makes particular mention of “the gods of the people which are round about you.”² In a monotheistic—or perhaps we should say monolatrist—religion this is naturally the primary domain of divine jealousy. But we could easily imagine such a god seeking to monopolize far more than just the cultic loyalties of his followers: in one way or another his jealousy might extend...

    • CHAPTER 7 Polity
      (pp. 309-360)

      After treating society, warfare, and the implications of divine jealousy, we now come to the polity. Here modern values have some very definite implications for the state and its citizens. They prescribe that the form of the state should be republican, democratic, and constitutional; if monarchy is to survive at all in this context, it should be a vestigial arrangement with no real impact on the way the political system functions, a monarchical republic.¹ At the same time modern values require that the citizens of the state enjoy liberty, equality, and some measure of fraternity—to go no further than...

    • Conclusion to Part Two
      (pp. 361-370)

      In 2005 Ayman al-Ẓawāhirī wrote a letter to the Jordanian Abū Muṣʿab al-Zarqāwī (d. 2006), the leader of al-Qāʿida in Mesopotamia.¹ It seems to be authentic: there is no specific reason to think it a forgery,² and it fits well with Ẓawāhirī’s worldview as we know it from other sources, notably the book he wrote for a potentially wide Muslim audience sometime before the time of the collapse of the Ṭālibān in 2001.³ The letter is a valuable text inasmuch as it is a communication from one jihadi to another, not meant for public consumption. It reveals its author to...

  6. Part Three: Fundamentalism

    • Introduction to Part Three
      (pp. 371-376)

      As is well known, the term “fundamentalist” was coined in 1920 by Curtis Lee Laws (d. 1946).¹ The editor of a Northern Baptist newspaper, Laws was commenting approvingly on the “Fundamentals Conference” that had recently been held in Buffalo. As he noted, this event had brought together a doctrinally varied assortment of North American Protestants: “pre-millennialists, post-millennialists, pro-millennialists and no-millennialists”—though he was happy to add that the group included no one who had repudiated “the blessed doctrine of the second coming of our Lord.” What those attending the conference represented was “in every sense a conservative movement,” and at...

    • CHAPTER 8 Islam and fundamentalism
      (pp. 377-398)

      The general observations on fundamentalism set out above provide us with several questions to ask about the Islamic case. Some relate to the formal structure of the tradition. Here we want to ascertain how far this structure has the potential to ease the formation of an Islamic fundamentalism, and how far this potential has in fact been realized by modern Muslims, in particular Islamists. Other questions are concerned with the substantive contents of the tradition. Here we want to know how far these contents render a fundamentalist tendency attractive in the contemporary world, and how far such a persuasion differs...

    • CHAPTER 9 Hinduism and fundamentalism
      (pp. 399-430)

      How do the issues discussed with respect to Islam in the previous chapter fare in the case of Hinduism? Formally, what would a Hindu fundamentalism look like, and has there been such a thing? Substantively, what is at stake for Hindus in the choice between the upstream and downstream options? Does the choice involve the gain or loss of identities and values that could be attractive in politics today? And what role, if any, does fundamentalism play in the religious politics of contemporary India?

      With regard to the last question, some writers refer to Hindu nationalism as “Hindu fundamentalism” or...

    • CHAPTER 10 Latin American Catholicism and fundamentalism
      (pp. 431-439)

      It was among Christians that the concept of fundamentalism was born. But the milieu in question was Protestant, not Catholic, and it could well be argued that the notion of a Catholic fundamentalism is a contradiction in terms. Even if it were not, one might reasonably hesitate to apply the term to Liberation Theology. And yet its central value is to an extent reminiscent of fundamentalism, and on the formal side it has a significant if indirect historical link to it. This is not enough to justify calling Liberation Theology fundamentalist, but it does make it worth including in the...

    • Conclusion to Part Three
      (pp. 440-442)

      It is in the nature of any enduring religion’s foundational texts that they were composed a long time ago in a very different environment. Hence, much of what they have to say is likely to be irrelevant to the conditions under which the adherents of the religion currently live, and some of it will be incompatible with them. Thus, for Christian fundamentalists, who see themselves as champions of family values in a morally reprobate America, it is not helpful to have Jesus say this: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and...

  7. Afterword
    (pp. 443-462)

    Half a century ago it was widely thought that in the modern world religion was doomed to fade away. This was a bold conjecture but by no means a silly one. With regard to Western Europe, after all, it continues to hold up rather well. Thus in Britain, historically a champion of embattled Protestantism, a book published a few years ago announced the death of Christianity¹—an exaggeration, perhaps, but not a gross one. In Spain, historically a bastion of intransigent Catholicism, Christianity is unquestionably alive, but it is only a shadow of its former self.² In both countries true...

    (pp. 463-468)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 469-516)
  10. Index
    (pp. 517-542)