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Posted May 26, 2005

Book: Religion in History: Conflict, Conversion and Coexistence
Edited by: John Wolffe
Manchester University Press, UK, pp. 335

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

this is an integrated collection of essays by leading scholars that looks at issues of conflict, conversion and coexistence in the religious context since the third century.

The range of topics explores includes paganism and Christianity in the later Roman world, the Crusades, the impact of the Reformation in Britain and Ireland, subsequent Protestant-Catholic conflict, the Hindu Renaissance in nineteenth-century India, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Britain in the 1960s, women and the ministry, and Christianity, Judaism and the Holocaust.

The book concludes by offering a historical perspective in the world today.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The ‘clash of civilizations’ and the co-existence of religions

In 1993, an American expert in international relations, Samuel P. Huntington, published an article entitled ‘The clash of civilizations’, which, later expanded into a book, has been an influential interpretation of the global situation at the close of the twentieth century. Huntington’s central thesis was that in the future ‘The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural’ and ‘the fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.’ Religion, according to Huntington, is ‘a central defining characteristic of civilizations’. Accordingly he gave considerable attention to ‘la revanche de Dieu’, seeing it as pervading every continent and recasting human life, in reaction ‘against secularism, moral relativism and self-indulgence; and reaffirming ‘the values of order, discipline, work, mutual help, and human solidarity.’

While he perceived numerous potential clashes of civilizations, his dominant preoccupation was with what he saw between Islam an the west, seeing it as a ‘deeply conflictual’ and historically entrenched hostility between opposed cultural traditions, which was far more than a matter of ‘violent Islamic extremists’ and ‘fundamentalism’ being opposed by ‘the CIA or the U.S. Department of Defense.’

The view of relations between Islam and the west take in this chapter is a different one. Whereas, to revert to the three levels of explanation enunciated at the beginning, the emphasis here has been on specific movements and trends that led to a sense of confrontation at the end of the twentieth century, Huntington sees a general historical law of antagonism between Islam and the west. There is a danger that such a use of the second level of explanation by western opinion-formers could be self-fulling in shaping the attitudes of both western intelligentsia and popular opinion, in a parallel way to that in which Osama bin Laden’s use of the third level of explanation, explicit reference to the intervention and purposes of God, has helped him to mobilize wider Muslim support for his terrorist acts. Huntington’s argument, however, is problematic, not only because it is founded on a stereotyped view of Islam, but also because of his equation between Christianity and ‘the west.’ In reality, as we have seen, Christianity has become much more geographically and culturally widespread, while western culture has become less founded in Christianity, increasingly diverse, and accommodating to significant religious minorities, including Muslim ones. Such trends have deep historical roots in seventeenth-century Britain there had been some notably positive attitudes towards Jews and Muslims, just in the same period the Muslim Ottoman Empire allowed freedom of worship t Christians. If there is such a thing as a clash of civilizations, it is not the same thing as a clash of religions.

Indeed, the case studies explored in this volume include numerous future examples of coexistence, widespread both in time and space, between pagans and Christians in late fourth-century Palestine, between Hindus and Christians in nineteenth-century Calcutta. This last example is particularly suggestive in that it shows how creative interaction between two traditions established new religious directions that enriched and diversified both. Within Hinduism, the universalizing outlook promoted by Rammohun Roy and Vivekenanda was a significant counterweigh to the more exclusive and nationalist constructions of the tradition associated with Arya Samaj. Similarly, a rounded view of Muslim-Christian relations in the later twentieth century needs to move beyond seemingly polarized ‘fundamentalisms’ to recognize the enormous diversity of opinion in both traditions and acknowledge the genuine advances in dialogue made in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, even as in other quarters anti-Muslim and anti-western sentiments gathered momentum. Diversity within Judaism is apparent between the exclusive ethos of the haredim and Gush Emunim, and the advocacy by Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Orthodox Jews in British Commonwealth, of mutual recognition of the ‘dignity of difference’ as a means of avoiding the ‘clash of civilizations’. Sack’s view that religious diversity should be positively welcomed and fostered is especially significant coming from a man who represents a relatively conservative strand in his own tradition, and who explicitly repudiates relativism.

Thus at the dawn of the twenty-first century, as in the various earlier eras, there remains considerable scope for peaceful and mutually enriching coexistence. At the same time, the actuality and potential for conflict remains considerable. History provokes no blueprints for the future, but it does present some horrifying examples of how abrupt and extreme conflict can be, as in the degeneration of the largely peaceful, albeit, tense, coexistence of Christians and Jews in interwar Europe into the cataclysm of the Holocaust. There is no room for complacency, but neither is there need for despair.

Table of Contents:

1. Pagan and Christian in the third to fifth centuries
Janet Huskinson

2. Islam, Christianity and the crusades: rival monotheisms and monotheistic rivals
Jo Pearson

3. Post-Reformation Britain and Ireland: the churches of the British Isles 1560-1691
Anne Laurence

4. Contentious Christians: Protestant-Catholic conflict since the Reformation
John Wolffe

5. The Hindu Renaissance and notions of universal religion
Gwilym Beckerlegge

6. How the times they were a-changing: exploring the context of religious transformation in Britain in the 1960s
Gerald Parsons

7. Women, priesthood, and the ordained ministry in the Christian tradition
Susan Mumm

8. Christians, Jews and the Holocaust
K.Hannah Holtschneider

9. Religion, conflict and coexistence in Palestine/Israel
David Herbert

10. Religion and contemporary conflict in historical perspective
David Herbert and John Wolffe