Book Reviews

Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship by Braham Levey Geoffrey, Modood Tariq (Sidney 2005)

ChoiceHow can secularism and religious pluralism be thought about oday? Can secularism accommodate changing social contexts and more importantly: the challenge of Islam? The contributors of this volume bringing their expertise in various fields of social, religious and political sciences to bear on the study of these questions agree that the answer to the second of these questions might be “Yes” - or rather “Yes, if…”.

The book is the result of a symposium held by the University of New South Wales in Sidney 2005 on Religion and Multicultural Citizenship. The editors are two renowned scholars, Geoffrey Braham Levey in the field of political theory and Tariq Modood in Sociology and Public policy and especially the latter can look back on a large number of publications on the subjects of this volume. In their inquiry on how to conceive liberalism, citizenship and its relation to secularism in a contemporary context, the contributors make the solution they suggest also their guiding principle: Reassessing secularism and religion in the light of the pragmatic question: How are multicultural democracies to be made to work?. The volume tries to break out of a discussion on the circular relationship between religion and the liberal state that simply opposes secularist to anti-secularist views. It attempts to re-think secularism from different angles and discuss its usefulness and possible forms in contemporary political and social contexts.

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Nine Parts of Desire, The Hidden World of Islamic Women (1994)

Brooks 2Geraldine Brooks is an Australian journalist and writer. She was born in 1955. After graduating, she worked as a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal in several countries undergoing conditions of war or civil conflict, for instance Bosnia or Somalia. In the 1990s, she spent six years in the Middle East, where she became famous for her coverage of the Gulf war.

Nine Parts of Desire, The Hidden World of Islamic Women is a first-hand account , written in dashing, journalistic style. It is a testimony, based on her own direct experience in the Middle East. Although it is considered to be a non-fictional story, it might have been somewhat fictionalized mainly to meet editorial requirements. As the book was first published in 1994: we can easily imagine that 20 years later, the situation in the Middle East must have changed. That is why we may wonder if the issues raised by G. Brooks are still as relevant as they were then.

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The Copts and the West (1439-1822), by Alastair Hamilton

The Copts 9












The Copts and the West est un livre d’Alastair Hamilton, fruit de ses recherches sur les relations scientifiques, culturelles, ecclésiologiques entre les Coptes et l’Occident, sur la période 1439-1822

 Au moyen d’une narration riche en anecdotes biographiques, l’ouvrage aborde les tentatives d’union, le développement de l’Eglise Catholique Copte, la concurrence entre protestants et catholiques dans le développement des études arabes et coptes, les biographies d’humanistes coptes ayant enseignés en Occident et finalement le rôle des études coptes dans le développement de l’égyptologie.

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Lydie Salvayre, d’une langue à l’autre…

indexLydie Salvayre a écrit le livre qu’elle devait écrire,  certainement un des livres – sinon le livre – de sa vie. Ce livre, Pas pleurer,  intensément, presque fébrilement habité de bout en bout, lui permet de remonter enfin triomphalement, mais aussi avec un certain détachement, aux origines, à l’aurore de sa vie, de son destin : en amont du moment où son devenir personnel allait être irréversiblement délité et en même temps comme encodé à rebours par un des événements historiques majeurs du XXème siècle : la révolution noyée dans le sang de la République espagnole de ‘36. Le sens de l’être, de notre sujet, est sans doute toujours déjà enfoui, occulté par l’histoire familiale, politique et sociétale, marquant à tout jamais notre subjectivité d’une empreinte collective dont nous luttons pour mettre à jour le sens. Mais chez certains individus, venus au monde à des moments charnières de l’Histoire, cela reste encore plus vrai que pour les autres. Ces êtres, lorsqu’ils accèdent à la parole, à la création, sont comme des paroles vivantes de l’Histoire. On pourrait dire qu’à leur insu – et même peut-être contre leur propre gré – ils ont pour destin de porter une parole censurée, mutilée, qui n’est pas seulement la leur, mais qu’ils ont comme charge paradoxale d’incarner et de transmettre en la dénouant enfin. C’est peut-être là ce qui fait la différence entre un(e) écrivain(e) et un lettré ou un idéologue gratte-papier.

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Book Review : Le syndrome islamiste et les mutations du capitalisme, par Ahmed Henni











English Abstract: Political Islamism is usually considered to be an ‘exotic phenomenon’ but is seldom explained in the light of economic dynamics and contemporary policies. Ahmed Henni has based his work on a wide range of statistical and historical data and sought to show how that trend is not so much the result of the Koran as it is that of petroleum-related activities and of the transformations of capitalism. The battle that is being fought for the underprivileged by political Islamism is no longer directed at property and the economic power that is derived from it; political sovereignty is the new target. Judicial claims and egalitarian aspirations do not aim to solve problems that are related to the improvement of standards of living of individuals: their goal is the equal redistribution of the income that comes from other entities. When wealth is based on income, it is granted in accordance with social status, not economic activity. That is the reason why social competition for status and position happens in redistribution rather than the production process. This form of Islamism that is commonly presented as political has expanded tremendously in the Gulf States, where oil income has enabled the latter to accumulate wealth and to become a major hub for consumption over the past few years.

Perçu comme un « phénomène exotique », l’ « islamisme politique », n’est que rarement expliqué à l’aune des dynamiques économiques et politiques contemporaines.

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Book Review: Camille Tarot – Le Symbolique et le Sacré. Théories de la Religion

Photo4244What’s at stake in the definition of Religion? Why should one feel the need today to devote 910 pages to this subject and its evolution during the 20th century in France? Camille Tarot’s Le Symbolique et le Sacré: Théories de la Religion [The Symbolic and the Sacred: Theories of Religion] answers these questions through a fascinating and pedagogical approach. His big book on the debate about the status of religion in French social thought sets a high standard for future discussions in the field.

A Close-up on French Sociology of Religion

In order to provide a general overview on the sociological debate evolving around the term of religion in the 20th century, Tarot makes use of what he calls the “scholastic mode of reasoning”. This translates into the quadripartite structure of his book: exposition of the problem, presentations of existing opinions on the subject, discussion of their validity, and finally, the establishment of the author’s own theory in the final part of the book.

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Book review: Marc Bordigoni, Gypsies, Tsiganes, Roma : received ideas about the Travel World

Roma 2Not a day goes by without seeing the Roma issue portrayed in one way or another on the news. On TV, on computer screens, on paper, the word seems to have spread everywhere. In cities such as Marseille, it’s nearly impossible to walk the streets without being asked for some food or money by people in all likelihood originating from Eastern Europe, and who may or may not be Roma..

  But who are the Roma? What does the word « Roma » even mean and what reality lies behind it?

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Beyond extremism: towards a Modern Islamic theology?

RB 2Nowadays, the perception of Islam in the Western world is often reduced to its most radical anti-modernist interpretations. But there is more to discover in an Islamic world whose plurality is unfortunately mostly underestimated in the media. Islam has more to offer than a conservative retreat from modernity. Radical thinking is not a privilege of traditionalistic mullahs but is also at the core of some of the most interesting research projects in the academic discourse on Islam. These radically modern interpretations of Islam are not without risks for the persons defending them. Their persisting determination merits a larger recognition of their work in the European discourse on Islam.

Introduction to a new Islam

Way before the Arab Spring revolutions and the outburst of liberal hopes in many Muslim dominated countries, Rachid Benzine devoted a work to these courageous commentators of the Islamic tradition. Presenting basically eight of these new thinkers, Benzine introduces us to a universe that is highly worth the discovery. Benzine who studied mainly under Mohammed Arkoun has published several works on Islam and the interpretation of its foundational texts. His book on the new thinkers of Islam has been translated into German but still awaits its translation into English.

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Symbolisme et Franc-Maconnerie/ Jean-Charles NEHR

NehrEnglish language abstract: Symbolism and Freemasonry / Jean-Charles NEHR

Publisher: A l’Orient, Paris 2008

Jean-Charles Nehr’s book confronts the rise of an obscurantist “symbolatry”. Considering the symbol as a tool, the author proposes a certain analysis of the function of symbolism in the frame of a progressive Freemasonry.

But this perspective doesn’t lead to any reduction of the symbol. It is rather an extension that puts its emphasis on the object being symbolized. The author shows that the freemason symbolism is a phenomenon sufficiently serious not to be lefts at the hands of the usual panegyrists of an ambiguous and obscurantist symbolism:

“A simple symbol is a tangible object that replaces or represents something else with the intention of a better understanding. So it’s an elevation of the importance of the object being symbolized (L. M. Sherwood) – without forgetting about the essential: the symbolism is a way to improve man as well as society.”

If symbolism plays a fundamental role in the history and the work of Freemasonry, it isn’t by any means an end or a goal in itself. It’s only a means, a tool at the disposition of a group of people who share the same ideal in a certain manner. Viewed from this angle, it’s the cement that binds the freemasons together in time and space. It binds them together and, at the same time, differentiates them from the strictly mundane order. The particularity of the masons’ symbolism is to reveal to the intelligence and to the heart that a better world is within reach.

Accordingly, the fundamental question is the following: Does Freemasonry still have something to offer? What is its project? Indeed, what would be the use of a symbolism, as beautiful as it may be, if it was based on an out-dated way of thinking and an empty humanism?

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