Book Reviews

Religious America, Secular Europe? by Peter Berger, Grace Davie and Effie Fokas. Ashgate, 2008, 168 pages

51IJZpVdmYL. SX299 BO1204203200 José Casanova was in the habit of saying that in Europe, 'religion is part of the problem whereas in the United States, it is part of the solution'. In highlighting this quotation, Peter Berger (Director of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs in Boston) is in fact raising the following question, which might well summarise his book: Can America be said to be religious, while Europe is secular? Religious America, Secular Europe, by Grace Davie (professor of sociology at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom) and Effie Fokas (member of the European Institute of the London School of Economics) was published in 2008.

The book consists of seven chapters. The first is a large introduction. The second is a presentation of the theme and a comparison between the two continents. The four arguments mobilized by Peter Berger in Chapter 2 are then developed through four variations: Contrasting Histories, Different Intellectual Traditions, Institutional Carriers, Religion and Social Difference.

The authors start by discarding the secularisation theory. Europe is secular because “it is European” and not because it is modern (p. 6): secularisation is extrinsic to the modernisation process.

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Qur’an and Woman Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective by Amina Wadud, 2nd ed, New York Oxford – Oxford University Press 1999, 118 p.

AW2L’ouvrage de Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman Reareading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, s’appuyant sur une perspective féminine, offre une lecture inclusive du Coran. Appartenant à un courant de réforme de l’islam appelé communément le féminisme islamique, Amina Wadud souhaite dans un premier temps, lire le Coran comme un texte ouvert et non figé. Elle développe également plusieurs outils herméneutiques qui s’inscrivent dans des préoccupations contemporaines. Ce qui l’amène dans un second temps, en mobilisant toujours le Coran, à défendre une égalité entre les hommes et les femmes ainsi que de fournir des concepts favorisant l’émancipation des femmes. Cet ouvrage permet donc de porter un autre regard sur la religion musulmane et son texte sacré.

The Qur’an does not talk by itself, it is humans who make it talk. Amina Wadud’s book summarizes this insight which is both complex and sensitive. Scholar of Qur’anic studies and Muslim theologian, Amina Wadud also embodies a reference within the Islamic feminist movement, Sisters in Islam. In the preface, we can notice a dedication to this movement. According to her, women in Muslim countries or in Muslim communities are relegated to the role of subject without agency. This relegation is mainly due to the androcentric reading of the Qur’an. She proposes to “make a ‘reading’ of the Qur’an that would be meaningful to women living in the modern era” (p.1).

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Book Review : Clifford Geertz, Islam Observed : Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia, The University of Chicago Press, 1971.

Clifford GeertzRésumé : L'ouvrage de Clifford Geertz, Observer l’islam. Changements religieux au Maroc et en Indonésie, a eu, après sa publication en 1967, un impact théorique profond sur les ethnologues de l'époque. L'auteur y étudie les modalités de pratique de l’Islam en se concentrant sur les changements religieux de deux pays : l’Indonésie et le Maroc, et en faisant le lien avec l’évolution de leurs institutions sociales et politiques. Le modèle général auquel parvient Geertz représente, un grand progrès pour l’anthropologie religieuse.

In 1967, the well-known anthropologist Clifford Geertz was commissioned by the Terry Foundation to deliver a series of lectures at Yale University, later to be published in book form. This study reports the evolutions in the practice of Islam, within two distant and contrasting local cultures, Indonesia and Morrocco. Geertz’s purpose was to understand and compare the life-styles linked to traditional Islam in both countries, and the shifts they underwent after Independence.

Geertz uses a distinctive approach since he went beyond Levi Strauss’ widely accepted structuralism, in an original application of Weberian methodology. The latter consists in an interpretative social science which deeply influenced his theoretical assumptions. Geertz starts from the premise that culture is an inherited conception of life expressed in symbols, “[…]by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and their attitudes toward life” 1. As religion is an inherent part of culture, modalities of religious faith are also characterized by these all but undetectable patterns of symbols. Through such symbols, religion creates a lifestyle, that is to say, a human being's way of life. A single shift in Indonesian or Moroccan society, could thus change the pattern of symbols there and thus change the practice of religion which will then itself generate a new way of living and thinking.

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The Sword and the Comma Or Down with Sibawah by Chérif Choubachy

CC3The Author: Cherif Choubachy is an Egyptian writer and journalist who was born in Alexandria.He lived in France for twenty-one years (from 1980 to 2001) where he worked as a civil servant for UNESCO and then became director of the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram's Paris office. In Egypt, he was a news anchor for the french-speaking TV news and also Vice-Minister of Culture (from 2002 to 2006).

In 20065, he published the book Down with Sibawayh ( translated into French and published in 2007 under the title Le sabre et la virgule) which caused a fierce controversy in the Arab world. Subsequent to official protests he even had to resign from the government in 2006. In his book Choubachy asserts that one of the principle reasons for the retardation of modernity in Arab societies is the Arabic language itself and its complex rules

The Book: The original title of Choubachy’s book was Down with Sibawayh (Sibawayh is considered to be the greatest grammarian of the Arabic language). This title is a bit provocative and immediately shows Choubachy's attitude, that of someone who is preaching a renewal of Arabic. This issue is something taboo in Arab societies, because the Arabic language is sacred, as it is the language chosen by God for his last revelation, the Koran. That being so, we can understand why some asserttions by Choubachy, such as “the Arabs are riding a camel along a motorway" or “the Arabs are not able to write their own languagecorrectly ” provoked violent reactions.

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Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Spring That Wasn't, by Toby MATTHIESEN

PR6Everybody remembers the Arab uprising as the biggest global turmoil since the collapse of the Soviet Union. These mass protests against authoritarian rule that swept the Arab world in 2011 have changed the Middle East forever. They have broken the common idea that Arab countries are fatally condemned to live under authoritarian rulers and have promoted a new Arab public sphere in which Arab autocrats no longer feel secure. Nevertheless, counter-revolutionary forces have since then rapidly set about attempting to divide the protesters along regional, sectarian, tribal, or ideological lines. Such is the sectarian line that Toby MATTHIESEN has decided to study in his book Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Spring That Wasn’t.

Toby MATTHIESEN is a Research Fellow in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge. With Sectarian Gulf, he has written a book about the events which took place in the Gulf during 2011. His aim is to provide us with a contribution to the debates around the Arab uprising.

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Medine, rapper or preacher?

Méd1The idea here is to focus our attention on what one French raptivist[1], writer and performer Medine, has to say in one of his numerous songs concerning Islam, Muslims and current society. This singer was indeed awarded the distinction of figuring in France’s public History manuals in 2012[2] , and a few months from now will once again stage a come-back with a new album,entitled “the Alb’man”. It is consequently interesting to study, through the lyrics of a recent single, from what angle he approaches the current crisis in inter-religious and community relations in French society.

Medine was formerly a member of the hip-hop collective “La Boussole” in 1996 and has been recording with its music label, “DIN records”, since 1995. Known for the quality of his writing and his adamantium[3] nib, Medine is an openly committed artist struggling for the right to be a Muslim in France. His provocative lyrics force listeners to reconsider their attitudes, do some thinking and be more open-minded about the world around them.

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The Minority Concept in the Turkish Context: Practices and Perceptions in Turkey, Greece and France, by Samim Akgönül

SA Samim Akgönül's book is a blend of sociology, history and political science.The author is a professor at the University of Strasburg and a researcher at the French National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS). In his new book, Samim Akgönül questions the term “minority”, focusing specifically on France, Greece and Turkey. This concept of minority is approached by the author very much in the same vein as the French sociologist, Marcel Mauss did, i.e., as a total ‘social fact’. ‘Socials facts’ are conceptual tools for studying different social situations. The author considers the Muslim minorities in Greece as products of the Ottoman Empire's former supremacy, and the Turkish minorities in France as the consequence of the arrival of Turkish immigration in France during the 1960s. Samim Akgönül claims that the issue of minorities in Turkey arose during the 1923 Turkish revolution, simultaneously with the state’s will to obliterate all differences between them.

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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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