Book Reviews

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

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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?

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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

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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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Cairo 678: Egypt, a country plagued by sexual harassment

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 Image Caire 678« I am going to ask you three questions. Have you been sexually assaulted ? How many times ? How did you react ? » .

          This is Seba - one of the main characters in Mohamed Diab's movie Cairo 678 - speaking. She gives courses to a group of Egyptian women who wish to react facing sexual assault. Indeed, according to a recent study published by the Egyptian center for women's rights 90 percent of Egyptian women report undergoing sexual harassment in public spaces. The writer Ghada Abdel Aal shares her experience. She says that whenever she rides the bus to Cairo she always buys two tickets to make sure she will not be assaulted by a man sitting next to her. The movie Cairo 678 addresses the issue of sexual harassment in public spaces in modern Egypt.

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"God Bless America" - Politics and Religion in the United States: a reassessment

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US Religion 2We, as Europeans, are deeply convinced that in the United States religion never stands apart from political life, being an essential component of the latter. From the role of the Christian right in the Republican party's electoral successes to the emergence of a Democrat left-wing religiosity, some have gone so far as to label the United States a “Theo-democracy”. Yet, things often turn out to be much more complex than they appear at first sight. In this respect, Camille Froidevaux-Metterie aims at showing that the U.S. on the contrary, is a firmly secular republic reposing on two deeply rooted constitutional principles: the freedom of religion and State neutrality in terms of religion. Furthermore, this wall of separation has been strengthened by a clearly separatist jurisprudence of the Supreme Court (even if challenged during recent decades).

In order to fully grasp the contradictory dynamics characterizing this curious idiosyncratic configuration, the author suggests we explore the intricacies of American history, from the ages of Puritanism to today’s multidenominational America symbolized by President Barack Obama.

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A commentary on David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam, “God and Caesar in America, Why mixing religion and politics is bad for both”

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US religionThe article “God and Caesar in America: Why mixing religion and politics is bad for both” (Foreign Affairs – March/April 2012) was written by two important political scientists; Robert David Putnam and David E. Campbell. The material in the article comes from the authors’ highly informative book American Grace: How religion divides and unites us (published in 2010 by Simon&Schuster).The book is based on many surveys, but central to its analysis is the Faith Matters Survey which was conducted in 2006 on behalf of Harvard University, the second survey in 2007 with 3100 Americans. On the other hand; the article contains some statistical data from a 2011 survey and certain data from Gallup surveys.

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The New Heretics of France?

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Susan PalmerThe New Heretics of France: Minority Religions, la République, and the Government-Sponsored “War on sects”, by SUSAN J. PALMER. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, 251 pp.

Considering the extreme difficulty of undertaking any serious research on such a topic in France, where positions remain highly polarized, Susan J. Palmer’s work is impressive, both in terms of field work and of its fundamental orientation. Here in the Hexagon, the scientific, social and media-related obstacles are still such that a French religious sociologist would be hard put – or would not be able at all - to produce so well-documented a study.

In many respects, Palmer’s work takes the form of a pedagogical chart of the situation of minority religions in France. The reader is guided through a panorama of the relations between cults and anti-cult movements rather than provided with any deep theoretical explanation of the latter. That being said, the work remains highly relevant for anyone interested in the status of minority religions in contemporary France.

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Edouard GLISSANT ou l’éloge de l’interculturel

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GlissantEdouard Glissant nait le 21 septembre 1928 à Sainte-Marie en Martinique.Il suit des études de philosophie à la Sorbonne et d'ethnologie au Musée de l’Homme, à Paris. Poète, romancier, essayiste, auteur dramatique et théoricien de la littérature, Edouard Glissant se révèle être le penseur d’un nouveau Monde. Son activité de militant en faveur de la cause antillo-guyanaise et contre le système colonial lui vaut dans les années 1960 quelques déboires avec la justice française. Il est alors assigné à résidence en France. En 1965, il retourne en Martinique. Directeur du Courrier de l’Unesco (1982-1988), il se trouve à un poste d’observation idéal pour développer sa relation autour des thèmes de la relation au monde et du métissage culturel… Edouard Glissant est le père spirituel des écrivains du mouvement de la créolité, il est le premier à avoir théorisé le concept de créolisation perçue comme un processus imprévisible et comme « un métissage conscient de lui-même ». Désormais professeur à New York, Edouard Glissant s’affirme avec des romans et essais comme  ‘’Tout-Monde’’  ou encore  ‘’Poétique de la relation’’  comme le penseur majeur du monde actuel. Edouard Glissant meurt le 3 février 2011 à Paris à l'âge de 82 ans.

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Ajami, a film by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani

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images 2The scene takes place in Jaffa, an ancient commercial port connected to Tel-Aviv since 1950, once the 1948 war had emptied it of most of its Palestinian population. The district of Ajami, origin of the film’s title, has retained that flavor of heterogeneity. Indeed, Jews, Muslims and Christians live side by side. Yet the Judeo-Arab conflict still poisons the atmosphere. However, the conflict is never made explicit in the usual way. Here, the central conflict of the area is tackled indirectly through the problems of everyday life: Jewish police officers carrying out a search in the apartment of an Arab Christian Israeli, the same guy, the Arab Christian Israeli, in conflict with his Arab friends because they reproach him his going to live in Tel-Aviv with his Jewish girlfriend. There is also a Jewish policeman who wants to know the truth about the death of his brother, killed by an Arab guy during his military service, and more surprisingly, the movie shows us Arab Israelis who appear to be superior to Palestinian Arabs and are exploiting them.

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