Book Reviews

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

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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?

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

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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Cairo 678: Egypt, a country plagued by sexual harassment

 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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Raphaël Liogier's 'The Religion to Come'

raphael-liogierRaphaël Liogier has written a big book, not of course only from the point of view of length–sociologists and futurologists have long accustomed us to still more doughty blockbusters-but definitely from the point of view of its scope and in-depth perspective.This of course can be partly traced back to Liogier’s self-imposed turbo- charged training curriculum: he simultaneously studied philosophy at the university and political science and sociology at Sciences Po, Aix-en-Provence, before going on to run the gauntlet of transplantation from the ‘continental’ to the ‘analytic, so-called anglo-saxon’ schools of philosophical method, daring to spend one or two fairly embattled years in the philosophy departments of Edinburgh and Oxford. This ‘irregular’ trajectory – or still often considered as such by Europe’s jealously guarded national academic establishments – has enabled him to develop some decidedly original angles of approach to  - and depths of insight into  - a subject which might well have spawned just another exercise in pseudo-scientific extrapolation of current trends and technologies, or even just yet another luddite pamphlet  against the dangers of liberalism and its demon child, individualism.

Read more: Raphaël Liogier's 'The Religion to Come'

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

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.

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