[Paleopsych] TLS: Review of Malise Ruthven, Fundamentalism
checker at panix.com
Wed Apr 13 17:41:23 UTC 2005
The Times Literary Supplement, 4.7.9
FUNDAMENTALISM. The search for meaning. Malise Ruthven. 246pp. Oxford
University Press. £12.99 (US $21). - 0 19 284091 6.
Malise Ruthven's new book offers a popular overview of the debate
about fundamentalism as "the major threat to world peace today". The
author acknowledges the incoherence of the concept but conjures
Wittgenstein's "family resemblances" to justify a disparate ragbag of
"examples". He notes the origin of the term in rural and small-town
American Protestantism's rejection of biblical criticism and Darwinian
science in the 1920s and cites its recent (often politicized) use to
label so-called revival movements in Islam and Judaism and, by ever
more strained extension, in Buddhism, Hinduism and even the post-1960s
new religious movements. Substantive chapters cover the effect of
globalism in relativizing world views; the difficulty of reconciling
literal readings with the principle of inerrancy in interpreting
sacred texts; the fundamentalist desire to control women; and the
relations between fundamentalism and nationalism. The author uses a
narrow selection of sources and veers uncertainly between texts and
Certain hypotheses emerge. Fundamentalism is a doomed attempt to
reinstate conditions in which faith is a "given", not undermined by
"the scandal of difference". Fundamentalism collapses myth into
history through a quasiscientific tendency to factualize and even
enact eschatology. Fundamentalism's urge to control women is the
rearguard action of a patriarchal order undermined by modernity.
Paradoxes also abound. Women frequently welcome and benefit from
fundamentalist movements. Equally serious scholars regard
fundamentalism and nationalism both as incompatible and inseparable.
Fundamentalism rejects modern values but welcomes modern technology.
With the partial exception of the gender issue, these paradoxes fail
to stir the author to deeper exploration.
The real problem is the book's implicit premiss that all
fundamentalisms are equally dangerous. Ruthven does not distinguish
between movements on any systematic criteria or isolate the factors
particularly associated with violence.
The key is Ruthven's keenness to put the American religious Right in
the dock alongside al-Qaeda and to represent Third World
Pentecostalism and the "reactionary" wing of Catholicism as inherently
"fascist", despite acknowledging that Christian fundamentalists have
no ambition to impose a legal code comparable to sharia on democratic
politics or proselytize by global terror. An author who truly wanted
to know what turns faith murderous would have been more critical of
his governing concept and methods of inquiry.
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