Mozaffari, “Forming National Identity in Iran”

This month, I.B. Tauris released Forming National Identity in Iran, by Ali Mozaffari (University of Western Australia). The publisher’s description follows:

Modern Iran is a country with two significant but competing discourses of national identity, one stemming from ancient pre-Islamic customs and mythology, the other from Islamic Shiite practices and beliefs. This has left an often confused notion of identity in Iran. Ali Mozaffari explores the complex processes involved in the formation of Iranian national identity, laying particular stress upon the importance of place to ideas of homeland and the creation of a collective national identity. He illustrates his arguments through an analysis of the ancient Achaemenid capital of Persepolis and the Shiite rituals of Moharram. In a concluding part, he extends his analysis to the Ancient Iran Museum and the Islamic Period Museum, housed in the National Museum of Iran. An important work that offers powerful insights into the forces shaping national identity in Iran.

Munt, “The Holy City of Medina”

In June, Cambridge will release The Holy City of Medina: Sacred Space in Early Islamic Arabia, by Harry Munt (Oxford). The publisher’s description follows:

This is the first book-length study of the emergence of Medina, in modern Saudi Arabia, as a widely venerated sacred space and holy city over the course of the first three Islamic centuries (the seventh to ninth centuries CE). This was a dynamic period that witnessed the evolution of many Islamic political, religious and legal doctrines, and the book situates Medina’s emerging sanctity within the appropriate historical contexts. The book focuses on the roles played by the Prophet Muḥammad, by the Umayyad and early Abbasid caliphs and by Muslim legal scholars. It shows that Medina’s emergence as a holy city, alongside Mecca and Jerusalem, as well as the development of many of the doctrines associated with its sanctity, was the result of gradual and contested processes and was intimately linked with important contemporary developments concerning the legitimation of political, religious and legal authority in the Islamic world.

More on Religion’s Social Goods

Yesterday, Professor Brian Leiter (Chicago) responded to my earlier post on religion’s social goods. I appreciate the response, actually, and I’ll leave it to readers to evaluate his post and mine. On one point, though, I think I should respond.

Leiter writes that I presented no evidence for my claim that religion encourages altruism outside the religious group itself. He writes:

As I argue in Why Tolerate Religion?, it is certainly true that in the Western capitalist societies, religion is one of the most common sources of resistance to the market pressure towards “self-centeredness,” but qua generalization, Movesian’s [sic] claim is obviously false: religion encourages the communal sentiments Movesesian [sic] describes, but mostly intra-religious group; there is no evidence, and Movesian [sic] cites none, that it encourages them generally outside the religious group. This, of course, is why religion remains, as it has been for millenia, one of the great catalysts of inter-group violence and hatred.

Actually, there is evidence, and I did cite it. Sociologist Robert Putnam has written that religion encourages communal sentiments generally outside the religious group, and that religion is better at this sort of thing than other types of associations are. I cited Putnam in my post.

Here, in full, is the passage I alluded to, from Putnam’s Bowling Alone (2000) (footnotes omitted):

Regular worshipers and people who say that religion is very important to them are much more likely than other people to visit friends, to entertain at home, to attend club meetings, and to belong to sports groups; professional and academic societies; school service groups; youth groups; service clubs; hobby or garden clubs; literary, art, discussion, and study groups; school fraternities and sororities; farm organizations; political clubs; nationality groups; and other miscellaneous groups. In one survey of twenty-two different types of voluntary associations, from hobby groups to professional associations to veterans groups to self-help groups to sports clubs to service clubs, it was membership in religious groups that was most closely associated with other forms of civic involvement, like voting, jury service, community projects, talking with neighbors, and giving to charity.

Putnam makes a similar point, with David E. Campbell, in American Grace (2010) (footnote omitted):

In particular, religiously observant Americans are more generous with time and treasure than demographically similar secular Americans. This is true for secular causes (especially help to the needy, the elderly, and young people) as well as for purely religious causes. It is even true for most random acts of kindness. The link is essentially the same regardless of the particular religion or denomination within which one worships, so that the relevant factor is how much one is engaged with religion, not which religion. And the pattern is so robust that evidence of it can be found in virtually every major national survey of American religious and social behavior. Any way you slice it, religious people are simply more generous.

Of course, one can discount this evidence or argue that it should be interpreted differently. Maybe Putnam and Campbell are wrong. But it’s incorrect to say there is no evidence, or that I didn’t cite any.