Four Pieces on Culture Warring–Inevitable, Interminable, Permanent

For one reason or another, a number of people in the blogosphere have been writing culture war posts in the last few days. Perhaps it’s the end of the year, or the looming political changes, or exam avoidance, or just the holiday cheer. For those who are interested, have a look at Mark Tushnet’s recent post, Paul Horwitz’s response, and this rather grim comment by R.J. Snell–all of them culture war related.

But the piece I really want to highlight is alluded to in the Snell post–Philip Rieff’s “The Newer Noises of War in the Second Culture Camp: Notes on Professor Burt’s Legal Fictions,” published in 1991 and in response to Robert Burt’s then-recent book, “Two Jewish Justices: Outcasts in the Promised Land.” I cannot do justice to the entire piece, but here is a fragment that is, in its way, responsive to each of the three posts above:

Let there be fight? And there was. And there is. James Joyce’s pun, on the words of Jewish second world creation, Genesis 1:3, is more than mildly amusing; it gives readers the most exact and concise account I know of the sociological form of culture. Culture is the form of fighting before the firing actually begins. Every culture declares peace on its own inevitably political terms. Unless a culture is defeated politically, as the Jewish was from the Roman conquest to the founding of Israel, it will assert itself politically. A living culture, even one that imitates life by politicizing its cultural impoverishment, works for itself. That cultural work is the matter and manner of disarming competing cultures, inside and outside its previously bounded self. In its disarming manner, a culture makes the ultimate political means of enforcement, armed force, unnecessary….

12) Kulturkampf. The German compound word for the disarming force/form of culture has an awkward English equivalent: culture/struggle. As I remarked in the first note, the punning polemical genius of Joyce brought him closer than any sociologist I know to both the formal fighting sense of culture and its superordinate creative sense. It is in that both/and that the historical task of culture is always and everywhere the same: the creation of a world in which its inhabitants may find themselves at home and yet accommodate the stranger without yielding their habitus to him. Here and now, pluralism has its price: a united front of second against third world assaults [for Rieff’s discussion of first, second, and third worlds, see earlier in the piece], which are often mounted in the name of pluralism.

13) Origins of kulturkampf. Law is the ultimate weapon, before any turn to harder ware, in a kulturkampf. That word first appeared in common German use in the early 1870’s during the struggle of the National Liberal political party to disarm by law the moral/educational authority, and political pulpitry, of a triumphalist Roman Catholic hierarchy, revitalized as it then was by its dogma of papal infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The aim of the National Liberals was to shift the German Catholic imagination away from the church to the state. The Pope responded to newly restrictive laws by forbidding clerical conformity to them. In turn, the state dismissed clerical resisters from their duties and, moreover, suspended their state salaries. Elites of the kulturstaat, both Catholic and Protestant, then learned a fatally rational and enduring lesson: the high price of being other than indifferent to the temptation of opposing the machtstaat.

Prothero, “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections)”

In January, HarperCollins Publishers will release “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections): The Battles That Define America from Jefferson’s Heresies to Gay Marriage,” by Stephen Prothero (Boston University). The publisher’s description follows: 

In this timely, carefully reasoned social history of the United States, the New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and God Is Not One places today’s heated culture wars within the context of a centuries-long struggle of right versus left and religious versus secular to reveal how, ultimately, liberals always win.

Though they may seem to be dividing the country irreparably, today’s heated cultural and political battles between right and left, Progressives and Tea Party, religious and secular are far from unprecedented. In this engaging and important work, Stephen Prothero reframes the current debate, viewing it as the latest in a number of flashpoints that have shaped our national identity. Prothero takes us on a lively tour through time, bringing into focus the election of 1800, which pitted Calvinists and Federalists against Jeffersonians and “infidels;” the Protestants’ campaign against Catholics in the mid-nineteenth century; the anti-Mormon crusade of the Victorian era; the fundamentalist-modernist debates of the 1920s; the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s; and the current crusade against Islam.

As Prothero makes clear, our culture wars have always been religious wars, progressing through the same stages of conservative reaction to liberal victory that eventually benefit all Americans. Drawing on his impressive depth of knowledge and detailed research, he explains how competing religious beliefs have continually molded our political, economic, and sociological discourse and reveals how the conflicts which separate us today, like those that came before, are actually the byproduct of our struggle to come to terms with inclusiveness and ideals of “Americanness.” To explore these battles, he reminds us, is to look into the soul of America—and perhaps find essential answers to the questions that beset us.

“Teaching Civic Engagement” (Clingerman & Locklin, eds.)

In December, the Oxford University Press will release “Teaching Civic Engagement,” edited by Forrest Clingerman (Ohio Northern University) and Reid B. Locklin (St. Michael’s College and University of Toronto).  The publisher’s description follows:

Using a new model focused on four core capacities-intellectual complexity, social location, empathetic accountability, and motivated action–Teaching Civic Engagement explores the significance of religious studies in fostering a vibrant, just, and democratic civic order.

In the first section of the book, contributors detail this theoretical model and offer an initial application to the sources and methods that already define much teaching in the disciplines of religious studies and theology. A second section offers chapters focused on specific strategies for teaching civic engagement in religion classrooms, including traditional textual studies, reflective writing, community-based learning, field trips, media analysis, ethnographic methods, direct community engagement and a reflective practice of “ascetic withdrawal.” The final section of the volume explores theoretical issues, including the delimitation of the “civic” as a category, connections between local and global in the civic project, the question of political advocacy in the classroom, and the role of normative commitments.

Collectively these chapters illustrate the real possibility of connecting the scholarly study of religion with the societies in which we, our students, and our institutions exist. The contributing authors model new ways of engaging questions of civic belonging and social activism in the religion classroom, belying the stereotype of the ivory tower intellectual.

Adida, Laitin, & Valfort, “Why Muslim Integration Fails in Christian-Heritage Societies”

In January, the Harvard University Press will release “Why Muslim Integration Fails in Christian-Heritage Societies,” by Claire L. Adida (University of California, San Diego), David D. Laitin (Stanford University), and Marie-Anne Valfort (Paris School of Economics and Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne).  The publisher’s description follows:

Amid mounting fears of violent Islamic extremism, many Europeans ask whether Muslim immigrants can integrate into historically Christian countries. In a groundbreaking ethnographic investigation of France’s Muslim migrant population, Why Muslim Integration Fails in Christian-Heritage Societies explores this complex question. The authors conclude that both Muslim and non-Muslim French must share responsibility for the slow progress of Muslim integration.

Claire Adida, David Laitin, and Marie-Anne Valfort found that in France, Muslims are widely perceived as threatening, based in large part on cultural differences between Muslim and rooted French that feed both rational and irrational Islamophobia. Relying on a unique methodology to isolate the religious component of discrimination, the authors identify a discriminatory equilibrium in which both Muslim immigrants and native French act negatively toward one another in a self-perpetuating, vicious circle.

Disentangling the rational and irrational threads of Islamophobia is essential if Europe hopes to repair a social fabric that has frayed around the issue of Muslim immigration. Muslim immigrants must address their own responsibility for the failures of integration, and Europeans must acknowledge the anti-Islam sentiments at the root of their antagonism. The authors outline public policy solutions aimed at promoting religious diversity in fair-minded host societies.

Lauzière, “The Making of Salafism”

In December, the Columbia University Press will release “The Making of Salafism: Islamic Reform in the Twentieth Century,” by Henri Lauzière (Northwestern University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Some Islamic scholars hold that Salafism is an innovative and rationalist effort at Islamic reform that emerged in the late nineteenth century but disappeared in the mid twentieth. Others argue Salafism is an anti-innovative and antirationalist movement of Islamic purism that dates back to the medieval period yet persists today. Though they contradict each other, both narratives are considered authoritative, making it hard for outsiders to grasp the history of the ideology and its core beliefs.

Introducing a third, empirically based genealogy, The Making of Salafism understands the movement as a recent conception of Islam projected back onto the past, and it sees its purist evolution as a direct result of decolonization. Henri Lauzière builds his history on the transnational networks of Taqi al-Din al-Hilali (1894-1987), a Moroccan Salafi who, with his associates, oversaw Salafism’s modern development. Traveling from Rabat to Mecca, from Calcutta to Berlin, al-Hilali interacted with high-profile Salafi scholars and activists who eventually abandoned Islamic modernism in favor of a more purist approach to Islam. Today, Salafis claim a monopoly on religious truth and freely confront other Muslims on theological and legal issues. Lauzière’s pathbreaking history recognizes the social forces behind this purist turn, uncovering the popular origins of what has become a global phenomenon.

“Democracy, Culture, Catholicism” (Schuck and Crowley-Buck eds.)

In November, the Fordham University Press will release “Democracy, Culture, Catholicism: Voices from Four Continents,” edited by Michael J. Schuck (Loyola University of Chicago) and John Crowley-Buck (Loyola University of Chicago).  The publisher’s description follows:

Compiling scholarly essays from a unique three-year Democracy, Culture and Catholicism International Research Project, Democracy, Culture, Catholicism richly articulates the diverse and dynamic interplay of democracy, culture, and Catholicism in the contemporary world. The twenty-five essays from four extremely diverse cultures—those of Indonesia, Lithuania, Peru, and the United States—explore the relationship between democracy and Catholicism from several perspectives, including historical and cultural analysis, political theory and conflict resolution, social movements and Catholic social thought.

Ali, “Islam and Colonialism”

In December, the University of Edinburgh Press will release “Islam and Colonialism: Becoming Modern in Indonesia and Malaya,” by Muhamad Ali (University of California, Riverside).  The publisher’s description follows:

Focusing on Indonesia and Malaysia, this book looks at how European colonial and Islamic modernising powers operated in the common and parallel domains of government and politics, law and education in the first half of the twentieth century. It shows that colonialisation was able to co-exist with Islamisation, arguing that Islamic movements were not necessarily antithetical to modernisation, nor that Western modernity was always anathema to Islamic and local custom. Rather, in distinguishing religious from worldly affairs, they were able to adopt and adapt modern ideas and practices that were useful or relevant while maintaining the Islamic faith and ritual that they believed to be essential.

In developing an understanding of the common ways in which Islam was defined and treated in Indonesia and Malaysia, we can gain a new insight to Muslim politics and culture in Southeast Asia.

“Beyond Hybridity and Fundamentalism” (Khan, ed.)

In August, the Oxford University Press released “Beyond Hybridity and Fundamentalism: Emerging Muslim Identity in Globalized India,” edited by Tabassum Ruhi Khan (University of California, Riverside).  The publisher’s description follows:

The question of identity, and especially its formation among youth, has received significant academic attention as our worlds become intricately and unpredictably connected through satellite televisions, mobile telephones, Internet, and social networking platforms. Marking a distinct addition to such scholarship, this volume is an ethnographic study of the under-investigated issue of Indian Muslim youth’s emergent subjectivity in a media-saturated globalized Indian society.

The author develops the idea of ‘convoluted modernity’ to explain Muslim youth’s reactions to multifarious and divergent influences both from the East as well as the West shaping their everyday life. The concept illustrates how Muslim youths’ ideas about self and community draw equally on MTV as on Peace TV to create a complex truck between consumerist hedonism and globalized Islam.

Introducing a new perspective to studies on globalization, media, and cultural politics, this book shows how interpolation of local and global in the accelerated virtual spheres, and their contextual interpretation within an expanding economy, notwithstanding Muslim youth’s disadvantaged position, shape alternate modernities rife with ambiguities and beyond binaries of progress and regression.

Amirpur, “New Thinking in Islam”

This month, the University of Chicago Press releases “New Thinking in Islam: The Jihad for Democracy, Freedom and Women’s Rights,” by Katajun Amirpur (Hamburg University).  The publisher’s description follows: 

In Rethinking Islam, Katajun Amirpur argues that the West’s impression of Islam as a backward-looking faith, resistant to post-Enlightenment thinking, is misleading and—due to its effects on political discourse—damaging. Introducing readers to key thinkers and activists—such as Abu Zaid, a free-thinking Egyptian Qur’an scholar; Abdolkarim Soroush, an academic and former member of Khomeini’s Cultural Revolution Committee; and Amina Wadud, an American feminist who was the first woman to lead the faithful in Friday Prayer—Amirpur reveals a powerful yet lesser-known tradition of inquiry and dissent within Islam, one that is committed to democracy and human rights. By examining these and many other similar figures’ ideas, she reveals the many ways they reject fundamentalist assertions and instead call for a diversity of opinion, greater freedom, and equality of the sexes. 

Katz, “The Burdens of Brotherhood”

In November, the Harvard University Press will release “The Burdens of Brotherhood: Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France” by Ethan B. Katz (University of Cincinnati). The publisher’s description follows:

Headlines from France suggest that Muslims have renewed an age-old struggle against Jews and that the two groups are once more inevitably at odds. But the past tells a different story. The Burdens of Brotherhood is a sweeping history of Jews and Muslims in France from World War I to the present. Here Ethan Katz introduces a richer and more complex world that offers fresh perspective for understanding the opportunities and challenges in France today.

Focusing on the experiences of ordinary people, Katz shows how Jewish–Muslim relations were shaped by everyday encounters and by perceptions of deeply rooted collective similarities or differences. We meet Jews and Muslims advocating common and divergent political visions, enjoying common culinary and musical traditions, and interacting on more intimate terms as neighbors, friends, enemies, and even lovers and family members. Drawing upon dozens of archives, newspapers, and interviews, Katz tackles controversial subjects like Muslim collaboration and resistance during World War II and the Holocaust, Jewish participation in French colonialism, the international impact of the Israeli–Arab conflict, and contemporary Muslim antisemitism in France.

We see how Jews and Muslims, as ethno-religious minorities, understood and related to one another through their respective relationships to the French state and society. Through their eyes, we see colonial France as a multiethnic, multireligious society more open to public displays of difference than its postcolonial successor. This book thus dramatically reconceives the meaning and history not only of Jewish–Muslim relations but ultimately of modern France itself.

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