MARCH 17, 2003
Martin E. Marty
Sightings does not normally do book reviews, I cannot write jacket blurbs for books, and we editors have to be careful when we "have an interest." This is not a review of Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms Around the World, but it treats that new University of Chicago Press paperback as news. The quotation from me on the jacket is excerpted from my report to the Press. And I am very happy to declare my interest in this book by the late Gabriel A. Almond, Emmanuel Sivan, and, most of all, R. Scott Appleby. After all that shuffling and mumbling, let me get to the point:
Since Appleby and I led the Fundamentalism Project for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (many scores of scholars, twelve conferences, six years, five volumes -- also University of Chicago Press -- between 1988 and 1996) he and I often get inquiries: What did you find out? Where can we find out, short of those five volumes, what you found? Here it is. I taught full time during the project, while Appleby shuttled to various governmental and media agencies, and in summer spent a couple of weeks on the Almond patio in Palo Alto, where the two of them and Sivan (Hebrew University in Jerusalem) distilled and condensed the plot.
Finally in our fifth volume, Fundamentalisms Comprehended, the three published their conclusions. From the time it appeared I began appealing to them and hinting to the Press that the heart of that volume would make a good textbook, sourcebook, and "read." Here it is. Appleby now directs the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and has published a couple of important books on these themes.
The opening chapter by Sivan comes up with a new term and finds fresh angles of vision on "The Enclave Culture." Like all the other chapters, this one is given over to comparative work, especially treating Jewish, Islamic, and Christian fundamentalisms. Appendices chart comparative elements in helpful ways. The three discuss the genus and species of fundamentalisms; attempt, briefly, to explain them; see them as "emergent systems" among people who wrestle with the world. Then they test their model in respect to politics, ethnicity, and strategy. Finally: "prospects."
Nowhere is there sensationalism or striving for effect. The authors set forth calmly and sanely, but not without tones of foreboding, the "strong religion" movements that upset the world today. I am finishing a book on Martin Luther, who once told a colleague to "sin boldly." This week I hope I am being bold enough -- I certainly am sinning -- as, with what force is at hand, I plug this helpful, probing, and necessary book for a time like ours.
Strong Religion was published this fall by the University of Chicago Press and is available in both paperback ($19) and hardcover ($49)