Academic Karen Armstrong has written a serious and enthralling
account of the development of fundamentalism as it has been
manifested in three particular world religions: Judaism,
Christianity and Islam. What is fundamentalism? Armstrong argues
that it is a response to the pain caused as the mythos - the
intuitive, aesthetic aspect of religion - gave way to the rational
logos. 'In the premodern world, both mythos and logos were regarded
as indispensable. Each would be impoverished without the other. By
the 18th century, however, the people of Europe and America had
achieved such astonishing success in science and technology that
they began to think that logos was the only means to truth and
began to discount mythos as false and superstitious.' Because of
this emphasis the fundamentalists, argues Armstrong, have tried to
rebrand myth as literal truth. Armstrong begins her excavations in
the late 15th century, looking at the shifts in the history of the
Jews in Spain, of Muslims in the Ottoman empire and of the
Christian reformers across Europe. She traces the process of
modernisation before turning to look at how the battle lines were
drawn up, how the counterculture gained strength in the early years
of the 20th century, how its forces began to mobilise in the 1960s
and how it peaked in the 1970s, manifested in the way the Iranian
ayatollah brought down the regime of Shah Muhammead Reza Pahlavi in
the Middle East, as young Egyptians turned to religion and took
over university campuses with their fierce message, and as the
Moral Majority gained ground in the United States under Jerry
Falwell. 'Those Americans and Europeans who had imagined that
religion had had its day were now forced to see that not only could
the old faiths still inspire a passionate allegiance, but that
millions of committed Jews, Christians and Muslims loathed the
secular, liberal culture of which they were so proud,' she writes.
Armstrong packs her book with crisp detail, keeping firm tabs on
various threads of arguments and weaving them together tightly to
produce a coherent, well-argued history of a fascinating subject.
The late twentieth century has witnessed the emergence in every religious tradition of a strain of threatening and militant fundamentalism, yet, significantly, fundamentalists remain beyond the comprehension of the rest of the world. In 'The Battle for God' Karen Armstrong explains brilliantly and perceptively how and why their understanding of religion and society differs so starkly from that of their contemporaries.
"The quality of this remarkable book lies as much in its detail as in its sweeping vision… Fundamentalism cannot be put down by force. If it is to be defeated, it must first be understood. This wise and balanced book makes a significant contribution to such an understanding."
PHILIP ZIEGLER, 'Daily Telegraph'
"The spectre of religious fundamentalism haunts our world, and most of us are not merely terrified, but puzzled by it… We need a patient guide… Karen Armstrong is this guide. Her new book is just what Westerners need at this junction in history."
A.N.WILSON, 'Daily Mail'
"Armstrong displays all her usual talents: she has an eye for colourful evidence, a wonderful gift for clarity of exposition and an unerring sense of pace and voice in narrative… In her account of the late nineteenth century and the twentieth every line counts and every story grips."
FELIPE FERNANDEZ-ARNESTO, 'Literary Review'
"A remarkable book… the self-evidence of religious fundamentalism's role in recent history gives this book a power and relevance which make for truly compulsive reading… for the reader with even a marginal interest in religion or politics, it is an essential purchase"
TOM MORTON, 'Scotland on Sunday'
"Her book should do so much to de-demonize fundamentalism and thus allow us to take it seriously and devise strategies for coping with it… humane and thoughtful"
GABRIEL JOSIPOVICI, 'The Times'
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