01: RadicalisationResearch.org seeks to provide policymakers and anyone else whose work uses concepts such as radicalization, fundamentalism or extremism with easy access to high-quality academic research on these controversial issues.
By taking a non-partisan approach and providing access to the best and latest research, the website hopes to “challenge ungrounded assumption that may obscure a clear understanding of violent extremism especially where that is associated with Islamicism.” The website pays particular attention to religious violence and to the post-9/11 concern with Muslim extremism.
Some of the research presented also seeks to undermine the idea that there is something unique about lslam in relation to violent extremism. There are many comparable forms of both religious and secular violence, and historical and geographical comparisons are explored in several of the articles and books discussed on this site.
02: In his new book, The Future of Christianity (Ashgate, $26.96), David Martin, a leading sociologist of European religion and Pentecostalism in the Global South, extends his analysis to cover such areas as East German secularism, transnational missions and Christianity, and violence and democracy.
Since Martin was one of the ﬁrst sociologists to question the secularization thesis, he spends considerable space explaining his complex views on this subject. He tends to espouse a “multiple modernities” approach that sees various trajectories of secularization and religious revitalization unfolding within the historical and political contexts of a particular society. Martin puts a special emphasis on “master narratives,” which, for example, he traces in Protestantism to an “inwardness” that leads in northern Europe to secularity, with an emphasis on ethical behavior and environmentalism, or, under diﬀerent social circumstances, to a religious pluralism that encourages entrepreneurialism and competition in the U.S., Africa and, more recently, Latin America.
Martin’s writing is complex, often squeezing two or three ideas and observations into a single sentence. But the dense description he presents is part of his method because of his refusal to adopt a single guiding theory of religious change. Noteworthy chapters include an examination and rejection of the idea of “postsecularity”—Martin argues (again, through exhaustive description) that Europe remains on a secular trajectory while the other parts of the world were never secularizing (in the European sense) to begin with; an impressive debunking of the concept that as science advances religion recedes; and an important analysis of how East Germany ended up as one of the most secular nations in the world.
He argues that secularization and an east–west west divide on religion existed prior to communism and that the way in which science was linked with progress and religion was treated as irrational. This, together with the internal secularization of Protestantism, all contributed to East Germany’s unique identity.
03: The 2008 government raid on Mormon polygamists in Texas not only brought the unusual phenomenon of polygamy before the American public; it also generated a new kind of activism and other changes in practices among these isolated religious communities, according to the new book Modern Polygamy in the United States (Oxford University Press, $29.95), edited by Cardell K. Jacobson with Lara Burton.
The volume brings together a wide range of scholars who argue that the popular portrait of Mormon polygamy given by the media and law enforcement agencies ignores the diversity of these communities. The contributors to the book ﬁnd that the distinctive lifestyle of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), the breakaway group that was the target of the 2008 raid, has led it into conﬂict with outsiders. Unlike mainstream Mormonism and other polygamous groups, the FLDS is based on the power of a prophet who can arrange marriages and dictate other aspects of members’ lives. Under prophet Warren Jeﬀ, FLDS members, who number approximately 8,000, dress in 19th century clothes and have increasingly avoided contact with non-members.
But after the raid, the church promised to discontinue its practice of encouraging plural marriages that include under-aged young women. The bad publicity surrounding the raid also compelled members, including women who are traditionally taught to submissive to men, to go on the defensive, holding media interviews, testifying in state capitals about the beneﬁts of polygamy and even starting websites to explain their practices to outsiders, according to contributors Heber Hammon and William Jankowiak. The contributors emphasize that there are increasingly diverse polygamous communities and movements in the American West far from the stereotype of isolated and authoritarian “cultists.” A split has occurred in the FLDS, with a more liberal group, known as “the Work”, emerging that practices a more egalitarian form of leadership and allows women to dress in modern clothes and lead more independent lives.
The largest polygamous Mormon group is the Apostolic United Brethren, with 10,000 members and led by a council of elders with a more open stance toward American society. One chapter even ﬁnds a group of evangelicals who run the Be Free Patriarchal Christian Church in Utah, which has about 1,000 members nationwide and seeks to convert Mormon polygamists while approving of plural marriages. Most of the contributors agree that it is not the promise of romance and greater sexual opportunities that drives polygamy.
Nor does ﬁnancial security convince women to join polygamous arrangements, since fundamentalist Mormon communities have high rates of members claiming welfare assistance. Contributor Carrie Miles argues that the fundamentalist Mormon teaching of “celestial marriage” (now largely disavowed by mainstream Mormonism), where the husband is seen as providing the means of salvation for wives, makes polygamy much sought after by both men and women in these communities. This is especially the case in fundamentalist communities where certain men are considered prophets and God-appointed leaders; marriage into such elite families provide the greatest guarantee of salvation for women.
04: A Faith of Their Own (Oxford University Press, $24.95), by Lisa Pearce and Melinda Lundquist Denton, draws on the large National Study of Youth and Religion as well as in-depth interviews with more than 120 youth at two points in time.
Pearce and Denton ﬁnd that religion is an important force in the lives of most of the respondents, even if their involvement with religion changes over the three years they were studied. Pearce and Denton identify ﬁve camps of young adult religiosity—Abiders, who represent about 20 (ﬁrst wave of the study) to 22 percent (second wave) of the surveyed youth, demonstrate strong faith and religious involvement (with usually high parental religious inﬂuence); Assenters, representing 30–32 percent, believe in God and are religiously involved, but religion is not a central part of their lives; and Adapters, representing 28 percent in the ﬁrst wave and 20 percent in the second, who also tend toward the moderate side of the spectrum, but they view religion and helping others as being more important than the assenters.
The fourth category, the Avoiders, ranging from 17 to 24 percent of the sample, are not religiously involved on an institutional or personal level, even as they maintain a belief in God; the last category, Atheists, represent 3–5 percent of the sample and tend not to think about questions on the meaning of life. There is a clear movement toward less religious commitment, although the authors argue that between middle and late adolescence there is not much switching between these different categories. This somewhat contradictory stance is explained as the youths’ own tendency to see their religiosity as encompassing diﬀerent dimensions (identiﬁed by the researchers as religious content, conduct and centrality) that assume various levels of importance during diﬀerent periods of their teenage years.
05: The editors of the new book Ireland’s New Religious Movements (Cambridge Scholars Press) are convinced the time is ripe for an in-depth re-evaluation of the widely accepted portrait of monolithic Catholic (in the south) and Protestant (in the north) institutions and identities crowding out other religious expressions in both countries.
With its captivating chapters on (among other subjects) Irish Buddhism and Islam, Neo-paganism, New Age groups and a generic Celtic spirituality infusing other non-institutional religious expressions, the volume, edited by Olivia Cosgrove, Laurence Cox, Carmen Kuhling and Peter Mulholland, succeeds in ﬁlling in the tapestry of contemporary Irish religion. The ﬁrst two chapters ably set the scene for the rest of the book in explaining how the rise of new religious movements—both imported and native—intensiﬁed toward the end of the millennium, as the weight of feminist challenges, declining sectarian identiﬁcation and revelations over abuse diminished “hitherto unquestioning loyalties to the church of one’s birth—and hence … free[ing] up individuals to make other choices, of the most diverse kind.”
The editors argue that the Irish may be moving toward a situation of multiple religious identities—“to hold weddings and funerals in the Catholic church, to buy angel cards or statuettes, to practice some form of yoga or meditation, to make occasional visits to a faith healer or reiki practitioners, and to hold strong feelings about Newgrange and Tara (neo-Druid spiritual sites).” Such syncretistic preferences and practices are not captured in the census, especially in Northern Ireland, where there are greater provisions for conﬁdentiality than found in the Republic of Ireland. Other estimates of NRM growth presented are somewhat speculative; the small Buddhist presence of a thousand or so is estimated to have tripled between 1991 and 2002 and then doubled again up to 2006; the New Age movement has “ﬂourished,” evident by the ten to twenty thousand paying customers visiting the annual Mind Body Spirit fair in Dublin.
A chapter on evangelicals in the Republic notes that this movement has “radically” grown (one scholar claims a 1,000 percent growth) beyond the new presence of immigrant evangelical churches. A study of new evangelical churches conducted by contributor Ruth Jackson Noble showed the average percentage of Irish people involved in evangelical churches was 61 percent, 41 percent of whom were from an Irish Catholic background. Equally interesting are the chapters suggesting how Irish new religious movements import foreign spiritual currents, such as the New Age movement, while adapting them to a native Celtic and quasi-Catholic (including Marian apparition groups) identity, and then export them globally.
A diﬀerent global pattern is evident in the growth of the Fellowship of Isis, a 27,000-member esoteric religion that has retained its Celtic and Irish base while taking a more neo-pagan identity worldwide. A 44-page bibliography of literature about new religious movements in Ireland is included at the end of the book.
06: Lorenzo Vidino’s new book, The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West (Columbia University Press, $29.50), focuses on the experiences of the Brotherhood outside of its Middle Eastern birthplace.
The result of combining an in-depth study of written sources with interviews, the book steers clear of both a pessimistic approach demonizing the Brotherhood and an optimistic approach that fails to look behind oﬃcial discourses for public consumption. The author tries to oﬀer a balanced approach on a movement that the recent upheavals in the Arab world will put increasingly on center stage. Vidino makes it clear that a key feature of the Brotherhood was to make religion more than a mere devotional attitude, but rather a platform of political and social commitment meant to answer contemporary challenges. From that starting point, the Muslim Brothers are shown as ambivalent, balancing between non-violent reformism and a more subversive approach.
The book describes the strategies of the Brotherhood for establishing branches in the West since the 1950s—in the U.S. as well as in Europe. Ideological dilemmas presented themselves early. Regarding democracy, there is clearly an evolution, with the Brothers moving from rejection to partial acceptance. There is thus real progress, but at the same time the Brothers seem unable to move beyond a discourse of speciﬁcities (i.e. on “Islamic democracy,” in which everything is accepted insofar it does not contradict sharia, Islamic legal principles). Regarding the attitude toward the West, Vidino’s opinion is that the Muslim Brothers remain motivated by the ideal of establishing God’s rule there some day.
In a chapter devoted to dilemmas in the U.S., Vidino writes that intelligence agencies have only a rudimentary knowledge of these movements, since they either lack the means of educating themselves, have to deal with strict legal frameworks or are overly focused on radical Islam. Regarding the political level, without disclosing his own opinion, he raises questions about the “transformative approach” hypothesis whereby the opening of the Brothers toward society and the political system, involving constraints and alliances, would more or less naturally lead the movement toward a more pragmatic approach.The author pays special attention to three countries: the United Kingdom, Germany and the U.S. In the UK, he describes the rise of Pakistani Islamism with the Jamaat e-Islami movement and the way in which it orchestrated a radicalization of the Muslim community through the mobilization against Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, although such leadership has become increasingly challenged in recent years.
In Germany, the Brotherhood had to ﬁnd its place in a quite diverse Muslim population dominated by people of Turkish origins; the Brothers have a very bad reputation there with security agencies that consider them as a “foreign extremist organization.” In the U.S., explains Vidino, although the Brothers position themselves as the best bulwark against extremism, some level of fascination for Bin Laden can be detected in the more militant publications of the movement.
Although well-informed, the security angle that the author has chosen does not really manage to open a third way between “optimistic” and “pessimistic” approaches, and it very soon reaches its limits. The book fails to pay attention to the sociological realities—the life stories of activists and internal tensions within the movement. The lack of a sociological dimension means that the author has failed to identify one of the major characteristics of the Brothers’ experience in the West: the fact that they have often man-aged to reach a level of respectability that goes along with the phenomenon of demobilization.
This takes place in a context where there has been a growing diversity of Islamic oﬀers on the “market,” with the Brothers being challenged both by competitors proposing much “softer” forms of religiosity and, on the other side, by the rise of Salaﬁ groups.
— Reviewed by Patrick Haenni, a researcher at the Religioscope Institute.