Modern History and Politics -- the Revenge of God: The Resurgence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the Modern World by Gilles Kepel and Translated by Alan Braley

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The Revenge of God: The Resurgence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the Modern World, by Gilles Kepel. Tr. by Alan Braley. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994. viii + 203 pages. Index to p. 215. $35 cloth; $14.95 paper.

Gilles Kepel has undertaken a number of studies of Islamist movements and now, in this book, he examines the broader phenomena of religious resurgence in three religions--Islam, Christianity, and Judaism--at the end of the twentieth century. Kepel suggests important dimensions of each of the resurgences that are better understood when they are viewed through a broad, comparative perspective. This broader and more inclusive perspective is not unique to Kepel's work. Instead, Kepel's work shows that this perspective has now reached a level of maturity with a substantial body of monographic material available on which to base descriptive and comparative analyses.

The studies of religious resurgence at the end of the twentieth century have become more global in coverage in recent years. Kepel's volume can be placed in the emerging scholarly literature. The huge "Fundamentalism Project," directed by Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, covered virtually every major tradition of world religion.(1) No individual scholar can have the same comprehensive inclusiveness as the volumes published by this project, but works by individuals provide a basic foundation for the library of materials. Among the broadly conceived works by individual scholars, the book by Bruce Lawrence, Defenders of God,(2) deals with the same three religions but gives greater emphasis than Kepel to more theoretical considerations. In contrast, the study by Mark Juergensmeyer(3) deals also with developments in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other traditions, but focuses on the issue of the relationship between religious revival and the secular nation-state. In terms of coverage, Kepel provides more coverage of developments within Christianity in Europe and gives greater attention to movements which attempt the re-religionization of society "from below." Issues of state power and control are an important part of Kepel's analysis, but he provides important insights into developments in non-state sectors of society as well.

Kepel begins with an introductory discussion of "religions in a confused world," in which he sets his basic argument that the message of the movements of religious resurgence "does not spring from a dethronement of reason or from manipulation by hidden forces; rather it is the undeniable evidence of a deep malaise in society that can no longer be interpreted in terms of our traditional categories of thought" (p. 11). He then presents separate chapters on the resurgence in "Mediterranean Islam," Roman Catholicism in Europe, North American Protestantism, and Judaism in Israel and the diaspora. A short concluding discussion provides a summary of the main points of the volume.

One of the important themes in this analysis is the distinction between re-religionization "from above" and "from below." In each of the religions discussed, there were significant movements of religious resurgence which attempted to transform society by creating alternative societies or converting individuals rather than imposing the transformation from positions of power. Over time, political agendas of the movements changed, especially as governments became aware of the growing popular power of the religious resurgence, and movements from below often mingled with movements of religionization from above. …