Islamic Modernism, Nationalism, and Fundamentalism: Episode and Discourse

By Bamyeh, Mohammed A. | The Middle East Journal, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview
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Islamic Modernism, Nationalism, and Fundamentalism: Episode and Discourse


Bamyeh, Mohammed A., The Middle East Journal


SOCIAL CONDITIONS Islamic Modernism, Nationalism, and Fundamentalism: Episode and Discourse, by Mansoor Moaddel. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005. x + 343 pages. Notes top. 401. Bibl. to p. 431. Index to p. 448. $24 paper.

In this latest attempt to study the rise of Islamic fundamentalism from the vantage point of sociological theory, Mansoor Moaddel follows the usual pattern of seeking to isolate variables and determine causality and correlation. The scope of the book is appropriately broad, beginning with Islamic modernism since the mid 18th century, moving into experiments with secular nationalism, and ending with the contemporary rise of fundamentalism. The comparative case studies that inform the discussion likewise cover a broad territorial span, including India, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Algeria, and Jordan.

The author moves through a number of explanatory models, largely borrowed from recent US sociology - with particular references to Robert Wuthnow and Randall Collins but also others. He finally proposes his own model, which focuses on conditions affecting and forming the production of discourse, which is seen to emerge in an episodic, discontinuous fashion. Moaddel's model consists of four possibilities - a matrix formed by, on the one hand, whether the discursive field is pluralistic or monolithic, and on the other whether its target is civil society or the state. A combination of pluralism and civil society gives us Islamic modernism, as in India, Egypt, and Iran until the early 20th century. A state-oriented pluralism, however, gives us liberal nationalism, as in Egypt, Iran, and Syria, until the mid-20th century. A monolithic discursive field within civil society gives rise to sectarian ideological movements, while a statecentered monolithic field provides us, finally, with contemporary fundamentalism.

Moaddel traces the evolution of this last outcome not to the nature of religion, and indeed he rejects the reading of primary religious texts as a method of figuring out its social role. Rather, he identifies the main culprit for the emergence of fundamentalism as the secular, ideological state that had already narrowed discursive space, and thereby both posited the state as the motor of social transformation and the site of exclusionary discourses. Hence exclusionary, ideological fundamentalism simply mirrors what the state is already doing. The call for separating religion and state addresses therefore the wrong issue, for the real question concerns separating the state from ideology. That is to say, from the overwhelming force of the special interests of powerful social groups (including the clergy and the military), so that it may represent the universal interests of society.

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