Claiming Society for God: Religious Movements: Social Welfare in Egypt, Israel, Italy, and the United States

Claiming Society for God: Religious Movements: Social Welfare in Egypt, Israel, Italy, and the United States

Claiming Society for God: Religious Movements: Social Welfare in Egypt, Israel, Italy, and the United States

Claiming Society for God: Religious Movements: Social Welfare in Egypt, Israel, Italy, and the United States

Synopsis

Claiming Society for God focuses on common strategies employed by religiously orthodox, fundamentalist movements around the world. Rather than employing terrorism, as much of post-9/11 thinking suggests, these movements use a patient, under-the-radar strategy of infiltrating and subtly transforming civil society. Nancy J. Davis and Robert V. Robinson tell the story of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Shas in Israel, Comunione e Liberazione in Italy, and the Salvation Army in the United States. They show how these movements build massive grassroots networks of religiously based social service agencies, hospitals, schools, and businesses to bring their own brand of faith to popular and political fronts.

Excerpt

Our interest in religiously orthodox (often called “fundamentalist”) movements began nearly twenty-five years ago. In 1982, we moved to the small town of Greencastle, Indiana, where religious orthodoxy has a long reach. Poverty and substandard housing were also not uncommon, and for that reason, in 1989 we became involved in a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity that was just getting off the ground. Habitat builds affordable housing in partnership with people in need. The national organization was begun as a ministry by evangelical Protestant founder Millard Fuller whose “theology of the hammer” was biblically based and called for “no interest, no profit.” Our local chapter, however, contained a mix of people, some of whom were drawn by their faith and others, like us, who were not particularly religious.

Generally our Habitat chapter ran smoothly, but occasionally there were disputes. When a member of the board proposed that we hold a raffle to raise funds for our next Habitat home, some objected that the Bible forbids gambling. Debate also arose about whether a lesbian couple—a hypothetical lesbian couple—would be eligible for a Habitat home. The group was divided, with some members quoting Scripture on biblical prohibitions against homosexuality and others arguing that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a violation of human rights. Yet through our conversations with fellow volunteers, many of them on Habitat worksites, we noticed that while we had quite different positions from some of the more religiously orthodox volunteers on matters such as reproductive rights and same-sex partnerships, our views on issues of economic justice were not far apart. Many of the evangelical volunteers felt that the government should be doing much more on behalf of the poor and told us that they voted for Democrats. The religiously orthodox people that we met through Habitat did not fit the common characterization of fundamentalists as not only cultural traditionalists but also defenders of laissez faire capitalism and economic inequality. There is, of course, self-selection in joining a group like Habitat, but we began to wonder whether the common wisdom that religiously orthodox people are consistently “right wing” was correct.

We decided to do a study investigating the cultural (sexuality/family/gender) and economic attitudes of religiously orthodox Americans, relative to their modernist counterparts who subscribe to a more contextual, human-derived morality. Analyzing national . . .

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