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Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways [Hardcover]

Olivier Roy , Ros Schwartz (Translator)
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

22 Nov 2010
Olivier Roy, world-renowned authority on Islam and politics, finds in the modern disconnection between faith communities and socio-cultural identities a fertile space for fundamentalism to grow. Instead of freeing the world from religion, secularization has encouraged a kind of holy ignorance to take root, an anti-intellectualism that promises immediate, emotional access to the sacred and positions itself in direct opposition to contemporary pagan culture. The secularization of society was supposed to free people from religion, yet individuals are converting en masse to fundamentalist faiths, such as Protestant evangelicalism, Islamic Salafism, and Haredi Judaism. These religions either reconnect adherents to their culture through casual referents, like halal fast food, or maintain their momentum through purification rituals, such as speaking in tongues, a practice that allows believers to utter a language that is entirely their own. Instead of a return to traditional religious worship, we are now witnessing the individualization of faith and the disassociation of faith communities from ethnic and national identities. Roy explores the options now available to powers that hope to integrate or control these groups; and whether marginalization or homogenization will further divide believers from their culture.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd (22 Nov 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1850659923
  • ISBN-13: 978-1850659921
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 503,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'An erudite account of intricate relationships between religion and other markers of identity, including nationality, socially defined race, language, class, political ideology, generation, gender and sexual orientation.' --Times Literary Supplement

'Olivier Roy, the outstanding scholar of contemporary religions, has written a book of startling clarity and wisdom. Illuminating trends, issues and movements that had before appeared bizarre or simply antipathetic, he provides us with tools for the comprehension of matters as diverse as coverage of the war on terror to the common individual confusion over one's own beliefs and scepticisms.' --Financial Times

'Over the past few years, a number of theories have been offered about the rise of fundamentalism. The brilliant French social scientist Roy proposes the most original-- and the most persuasive. Fundamentalism, in his view, is a symptom of, rather than a reaction against, the increasing secularization of society. Whether it takes the form of the Christian right in the United States or Salafist purity in the Muslim world, fundamentalism is not about restoring a more authentic and deeply spiritual religious experience. It is instead a manifestation of holy ignorance, Roy's biting term meant to characterize the worldview of those who, having lost both their theology and their roots, subscribe to ideas as incoherent as they are ultimately futile. The most important thing to know about those urging the restoration of a lost religious authenticity is that they are sustained by the very forces they denounce.' --New York Times

About the Author

Olivier Roy is research director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris. His books with Hurst include Globalised Islam and The Politics of Chaos in the Middle East.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Self-definition in a global bouillabaisse 6 Sep 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Sumptuous cover, a symphony in pink, orange and purple; kudos to Fatima Jamadar. Clerical obscurantism, or holy ignorance, was ever with us, but this satisfyingly dense and specific dip into today's bubbling religio-cultural cauldron fishes up many a savoury nugget. The second, theoretical, part is a little drier, but shorter; there's a nice potshot against Bourdieu (note 7, p246). Nothing is sacred, from God's masculinity ('cultural bias'?) to UNESCO's being set up 'to rationalize the exit from colonialism' to multiculturalism as 'powerful ethnicisation factor' ie exacerbator! Chapter 3 is an absolute corker, including a good section on language p94ff, and even includes Muslim atheists, admittedly in Belgium and in the anonymity of the polling booth. I appreciated Roy's aside about islamophobia: 'whatever one thinks of the general concept'. Well, quite. The secularist Abdelwahhab Meddeb was new to me, though you'll not find him in the index - he crops up on page 119; and what about the American evangelicals' declaration of second virginity (I've done it but I won't do it again')? The advent of mixed mosques and female imams, though, can only be welcomed. It is worth remembering that Reform Judaism led the way with female ordination; now there are even stirrings among the Israeli Orthodox (note 31, p243 - the notes are impressively wide-ranging)

This book is largely about misunderstandings and worse caused by our mania for labelling, ourselves and others. The Western norm of unabashed pluralism is largely restricted to America - its begetter, to various offshoots (South Korea) and to areas of religious indifference, and while multiculturalism can foster factitious, and fractious, minorities, the converse is no less grim. Malaysians, for instance (a Commonwealth country, no less!
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent and Thought Provoking Book 18 Jan 2011
By N. Burlakoff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Holy Ignorance is an excellent book. Not an easy read; in part, because of its original French academic writing style, in part, because of the rather mechanical translation, and, in part, because it forces the reader to think slowly and systematically. The sheer amount of information and the complex interrelationship between the various described phenomena makes understanding a slow process. The importance of the author's central thesis of the separation of religion and culture (public life) cannot be underestimated, nor can the complex social forms that manifest when institutional religion is decoupled from culture. The author's range of subjects is awe inspiring. Taking on such on wide and intricate religious subjects such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Judaism, as well as, difficult concepts such as secularism, ethnicity, and "nationality," he is equally comfortable delineating small groups like the Syriacs or Hebrew Catholics (an interesting political ploy by the late Pope, John Paul II).
The author's central thesis of the separation of religion and culture leads to the proposal that fundamentalism is very much a product of the triumph of secular culture in which an attempt is made to create a "pure" religion to counteract the seeming negative characteristics of secular life. Most often this impulse is devoid of any serious knowledge/acceptance of the religion in question, and is an emotional reaction to a specific social reality--hence the term "holy ignorance." A religion decoupled from culture essentially becomes a consumer product.
The separation of religion from culture and place (territory) on one hand, creates a global virtual community, on the other hand, makes the passing-on of this global religion to the next generation very difficult.
A book of the range and complexity of Holy Ignorance inevitable will have errors. Some errors are minor, but irritating, such as the misspelling of Russian term inorodtsy (foreign-born), others are more serious, such as neglecting to note that the Constitution of the Russian Federation recognized Judaism as one of the traditional religions of the Russian state. In my view, however, this is probably less likely the result of the author's lack of knowledge then the policy of hiring non-knowledgeable editors by Columbia Press.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways 12 Feb 2011
By Frank Zahn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Although the book is a tedious read because of its convoluted sentences, the author's arguments are supported with an excellent grasp of history in a variety of cultures. The author's central thesis is the separation of religion and culture, a monumental and praiseworthy task. As I followed the development of the thesis, I was impressed with the excellent job the author did of debunking religious fundamentalism or holy ignorance, especially Christian fundamentalism in the United States and Muslim fundamentalism in the Middle East. Moreover, I was impressed with the job he did of debunking arguments in support of multiculturalism, arguing that it is absurd to claim that cultures are merely alternative life styles and cannot be judged in terms of which one, or ones, among them do a better job than the others of providing people with the trappings of basic human dignity. As an economist, I applaud the author's treatment of religion as a product with a market for it like any other product--once territorial and now global. His examples provide support for his argument that suppliers of religion increasingly cater to demand, not simply in terms of packaging but in terms of substance. In short, demand creates its own supply, a principle put forth in economics by John Maynard Keynes. I enjoyed reading the book very much. It's uplifting to think about things that people with absolute truth consider unthinkable.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Full of valuable ideas, but the prose style slows the pace 3 Mar 2011
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When halal turkeys sell for Thanksgiving, "Happy Holidays" drowns out "Merry Christmas," Easter egg hunts replace Mass celebrating the Resurrection, and sacred Catholic terms in Quebec serve only as swear words, culture has parted ways with religion. French professor Olivier Roy built his career analyzing Islam's political aspects, and in this new study, he broadens his view to also investigate Christian and Jewish reactions (with glances at Hindu and Buddhist contexts) to secularization. While the dense results in awkward prose, translated (from the 2008 French original) by Ros Schwartz, slow down any reader of this brief book, they deserve attention for Roy's explanations of what happens when multiculturalism and diversity produce a "holy ignorance" where an anti-intellectual reaction to modernization opposes a world of many opposed or divergent believers, or of none.

Religious advocates may boast of a comeback, but Roy labels this resurgence as a transformation. Even if religions appear more visible now, they are fading. More people are not returning to a familial religion, for many of their recent ancestors have already abandoned its practices. Rather, believers often come as converts or born-agains, and they may demand sudden acceptance by a religious community from which the individual seeker has been estranged. This "unsaid" culture, that of subtle customs and unspoken norms, may appear alien to the eager newcomer. Those who were raised within a religion they may follow to greater or lesser degree, casually as well as fervently, may disdain the bumptious aggression of the novice who demands too loudly to be accepted as genuine. Here, Roy shows, the cultural aspects have been, for many discontented seculars who wish to reconnect with religion, already attenuated.

Four reactions define historic and current responses by religion as it seeks to survive within its milieu. First, deculturation occurs when Christians try to wipe out indigenous faiths, or when orthodox Islam dominates the Indian subcontinent. Acculturation happens when the Jews of the Enlightenment adapt mainstream European values, or as India's natives integrate Christian or Islamic influences. Inculturation places liberation theology at the center of Latin American's indigenous ideologies. Finally, exculturation marks the Catholic or evangelical reactions we witness, as these powers fight a rearguard action against a worldly set of values now ascendant.

Religious defenders react in three ways. First, they may regard the competing culture as "profane," and look down upon it. The ultra-orthodox Jewish man may speak to God in Hebrew and to his family in Yiddish; the religious signifier separates from the everyday means of communication. Next, the religious movement may see the state as "secular," and regard it as parallel in function, as in the model of the First Amendment's separation of powers. The third approach treats the secular society as did the early Christians that of Rome: as the "pagan" enemy.

Two-thirds of this text explores cultural dimensions; the last third expands into globalization. Acculturation and deculturation both accelerate, as these two processes become more systematic, and more generalized. Acculturation expects that the dominant model imposes itself on a defeated group, which reacts by integrating or resisting. The free-market model counters that individuals choose now their affiliation, freed from territory or culture in which they were raised, and aided by the Net, tv, and media.

The professor concludes that "religion has lost its original and perhaps incestuous link with culture." Family life alters as individual choice determines partnerships. Self-realization, for converts alongside those who have grown up guided by a doctrine's decrees, trumps "natural law." Religions, for Roy, will continue to drift away from a uniform global culture even as their followers find themselves on archipelagos, in real or virtual spaces within but apart from the rest of the world.
4.0 out of 5 stars Evolving identities 6 Sep 2012
By Simon Barrett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The fault line between religion and culture can rarely have been so well surveyed. Rather hard going to begin with (after an intriguing introduction about the author's first brush with evangelicalism) but things hot up in Chapter 3. America is not forgotten - though I wish someone had told the translator that gospel (the music) takes a small g. Did you know the first white gospel group was set up in 1947? In France?? And I'd never heard of the Canadian sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie. Fascinating (read more at amazon.co.uk)
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The God That Broke Away 11 April 2011
By henry - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Olivier Roy recalls a time when religion and culture lived together harmoniously. Religion was embedded in culture and culture was permeated with religious values. Not any more. "Deculturation" is upon us. Religion has been wrenched out of its natural habitats and is no longer tempered by local custom and tradition, and secular culture is driven by the imperatives of the market. This has led to the spread of fundamentalist religions, which are not new cultures but "pure," extreme movements like the Taliban, "refusing all reference to history and culture." Globalization is a major force behind these developments as it scatters products, ideas and people without regard to their cultural origins and offers fundamentalism "a new space." It is therefore not a clash of civilizations that causes religious violence, but religion stripped of culture, including religious culture. Zeal replaces doctrine as the test of true faith, producing "holy ignorance."

This is a bold departure from conventional thinking and Roy presents an encyclopedic range of data, observations and anecdotes to support his thesis. So should we change our minds about the roots of violent fanaticism? Not really. One difficulty, amply documented by Roy, is that deculturation often fails to bring either extremism or violence. Whether it takes the form of separation from the surrounding culture, as with the Amish; or of a break with a religion's own origins, as with the Hare Krishna, who are not very Hindu; or of a rejection of all profane culture, even sometimes including reason and language, as with Pentecostal speaking in tongues, it can lead to very pacific outcomes.

Deculturation is obviously not sufficient to cause violence, but nor is it necessary. Tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, steeped in Moslem tradition, are more abundant sources of Jihadis than the Moslem suburbs of western Europe. And there was religious violence before there was globalization. Deculturation, with resentful alienation can be a source of violence, but it's the cultural context that makes the difference, including economic factors, such as youth unemployment, and political factors, such as conflicts over Kashmir and Palestine and between Shias and Sunnis.

Moreover, religious deculturation in the West is associated with the free flow of ideas and a fragmentation and fluidity of personal identity. Urbanization, specialization and consumerism are also parts of the picture. Which is to say that deculturation is itself a cultural phenomenon. It could not have thrived in closed, homogeneous communities. Escape from culture is harder than Roy supposes.
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