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  • 7/17/2003

r="#017b79">THE BATTLE FOR GOD
 Karen Armstrong
Alfred A. Knopf: 446 pp.

The three great monotheistic traditions of the West--Judaism, Christianity and Islam--worship the same God but have competed over who has the purest link to the divine. These struggles between these faiths and within them, is the subject of Karen Armstrong's sometimes dense, always informative and illuminating new book, "The Battle for God." Armstrong, a former nun and the author of several books on religion, traces the history of fundamentalist movements from the 15th century to the present. She sees the rise of the modern world as a dramatic transformation in human existence, and she believes the central issue has been the unresolved tension between mythos and logos. All of us, she asserts, need to confront the fears generated by the modern world, and if the dominant culture fails to do so, others, such as fundamentalists, will. That is a key message, one that is easily drowned out in contemporary society, with only occasional voices like Armstrong's reminding us that we forget it at our peril.

Editorial Reviews



About 40 years ago popular opinion assumed that religion would become a weaker force and people would certainly become less zealous as the world became more modern and morals more relaxed. But the opposite has proven true, according to theologian and author Karen Armstrong (A History of God), who documents how fundamentalism has taken root and grown in many of the world's major religions, such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Even Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism have developed fundamentalist factions. Reacting to a technologically driven world with liberal Western values, fundamentalists have not only increased in numbers, they have become more desperate, claims Armstrong, who points to the Oklahoma City bombing, violent anti-abortion crusades, and the assassination of President Yitzak Rabin as evidence of dangerous extremes.

Yet she also acknowledges the irony of how fundamentalism and Western materialism seem to urge each other on to greater excesses. To "prevent an escalation of the conflict, we must try and understand the pain and perception of the other side," she pleads. With her gift for clear, engaging writing and her integrity as a thorough researcher, Armstrong delivers a powerful discussion of a globally heated issue. Part history lesson, part wake-up call, and mostly a plea for healing, Armstrong's writing continues to offer a religious mirror and a cultural vision.--Gail Hudson

From Publishers Weekly

Former nun and A History of God iconoclast Armstrong delves deeply once again into the often violent histories of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, this time exploring the rise of fundamentalist enclaves in all three religions. Armstrong begins her story in an unexpected, though brilliant, fashion, examining how the three faiths coped with the tumultuous changes wrought by Spain's late-15th-century reconquista. She then profiles fundamentalism, which she views as a mostly 20th-century response to the "painful transformation" of modernity. Armstrong traces the birth of fundamentalism among early 20th-century religious Zionists inIsrael, biblically literalist American Protestants and Iranian Shiites wary of Westernization. Armstrong sensitively recognizes one of fundamentalism's great ironies: though they ostensibly seek to restore a displaced, mythical spiritual foundation, fundamentalists often re-establish that foundation using profoundly secular, pseudo-scientific means ("creation science" is a prime example). Armstrong is a masterful writer, whose rich knowledge of all three Western traditions informs the entire book, allowing fresh insights and comparisons. Her savvy thesis about modernization, however, could be improved by some attention to gender issues among fundamentalists. The book is also occasionally marred by a condescending tone; Armstrong attacks easy Protestant targets such as Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart (whose name she misspells) and claims that fundamentalists of all stripes have "distorted" and "perverted" their faiths. Despite its underlying polemic, this study of modernity's embattled casualties is a worthy and provocative read. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Armstrong, author of A History of God and other books on the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religions, writes very perceptively about the intense fear of modernity that has stimulated various fundamentalisms: Protestant, in the United States; Jewish, in Israel; Sunni Muslim, in Egypt; and Shii Muslim, in Iran. Each is ultimately modern in its attempts at converting mythic thinking into logical thinking and in its use of widespread literacy and the democratic ideas about individual importance that modernity fostered, but each is also at war with its liberal co-religionists and with secularists who "have entirely different conceptions of the sacred." Armstrong concludes that both sides--fundamentalists and secularists (including governments)--need compassion in order to be true to their own religious or humanistic values. The historical range and depth of this work, which transcends other treatments of the subject, make this highly recommended for all libraries.
---Carolyn M. Craft, Longwood Coll., Farmville, VA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

 Book Description

Fundamentalism has emerged as one of the most powerful forces at work in the world. However, it remains incomprehensible to large numbers of people. InThe Battle for God, Karen Armstrong brilliantly and sympathetically shows us how and why fundamentalist groups came into existence and what they yearn to accomplish.
Focusing on Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim fundamentalism, she examines the ways in which these movements, while not monolithic, have each sprung from a dread of modernity -- and often in response to assault, sometimes unwitting, sometimes intentional, by the mainstream society.
Armstrong sees the fundamentalist groups as complex, innovative and modern -- rather than throwbacks to the past -- but contends that they have failed inreligious terms. Maintaining that fundamentalism often exists in symbiotic relationship with an aggressive modernity, each urging the other on to greater, excess, she suggests compassion as a way to defuse what is now" an intensifying conflict.

About the Author

Karen Armstrong is one of the foremost commentators on religious affairs in both Britain and theUnited States. She spent seven years as a Roman Catholic nun, took a degree atOxfordUniversity, teaches atLeoBaeckCollege for the Study of Judaism, and received the 1999 Muslim Public Affairs Council Media Award. Her previous books include the best-selling A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam;Jerusalem:OneCity, Three Faiths; and In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis

 King of the Castle
Choice and Responsibility in the Modern World

This book examines closely many of the unquestioned assumptions by which we live our lives, comparing them with the beliefs that have shaped and guided human life in the past. It begins with a consideration of how secular societies attempt to possess their citizens, body and soul and how, as a consequence, the necessity of redefining human responsibility becomes an ever more urgent imperative. The book continues with a presentation of the traditional view of man as ‘God’s Viceroy on Earth’, with an eye to its practical implications in a world that has all but forgotten, under the pressure of mass social persuasion, that man must always be free to choose his own ultimate destiny. The author’s thesis is a passionate yet incisive plea for the restoration of the sacred norms of religion, as against the debilitating and falsifying aims of a profane world-view based on no more than recent scientific and technological achievements.
Charles Le Gai Eaton was born in Switzerland and educated at Charterhouse at King’s College,Cambridge. He worked for many years as a teacher and journalist inJamaica and Egypt (where he embraced Islam in 1951) before joining the British Diplomatic Service. He is now a consultant to the Islamic Cultural Centre inLondon.

‘This marvelous book...abounds with penetrating insights...The most remarkable quality of the book however its courage is.’Fourth World Review

‘This is a book of the utmost importance to anyone concerned...with the really basic questions of human life.’ Country Life

‘This is an urgent piece of writing, a reading of what we are and where we are.’ TLS

Table of Contents

Unreal Cities
The Cost of Wealth
Liberty and Obedience
Man in Society
Man as Viceroy
Knowledge and its Counterfeits
The Only Heritage We Have
What We Are and Where We Are


If, by some strange device, a man of our century could step backwards in time and mix with the people of a distant age he would have good cause to doubt either their sanity or his own. Mountains, forests and the blue sky would look familiar enough, but they would not be seen by the people around him in the way he saw them. Their physical features might be the same, but their meaning would be different.
He would know what common sense is and what constitutes human normality. So would the people amongst whom he found himself, but their common sense would differ from his and their normality might seem to him abnormal. Questioning everything they took for granted and amazed that they should be so unquestioning in their assumptions, he would find that all he took for granted was brought into question. His ‘Why?’ would be met with their ‘Why?, and he would not know the answer.
From our present position we can see how limited were the beliefs and ideas of earlier times and other cultures, how many avenues were left unexplored and how many opportunities missed. It is easy to suppose that, in changing our perspective, we have escaped from the limitations inherent in human thinking and human vision. Yet our faculties and our senses are the same. We are not a new species, and to compare our own world view with any other is merely to compare different kinds of limitation, as though a man tunneling his way out of prison were to emerge within the perimeter, exchanging one cell for another.
So it must always be unless the prisoner learns that freedom lies in quite another direction, never through the tunnel of time.
Like those who came before us we have chosen—or had chosen on our behalf—certain particular objectives out of the multitude of possibilities open to man and, like them, we ignore everything that seems irrelevant to our purpose. This purpose is determined by the assumptions we take for granted, the axioms which seem to us to demand no proof, the moral imperatives which appear self-evident and therefore unarguable. We are rational creatures, certainly, but reason does not operate in a vacuum or spin the premises of argument out of its own substance. It must start from somewhere. Certain propositions must be accepted as self-evident before our minds will function, and one can reason as well on the basis of a false proposition as upon that of a true one.
A man in a dark place mistakes a coil of rope for a snake. From then on his logic may be impeccable, his behaviour entirely reasonable; but he is still wrong. It is the basic assumptions which determine all the rest.
My intention in this book is to take a long, hard look at some of the basic assumptions of our age, to question the unquestionable and to cast doubt upon propositions which appear self-evident. This cannot be done without, at the same time, suggesting the outlines of quite a different perspective.
No one can extricate himself completely from the conditioning of his own period and environment. Consciously or unconsciously, we are all of us to some extent held captive by the clinging vines of our particular jungle and at home in these bonds. They are, indeed, like extensions of our selves and correspond to deeply rooted habits of thought and of feeling. It is not easy to break free, but, precisely because we are human, it is not impossible. Between earth and sky, among all living creatures and all the earth’s ornaments, man alone is capable of some degree of detachment from his temporal matrix.
But to break free is not to float away into the void. No one could live and think in a moral and intellectual no-man’s-land. To be able to look critically and objectively at the ground upon which the people of our time have taken their stand, one must have firm ground beneath one’s own feet. To diagnose the ills of the time one must possess standards of health.
The point of view from which this book is written is, in the first place, Islamic. This does not mean that Muslims in general would necessarily endorse the views expressed or that I propose to put forward a specifically Islamic critique of Western, post-Christian civilization. What it does mean is that this view is rooted in the Muslim faith and in a soil quite different to that which supports either the modernistic Christian or the modern atheist.
Secondly, this perspective is founded upon a belief in the essential unity of the great religions as deriving from a single source of Revelation, and in a perennial wisdom expressed not only through the religions but also in the myths and symbols of ancient peoples (and of what are commonly called ‘primitive’ human groups up to the present day), a wisdom which may be said to inhere in the deepest level of our being so that we need only to be reminded of it in order to rediscover the truth within ourselves. This belief is in fact an extension of the Islamic perspective, for Islam is by definition the final Revelation in this human cycle and the final crystallization of that wisdom.
Lastly and, one might say, as a logical consequence, my concern is with human ‘normality’ as it has been understood through the ages and in a vast diversity of cultures: the nature and the status of man as man, the two-legged creature standing upright in his blue and green world, face-to-face with his God. Only in terms of an immutable norm can one even begin to consider what choice men have in their lives and what responsibility is theirs.

Nightingales under the Snow: Poems

Annemarie Schimmel

 Editorial Reviews


Book Description

This book of poems by the late Anne Marie Schimmel, is an inspired reminiscence of places, events, myths and characters recounted from the viewpoint of a life unusually led. Written between 1974 and 1994, the poems are influenced particularly by the verses of Rumi, perhaps the greatest of Persian Sufi poets; they are also inspired by the complex moods of Pakistani folktales and by the effort to cope with the rigors of life in the West.

About the Author

ANNEMARIE SCHIMMEL, died at age 80 in Bonn, Germany, where she had retired from her professorial post at the university of that city, a position she held along with a professorship of Indo-Muslim Culture at Harvard from which she was also emeritus. She left behind 150 publications, from modest pamphlets to lengthy books.


Martin Lings

Size: 216 x 138 mm
Pages: 86
Binding: paper
Illustrations: duotones
Publication date: f (2002)

In this his latest work, eminent Islamic scholar Martin Lings discusses the significance of the pilgrimage to Mecca in the light of the tradition of Abraham. Drawing upon his own experience of performing the pilgrimage first in 1946 and then again in 1978, as well referring to the traditional sources he describes how the Hajj, proclaimed and established by Abraham and Ishmael about 4,000 years ago, and renewed by the Prophet Muhammad some fourteen hundred years ago, has continued to be performed without a break until the present day, its spiritual meaning as profound and timeless as ever.

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