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300 Book Reviews

violence cannot be interpreted as a radical base of religious militancy may then

misinterpretation or misconstruction of have to be broadened and religious vio-
inherently peaceful religious scriptures and lence may have to be looked upon as
theologies. Instead, every major religious endemic rather than merely semiotic or
tradition can and has been interpreted performative.
in absolutist, exclusivist, intolerant and These minor points notwithstanding,
openly aggressive terms. It is these inter- Juergensmeyer’s book is a work of superb
pretations which contemporary religious scholarship which is likely to make a
extremists draw upon to construct what lasting contribution to our understanding
they regard to be moral justifications or of an issue with profound significance.
even imperatives for their acts of violence. In his treatment of the ‘global rise of
As Juergensmeyer also highlights, how- religious violence’, the author strikes a
ever, no religion can be reduced to a remarkable balance: he never trivializes
single logic or master narrative of violence the horrific consequences of religious
and exclusivism; instead, every tradition terrorism, while he avoids the common
also contains a more inclusive blue- projection of religious violence onto a
print of inter-religious tolerance and simplistically pathological ‘other’.
Perhaps the only point of criticism con- CHRISTIAN KARNER
cerns the author’s slightly arbitrary distinc- University of Nottingham
tion between religious terrorism and
religious nationalism. Terrorism is defined doi:10.1006/reli.2000.0252, available online at
in terms of an ideological commitment to on
a ‘cosmic war’, and the absence of a Richard King, Orientalism and Religion:
concrete political agenda or of any will- Postcolonial Theory, India and the ‘Mystic
ingness to participate in electoral politics. East’. London and New York, Routledge,
Nationalism is described as an active force 1999, x+283 pp., $75, £45 (hardback)
in the Realpolitik, where it may constitute ISBN 0 415 20257 4, $24.99, £14.99
a ‘serious alternative to secular rule’ (paperback) ISBN 0 415 20258 2.
(p. 214). However, Juergensmeyer’s own
discussion of Sikh militancy and Hindu Orientalism and postcolonial theory have
nationalism appears to imply that in cer- received little attention within the study of
tain contexts the line between religious religion. Richard King’s contribution is
terrorism and religious nationalism is therefore welcome as an account of the
blurred. The same may be said about the general significance of debates surround-
conflicts in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and ing postcolonial theory for the study of
Kosovo. Borrowing from the anthropol- religion. The book is particularly useful as
ogist Stanley Tambiah, we may thus a survey of relevant literature. Those who
subsume both phenomena under what wish to familiarise themselves with the
Tambiah describes as the contemporary significance of these trends may find the
‘politicisation of ethnicity’. If violence book a helpful resource.
is seen to be a common denominator In one volume, King gives an account
between certain movements of religious of the formation in the West of concepts
nationalism and Juergensmeyer’s examples which have structured the study of
of religious terrorism, some of his con- Eastern religious traditions. ‘Mysticism’,
clusions may appear questionable. For ‘religion’, ‘world religions’, ‘Hinduism’
example, his opposition of ‘peripheral’ and ‘Buddhism’, for example, have
militants to the social mainstream may be been formed in the Western secular mind
no longer applicable. Similarly, the social from its inheritance of the categories of

 2000 Academic Press

Book Reviews 301

Christian theology. The Enlightenment There is nothing new in this. The

distinction between the political and the requirements of good scholarship, includ-
religious separates the public, institutional, ing hermeneutic attention to context and
secular and rational dimensions of life anthropological and sociological perspec-
from the private, experiential, sacred tives, have for a long time provided an
and irrational ones. This distinction within effective counter-balance to the theologi-
Enlightenment thought has been pro- cal inheritance of an earlier generation of
jected onto that between West and East. scholars of religion. Moreover, King’s use
Eastern religion is identified as the ‘mysti- of ‘genealogy’, the method of identifying
cal other’, both by those who seek to the meaning of concepts by tracing their
disparage it and maintain the superiority earlier uses, does not escape the dangers of
of the rational, secular West, and by the genetic fallacy: there is no reason to
those who in Romantic reaction against suppose in advance that contemporary
rationalism seek wisdom in the ‘Mystic scholars of religion use ‘religion’ in a sense
East’. The claim of the critic of Oriental- which derives from Lactantius rather than
ism is that Western cultural identity has Cicero; in practice, each definition should
been maintained, in the absence of its be examined with care to explore its actual
own unifying principle, by projection presuppositions (as does Talal Asad for
of and distinction from the Oriental Clifford Geertz’s definition, in Genealogies
other. of Religion, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins
The objects of study in the discipline of University Press, 1993). Foucault’s own
religion have, to some extent, been the use of ‘genealogy’ explored the arising of
creations of scholars: drawing on the new meanings for concepts in line with
Christian theological emphasis on texts changing distributions of power relations.
and the Greek philosophical emphasis The critic of Orientalism, who attempts to
on ideas or essences, epitomized by uncover an existing power dynamic by
Augustine’s distinction between the his- appealing to a previous episteme, corrupts
torical Church and the City of God, the very method it claims to be using.
‘world religions’ or ‘great traditions’ have Let me be clear: while I am in sympathy
been idealized and largely theoretical con- with King’s position, I do not believe that
structs, lending authority to an indigenous he has constructed his argument in a way
elite but bearing little resemblance to the which will change the practice of con-
actual religious expression of humankind. scientious scholars of religion. King’s
Brahmanical forms of religion, particularly work is largely derivative, and while many
the Vedanta and those emphasizing the others who maintain the inseparability of
Gita, together with elite scholarly forms of politics and knowledge are clear about
Buddhism, have been elevated in both their political stance, King is less clear
theory and reality as those which corre- about his own. In so far as he appeals
spond to Christian ideas of a ‘faith’: they to respectful understanding of other tra-
make assertions which may be true or ditions, his motivation is simply that of
false. King points out that one does not ask good secular scholarship.
whether Russian or Spanish culture is true King’s work becomes more interesting
or false, and we do not need to in order to when he places secular understandings of
understand them. Similarly, if ‘religions’ religion within their own political context.
are understood as cultures or traditions He raises an awkward question: ‘to what
rather than beliefs, then the implicit value extent does the secular study of religion
judgments by which the West maintains subvert or devalue religious beliefs and
its own superiority in its depiction of the explanations of the world?’ (p. 43). We
East are no longer necessary. may note in passing that this question
302 Book Reviews

reveals its own theological and rational fill the consciousness of the public, the
inheritance in being concerned primarily media and government officials; it is here
with belief and explanation. It is here that that cultural politics passes through the
problems of truth, authority and power are concept of religion. Public consciousness
located. Evidence that devaluation does maintains confidence in itself by assuming
take place is to be found in the compara- that there exists an authenticated knowl-
tive study of mysticism: the dominant, edge of religion, conducted by scholars,
social constructivist approach to compara- which supports its conclusions. The actual
tive mysticism, exemplified by Steven Katz site of the scholarly study of religion is
and Grace Jantzen, effectively undermines therefore an important political site, even
the authority and truth of those traditions if it has a limited audience and little
which aim explicitly at the production of effective power. That such a study should
unmediated, uninterpreted experiences. be published primarily in the English
The fact that mystical truth claims have language through the medium of US and
been used to ligitimate authority is not in European journals and publishing houses
itself a reason to deny the truth of the itself reveals a colonial distribution of
claims. King is thus wary of attempts to power continuing within the discipline.
reduce religious to political discourse,
and of the monotony of a post-Orientalist PHILIP GOODCHILD
discourse which simply speaks of its University of Nottingham
own formation and power relations. His
juxtaposition of Indian and Buddhist doi:10.1006/reli.2000.0254, available online at
philosophies of constructivism with on
contemporary Western ones is potentially Karen Armstrong The Battle for God.
illuminating. New York, Knopf, 2000, xvi+371 pp.,
King therefore calls for a comparative $27.50 ISBN 0 679 43597 2.
dialogue between and within cultures. He
attacks the adoption of a single cultural Karen Armstrong is a former nun whose
perspective as adhering to the ‘myth of History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of
cultural isolationsim’. It is not yet clear on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (New
what basis such a dialogue may proceed. York, Knopf, 1994), was a best seller for
Cultures certainly do interact and affect months. She has now written a new book
each other, yet without a common basis entitled The Battle for God, which concerns
for dialogue, there are few criteria by ‘fundamentalism’ in Judaism, Christianity
which a Western scholar can assess the and Islam. Armstrong is aware that this
truth and value of Indian philosophical term is controversial, but chooses to use it
perspectives. In short, the cultural per- for lack of a better alternative.
spective on religious traditions lacks the Armstrong argues that fundamentalism
means by which theological, metaphysical, is ‘a reaction against the scientific and
ethical and political judgments can be secular culture that first appeared in the
made. If religion, culture and power are West’ (p. xi). She appears to define
mutually implicated, then such judg- ‘modernity’ primarily in terms of the dis-
ments are unavoidable and will continue placement of myth by ‘rational, pragmatic,
to be made on the basis of tradition. and scientific thought’ (pp. xiii–xvi). The
Those who support the significance of result of this displacement, she claims, is a
cultural politics for the study of religion spiritual void and a desperate yearning
have been criticised for exaggerating the for the certainty once provided by faith
power of a marginal academic discipline. (p. 370). One way that persons have
In practice, preconceptions about religion attempted to fill this void is by turning

 2000 Academic Press