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Ch. 4 - Jews and Muslims Modernize (1700-1870) 
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Thu Dec 30, 2004 12:13 am
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Post Re: Ch. 4 - Jews and Muslims Modernize (1700-1870)
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Edited by: MadArchitect at: 2/16/05 12:22 am

Wed Feb 16, 2005 12:21 am
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Post Re: Ch. 4 - Jews and Muslims Modernize (1700-1870)
Ah, finally finished up the final chapter of Armstrong prefatory material. I'm eager to get on to Part 2 of the book, since it's title indicates that it is specifically about what the book advertises in its title: fundamentalism. As before, some thoughts on chapter 4:

Concerning Hasidic Judaism, I would say that the material provided by Armstrong suggests an interpretation that is, if not precisely contradictory, distinct from her inference. It seems to me, based on the material Armstrong presents, that Hasidic Judaism illustrates the way in which a congregation abandoned by its organized tradition may fall back on "the recovery of an ancient truth" not in opposition to the world but in support of the immediate community of belief. In such an instance, the ad fontes perspective is a mechanism in response to the internal decay of the tradition, not to an external threat. Whether or not this illustration applies to modern fundamentalism remains to be seen, but I think it is important to recognize potential exceptions as they arise, and holding Hasidic Judaism as a model for such exceptions may be useful.

An alternative thesis to that apparantly underlying Armstrong's history is one that appears to be imbedded in much of the material itself. On page 105, for instance, depicts the reaction of Jews to the Imperial sweep of Napoleanic France, which serves to remind us that the rise of modernity coincides with the rise of nationalism. Throughout this chapter, I've been toying with the idea that fundamentalism is not, as Armstrong terms it, a reaction to a perceived crisis, as though that crisis were modernity itself, but rather a reaction to the modern tendency towards the absolutism of the state. This notion plays into an earlier point that we discussed: the notion of civilization as demanding absolute assimulation. If fundamentalism is a distinctly modern phenomenon -- and the division of Armstrong's work implies that it is -- then it makes sense that it would correspond to one of the notions that drove modernity, nationalism. One aspect to commend this hypothesis is its applicability along multiple layers of hierarchy: the lower classes were often just as interested in nationalism as the upper, if not more so; the same cannot be said of pure reason.

One of the more notable departures from Armstrong suggested by this alternative thesis is that the mythos/logos dichotomy plays very little into it; if anything, the mythos of fundamentalist religion would be in conflict with the mythos of the state rather than with some universal drive towards reason. I'll likely develop this alternative hypothesis as we move into other chapters.

Concerning the applicability of the mythos/logos dichotomy, we might question Armstrong's claim (p. 106) that "Reform Judaism began as a almost wholly pragmatic movement and, as such, was guided entirely according to the principles of logos." This seems dubious to me, if for no other reason than because the notion of "Judaism" itself is rooted in myth. How does one begin to excise mythos from a tradition that is realized only in a group constituted by a central myth? For there to be a Reform Judaism at all, Judaism must be maintained as a viable community, and that is only possible through recourse to its historical-mythological foundation.

On the topic of withdrawal and retreat, we may turn to the part of the chapter that depicts the development of the yeshiva. This is particularly important in regards to our discussion about whether or not the withdrawal of a group like the Amish can constitute a form of fundamentalism. It's also significant in that it's one of the few passages in the first part of the book to talk explicitly about fundamentalism. She here depicts withdrawal as a step in the longer process towards militant aggression, but the question that lingers over the passage, to my mind, is: at what point in the process do we name them fundamentalists? If the Amish have persisted in a state of withdrawal for several hundred years, are we correct in calling them fundamentalists in the same sense as we apply that word to al Queda? Are the two merely in different stages of development? Armstrong is clear concerning the potential for violent outburst bred by such a withdrawal, but she is imprecise about whether or not this form of "conservativism" bears a direct relation to the "militant piety" or "embattled" religion of fundamentalism. We might just as well think of Thoreau as a potential fundamentalist during his stay at Walden.

Conquest as the mode of the spread of modernity may further indicate to us the political basis for fundamentalism, and we can see ample illustrations of this in the Muslim passages of this chapter. We see the imperial urge in Napolean, in the French and British conquests of Egypt, in their use of Iran as a bridge to their conquest of India, in the sponsorship of the Suez canal and so on. Another theme that you find developed in these sections is the dominance of European warfare. What made the conversion to modernity so imperative for the Muslim states, it would seem, is not its implicit benefits but rather the threat that modernized states pose to the sovreignty of their states. What we're seeing in such struggles are not the conflicts of a logos society versus a mythos society but a struggle determined by the application of logos to two cultures that remain rooted in mythos.

What does modernization mean to Armstrong, after all? I think this is a question we're going to be butting up against so long as she continues to draw a contrast between modernization and conservativism. She seems to imply on page 125 that centralization is crucial to modernization. And throughout the chapter she all but says that modernization must be complete to be real -- that it's not enough to modernize your city or your military or your political system if you have not imbued your people with a sense of the modern, whatever that may mean. One suspects that Egypt might have had an easier time modernizing if it had merely submitted to the conquest of the French -- but that would have been Europeanization as much as modernization, and I'm not sure it would be so easy to distinguish between the two. Nor is it easy to do so in Armstrong's use of the term. Must a nation like Egypt adapt the cultural ideas of Europe in order to be modernized? If so, at what point does modernization require the sacrafice of a nation or people's identity?

Cultural identity may in fact be the provence of religion rather than reason, as illustrated in the passages on pages 126-127. Looking back through the previous chapters, we can see the same idea cropping up in the discussion of the Jewish Diaspora.

Wed Feb 16, 2005 1:22 am
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