"In The Battle for God, Armstrong brilliantly traces the struggle between the burgeoning Western secularism and the religious fundamentalism that has dogged its heels for the past five hundred years, culminating in that greatest of all fundamentalist attacks on secularism, 9-11. But 9-11 holds a fresh irony. While Osama and Co. wouldn't exist without the hegemony of Western secularism to rally against, their most effective attack on the Great Satan has breathed new life into our own fundamentalist tendencies.... Perhaps it's time to reread The Battle for God. Last year we read it to understand our enemies. This year we should read it to understand ourselves." C. P. Farley, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
"One of the most penetrating, readable, and prescient accounts to date of the rise of the fundamentalist movements in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam."
--The New York Times Book Review
"EXCELLENT . . . HIGHLY INTELLIGENT AND HIGHLY READABLE . . . This is a book that will prove indispensable . . . for anyone who seeks insight into how these powerful movements affect global politics and society today and into the future."
--The Baltimore Sun
"ARMSTRONG SUCCEEDS BRILLIANTLY . . . With her astonishing depth of knowledge and readily accessible writing style, [she] makes an ideal guide in traversing a subject that is by its very nature complex, sensitive and frequently ambiguous."
--The San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle
"A USEFUL AND REWARDING BOOK."
--The Boston Globe
"An impressive achievement. Armstrong has mastered a mountain of material, added some brilliant insights of her own, and made it accessible to the general reader." Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People
"Karen Armstrong takes the bull by the horns in this richly detailed study of fundamentalism's many faces through the ages...The book is a timely reminder: that religious ideologues and secular advocates of the nation-state, having helped create each other, must moderate their conflicts or pay the pricein violence at the expense of spirit." Michael Wolfe, author of The Hadj and One Thousand Roads to Mecca
"Going beyond her best-selling A History of God, Karen Armstrong has given us a wide-ranging review of the wrenching "Battle for God" between the forces of modernity and fundamentalism. Too many prefer to curse and denigrate the rise of fundamentalism. Karen Armstrong chooses to light a candle of understanding and comparative analysis." Rabbi Irving Greenberg, president of the Jewish Life Network
"The Battle for God presents us with a sweeping panoramic view of the cultural and religious development of the Western world. Karen Armstrong first leads her readers into a brilliant udnerstanding of our present situation, then with equal skill she enables us to grasp a vision of a apiritual future that holds enormous promise. No one who occupies a role of leadership in political, educational, or religious arenas should ignore this illuminating book." Rt. Rev. John S. Spong, author of Why Christianity Must Change or Die
"Armstrong's Battle for God must immediately have a place on the bookshelf of anyone who wants to understand contemporary religious revivalism. She combines historical perspective with clear and balanced analysis in a way that provides remarkable insight into how religion interacts with modernity to create both conflict and new visions." John Voll, author of Islam: Continuity and Change in the Modern World
"As a portrait of militant fundamentalism Jewish, Islamic, and Christian it is a stunning acheivement." Campbell, The Christian Science Monitor
"Whether or not you see fundamentalism as a threat, as Karen Armstrong does in The Battle for God, hers is one of the most penetrating, readable and prescient accounts to date of the rise of the fundamentalist movements in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Rather than make sweeping pronouncements, she wisely focuses on the fundamentalist strains in the United States, Israel, Iran and Egypt. She displays, as she should, sympathy for the plight of those who turned to fundamentalism after being shunted aside by forces and states that have little patience with the quest by the poor and the dispossessed to find meaning and purpose." Chris Hedges, The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Karen Armstrong is one of the foremost commentators on religious affairs in both Britain and the United States. She spent seven years as a Roman Catholic nun, took a degree at Oxford University, teaches at Leo Baeck College 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: One City, Three Faiths
; and In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
In our supposedly secular age governed by reason and technology, fundamentalism has emerged as an overwhelming force in every major world religion. Why? This is the fascinating, disturbing question that bestselling author Karen Armstrong addresses in her brilliant new book The Battle for God. Writing with the broad perspective and deep understanding of human spirituality that won huge audiences for A History of God, Armstrong illuminates the spread of militant piety as a phenomenon peculiar to our moment in history.
Contrary to popular belief, fundamentalism is not a throwback to some ancient form of religion but rather a response to the spiritual crisis of the modern world. As Armstrong argues, the collapse of a piety rooted in myth and cult during the Renaissance forced people of faith to grasp for new ways of being religious--and fundamentalism was born. Armstrong focuses here on three fundamentalist movements: Protestant fundamentalism in America, Jewish fundamentalism in Israel, and Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt and Iran--exploring how each has developed its own unique way of combating the assaults of modernity.
Blending history, sociology, and spirituality, The Battle for God is a compelling and compassionate study of a radical form of religious expression that is critically shaping the course of world history.
1. Have you or someone close to you ever adhered to a religious group that Karen Armstrong would define as fundamentalist? Does her view of funda-mentalism "ring true" for you?
2. Karen Armstrong uses the terms mythos and logos to describe "two ways of thinking, speaking, and acquiring knowledge." Mythos is concerned with "the eternal and the universal," she writes, and logos is concerned with "ratio-nal, pragmatic, and scientific thought." How do these terms apply to your own experience of religious and secular life?
3. Armstrong points out that the first Grand Inquisitor, whose mission was to stamp out Judaism in Spain, was himself a Jew who converted to Catholi-cism. Do you believe that a convert is more likely to be zealous in his or her new faith than someone who was born into the same faith?
4. Were you surprised to learn that Islam treated Christians and Jews as a "protected minority" (dhimmi)? Did Armstrong's description of the history of Islam change the way you view the Islamic world as it is depicted in news media and popular entertainment today?
5. According to Armstrong, the events in Spain of 1492--the expulsion of Jews and Muslims--marked the beginning of "a new order" in world his-tory. She also finds history-changing significance in the rise of Napoleon, the industrial revolution, and World War I. Do you agree that these events changed the world as we know it?
6. In writing about modernization in the Western world, Armstrong points out that some scientists and scholars came to embrace the principle that "the only information upon which we could safely rely came from our five senses," and "anything else was pure fantasy." In their view, she writes, "[p]hilosophy, metaphysics, theology, art, imagination, mysticism, and mythology were all dismissed as irrelevant and superstitious because they could not be verified empirically." Does your own experience of life prompt you to agree or disagree with this point of view?
7. Armstrong insists that modernism, despite all of the material benefits that it bestowed upon humanity, was not a complete replacement for religion and spirituality. "Human beings find it almost impossible to live without a sense that, despite the distressing evidence to the contrary, life has ultimate meaning and value," she writes. What is your own view of the "ultimate meaning and value" of life in the modern world? Do you find meaning and value in life through religious observance?
8. "In their way, fundamentalists were ardent modernists," writes Armstrong. Do you agree that fundamentalism, as Armstrong defines and explains it, is a feature of the modern world and could not have existed in an earlier era?
9. "The death camp and the mushroom cloud," writes Armstrong, "are icons that we must contemplate and take to heart so that we do not become chauvinistic about the modern scientific culture that so many of us in the developed world enjoy." Do you believe that the benefits of the modern world outweigh such horrors as the Holocaust and the threat of nuclear destruction?
10. Armstrong argues that there is "a void at the heart of modern culture," which French existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre described as "a God-shaped hole." Do you experience such a void in your own life? If so, how have you tried to fill the "God-shaped hole"?
11. Armstrong holds out the hope that fundamentalists and modern secular societies can come to understand and live in peace with each other. "If fun-damentalists must evolve a more compassionate assessment of their ene-mies in order to be true to their religious traditions," she writes, "secularists must also be more faithful to the benevolence, tolerance, and respect for humanity which characterizes modern culture at its best." Do you see any specific ways in which "secularists" can express these qualities in a way that fundamentalists can understand them?
12. How do the conflicts between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East differ from the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland? Do the ideas that Armstrong explores in The Battle for God apply to both of these "hot spots" of the modern world?
13. Has The Battle for God changed the way you understand the role of religion in defining and encouraging morality in public and private life? Has reli-gion played a positive or a negative role in shaping the world we live in today?
14. Does The Battle for God change how you feel about fundamentalism in reli-gion? In what way? Are you more or less sympathetic toward fundamen-talists than you were when you first picked up the book?