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73nd Annual Summer Conference, August 5–8, 2004

Suggested Readings for 2004 Couchiching Summer Conference

God’s Back — with a Vengeance


Michael Adams, Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Inevitability
Penguin Canada, 2003
In Fire and Ice, pollster Michael Adams challenges the “myth of inevitability” that has led us to believe our Canadian way of life is doomed to extinction. Drawing upon a decade of pulse-taking that Environics has been performing on both sides of the border, he reveals that Canada and the United States are not drawing together, but rather are diverging in significant ways. This divergence includes both societal values and religious beliefs.

Tariq Ali, The Clash of Fundamentalisms
Verso, 2002
In this book, written after September 11, 2001, Tariq Ali argues that the most dangerous fundamentalism today is American imperialism and that it has created Islamic terrorism through its military presence in much of the world. This controversial book tries to situate recent events in an historical perspective, examining the policies of the British and American states in Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Gabriel A. Almond et al, Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalism Around the World
University of Chicago Press, 2002.
This is the summary of a five-volume, decade-long study of 75 different fundamentalist religious movements. The study taps the expertise of historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and political scientists from several countries.

Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God
Ballantine Books, 2001
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 author Karen Armstrong 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.

Karen Armstrong, A History of God
Gramercy Books, 1993 reissued in 2004
Karen Armstrong’s superbly readable exploration of how the three dominant monotheistic religions of the world—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—have shaped and altered the conception of God is a tour de force. Armstrong traces the history of how men and women have perceived and experienced God, from the time of Abraham to the present. From classical philosophy and medieval mysticism to the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the modern age of skepticism, Armstrong performs the near miracle of distilling the intellectual history of monotheism into one compelling volume.

Peter Beyer, Religion and Globalization
Sage Publications Limited, 1994
In his exploration of the interaction between religion and worldwide social and cultural change, the author examines the major theories of global change and discusses the ways in which such change impinges on contemporary religious practice, meaning and influence. Beyer explores some of the key issues in understanding the shape of religion today, including religion as culture and as social system, pure and applied religion, privatized and publicly influential religion, and liberal versus conservative religions. He goes on to apply these issues to five contemporary illustrative cases: the American Christian Right; Liberation Theology movements in Latin America; the Islamic Revolution in Iran; Zionists in Israel; and religious environmentalism – the response of religions to the degradation of the natural environment.

Harold Bloom, The American Religion
Simon and Schuster, 1993
Bloom argues that the American religion is closer to Gnosticism, the pre-Christian tradition of individual divinity. Americans believe that God knows and loves them in a personal way, and that something inside them, deeper even than a soul, is already in contact with god. The American self stands outside of creation; it is older than creation, as old as God, of which it is a part. In the American religion, to be free is to be joined in solitude with God or Jesus. “No Western nation is as religion-soaked as ours,” says Bloom, and he explores the varieties of religions that have grown on American soil. Bloom examines Christian Science, Seventh-day Adventism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostalism, and the varieties of New Age and African-American beliefs. But he probes most deeply into the two religions that he believes will come to pervade American national life in the twenty-first century: the Mormons and the Southern Baptists.

Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy
Common Courage Press, 1996 (reprinted in paperback in 2002)
How should we respond to violence against abortion clinics and some of the lunatic, even comical pronouncements of individuals on the religious right? Frederick Clarkson makes it clear that behind the lone individuals who sometimes grace the headline news is a powerful and growing political movement. Drawing on years of rigorous research, Clarkson casts light on the wild card “theology of vigilantism” which urges the enforcement of “God’s law”. Clarkson has also written Challenging the Christian Right: The Activist’s Handbook, for which he and his co-author were named among the “Media Heroes of 1992” by the Institute for Alternative Journalism.

Jean Bethke Elshtain, Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World
Basic Books, 2003.
This University of Chicago much published scholar presents perhaps the most persuasive justification for some of the tendencies in recent American foreign policy. This book is one of the most informed and thought-through answers to liberal criticisms of that policy, providing a linkage to theological and philosophical arguments rather than mere American patriotism run wild.

Azizah Y al-Hibri, Jean Bethke Elshstain, and Charles C. Haynes Religion in American Public Life: Living with our Deepest Differences
W.W. Norton, 2001
This is a thought-provoking discussion of the public and political expression of America’s diverse religious beliefs. Raise any number of public issues—health care, education, welfare—and religious beliefs inevitably shape Americans’ viewpoints. On certain topics the introduction of religion can be explosive. This book discusses how we can and why we should hear religious voices in the public square.

Diana Eck, A New Religious America: How a Christian Country Has Now Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation
Harper San Francisco, 2002
“The United States is the most religiously diverse nation in the world,” leading religious scholar Diana Eck writes in this guide to the religious realities of America today. This new religious diversity is now a Main Street phenomenon, yet many Americans remain unaware of the profound change taking place at every level of our society, from local school boards to Congress, and in small-town Nebraska as well as New York City. Islamic centers and mosques, Hindu and Buddhist temples, and meditation centers can be found in virtually every major American metropolitan area. How Americans of all faiths and beliefs can engage with one another to shape a positive pluralism is one of the essential questions – perhaps the most important facing American society. While race has been the dominant American social issue in the past century, religious diversity in our civil and neighborly lives is emerging, mostly unseen, as the great challenge of the twenty-first century. Diana Eck brilliantly analyzes these developments in the richest and most readable investigation of American society since Robert Bellah’s classic, The Habits of the Heart. What Eck gives us in A New Religious America is a portrait of the diversity of religion in modern America, complete with engaging characters, fascinating stories, the tragedy of misunderstanding and hatred, and the hope of new friendships, offering a road map to guide us all in the richly diverse America of the twenty-first century.

Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman, God’s Law or Man’s Law? Fundamentalist Challenge to Secular Rule
Times Publishing Group CA, 2002
Dr. Farhat-Holzman has published in the area of world religion and assessing today’s dangerous religious conflicts. Her newest book, God’s Law or Man’s Law: the Fundamentalist Challenge to Secular Rule is a survey of global militant religions.

Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations
Simon and Schuster, 1998
Based on the author’s seminal article in Foreign Affairs in 1993, Samuel Huntington’s book is a provocative analysis of the state of world politics after the fall of communism. The author puts forward the view that “civilizations” have replaced nations and ideologies as the driving force in global politics today.
These divisions are deep and increasing in importance. From Yugoslavia to the Middle East to Central Asia, Huntington argues the fault lines of civilizations are the battle lines of the future. With alien civilizations the West must be accommodating if possible, but confrontational if necessary.

Phillip Jenkins, The Next Christendom
Oxford University Press, 2002
(Also an Atlantic Monthly article in the October 2002 edition.)
This book gives an evidence-based look at the rise of Christianity outside of Western Europe and North America, a demographic trend that holds immense consequences for the 21st century. Contrary to current belief, it is not Islam but rather Christianity that is attracting the greatest number of new adherents outside of the West. And the form of Christianity being practiced is evangelical and frequently apocalyptic in tone. Jenkins argues that China, if it ever opens up to religion, will be the great “spiritual” battlefield between the new Christendom and Islam.

Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence
University of California Press, 2000.
A look at marginal groups in five major world religion traditions and the way in which religion has been used as a pretext for terrorist groups attacking the secular and pluralist state as well as states where there may be another dominant religious community exercising influence on government. While Juergensmeyer seems to see such groups as threats to democracy, he also says we should respect some of their ideas. Through a greater understanding of religious belief, he feels we can help stem the misuse and co-option of religion.

David Lyon and Margaret Van Die (editors), Rethinking Church, State and Modernity: Canada Between Europe and America
University of Toronto Press, 2000
Ambitious in scope, Rethinking Church, State, and Modernity considers some central concepts in the sociology and history of religion and, simultaneously, how Canada’s religious experience is distinctive in the modern world. The contributors to this volume challenge the institutional approach that stresses a strict division between “church” and “state”, which seems inappropriate in late-modern and post-modern scenarios. Rather, the authors favour an interpretation that is marked more by fluidity than fixity.

Irshad Manji, The Trouble With Islam
Random House, 2003.
This book is a call to Muslims to reexamine their faith in the light of terrorism and fundamentalism, and, in so doing, advance reform against the regressive and conservative elements in Islam that have given it such a bad name and propped up oppressive interpretations and practices. Irshad Manji calls herself a muslim refusenik. “That doesn’t mean I refuse to be a Muslim,” she writes. “It simply means I refuse to join an army of automatons in the name of Allah.” These automatons, Manji argues, include many so-called moderate Muslims in the West. In blunt, provocative, and deeply personal terms, she argues that Islam as it’s widely practiced, is built on troubling cornerstones: tribal insularity, deep-seated anti-Semitism, and an uncritical acceptance of the Koran as the final, and therefore superior, manifesto of God.

Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran
Random House, 2003
For two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, teacher and scholar Azar Nafisi taught her female student to read forbidden Western classics in the privacy of her home. These women were forbidden to go to university and to read Western literature. This very personal memoir speaks to the experiences of each of these eight women who experience liberation through literature in a fundamentalist state.

Mark A. Noll, America’s God – From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln
Oxford University Press, 2002
Religious life in early America is often equated with the fire-and-brimstone Puritanism best embodied by the theology of Cotton Mather. Yet, by the nineteenth century, American theology had shifted dramatically away from the severe European traditions directly descended from the Protestant Reformation, of which Puritanism was in the United States the most influential. In its place arose a singularly American set of beliefs marked by heightened spiritual inwardness, a new confidence in individual reason, and an attentiveness to the economic and market realities of Western life. In America’s God, Mark Noll has given us the definitive history of Christian theology in America from the time of Jonathan Edwards to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. It is a story of a flexible and creative theological energy that over time forged a guiding national ideology, the legacies of which remain with us to this day.

Fabio Petito, Pavlos Hatzopoulos, The Return from Exile
Palgrave Macmillan, 2003
Are the secular foundations of international relations sustainable at present? This comprehensive study shows how the global resurgence of religion confronts international relations theory with a theoretical challenge comparable to that raised by the end of the Cold War or the emergence of globalization. The volume tries to shake the secular foundational myths of the discipline and outline the need for an expansion into religiously inspired spheres of thought. It also challenges the most condemning accusation against religion: the view that the politicization of religion is always a threat to security and inimical to the resolution of conflict. Finally, the task of demystifying religion is taken further with an argument for a stronger and “progressive” political engagement of the worldwide religious traditions in the contemporary globalized era.

Daniel Pipes, Militant Islam Reaches America
W.W. Norton, 2002.
An exploration of just how widespread are those interpretations of Islam that are not merely immoderate but cloak a quite militant and aggressive, and fanatical brand of Islam. Dividing his work into two parts. Pipes first defines militant Islam, stressing the large and crucial difference between Islam, the faith, and the ideology of militant Islam. He then discusses the relatively new subject of Islam in the United States, and how it has developed rapidly in the last decade. Militant Islam Reaches America is the product of thirty years of extensive research.

Robert Sawyer, Hominids
TOR BOOKS (HC), 2002
In this book, Robert J. Sawyer argues that religion has been the single greatest negative force in human history, responsible for most human suffering, intolerance, injustice and war. The author puts forward the view that ironically it’s our belief in an afterlife that allowed us to send our children off to die in battle, to keep slaves and so on… Is religion the root of all evil?

Jessica Stern, Terror in the Name of God
Harper Collins, 2003
For four years, Jessica Stern interviewed extremist members of three religions around the world: Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Traveling extensively – to refugee camps in Lebanon, to religious schools in Pakistan, to prisons in Amman, Asqelon, and Pensacola – she discovered that the Islamic jihadi in the mountains of Pakistan and the Christian fundamentalist bomber in Oklahoma have much in common. Based on her research, Stern explains how terrorist organizations are formed by opportunistic leaders who, using religion as both motivation and justification, recruit the disenfranchised. She depicts how moral fervor is transformed into sophisticated organizations that strive for money, power and attention.

Brian Stiller, Jesus and Caesar: Christians
Castle Quay, 2003
This book by Brian C. Stiller captures 20 years of insights and reflections from his work in the public sphere, providing an analysis for the biblical call to “occupy until I come” and a practical guide for serving God through serving our world. As president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Stiller became a key public voice for people of biblical faith. As founder and editor-in-chief of Canada’s national Christian magazine, “Faith Today,” he has spoken out on these issues. He has also hosted the national television program, Cross Currents, and is author of eight books.

Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism and The Politics of Recognition
Princeton University Press, 1992
In this essay by renowned Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, the author asks if a democratic society can treat all its members as equals and also recognize their specific cultural identities. This is an issue of particular relevance to religious pluralism, as well as to our tolerance for cultural diversity in society. Four commentators then respond to Taylor’s historically informed analysis of liberal government and the concept of rights in society.


Toby Lester, ‘Oh Gods!” Atlantic Monthly, February 2002

Greg Koukl – Evangelical Christian and radio talk show host of Stand to Reason. Broadcast in California. Has written and debated against the merits of Pluralism.

Jack Miles,Religious Freedom and Foreign Policy,” in New Perspectives Quarterly, Vol. 20, no. 4. Fall, 2003.

An interesting poll completed by the Pew Centre for Religion and Public Life on American views on religion.

A speech excerpt by Rabbi Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth. In it Rabbi Sacks argues that:

  • religion is back (counter intuitively);
  • religion ought to be a force for good not for conflict;
  • religion has been at the heart of many regional conflicts;
  • religion is tied to the politics of identity.

“Religion has become a decisive force in the contemporary world, and it is crucial that it be a force for good – for conflict resolution, not conflict creation. If religion is not part of the solution, then it will surely be part of the problem. I would like therefore to put forward a simple but radical idea. I want to offer a new reading, or, more precisely, a new listening, to some very ancient texts. I do so because our situation in the 21st century, post-September 11, is new, in three ways....”
Excerpt (pdf)