Secularism Confronts Islam / Edition 1

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The denunciation of fundamentalism in France, embodied in the law against the veil and the deportation of imams, has shifted into a systematic attack on all Muslims and Islam. This hostility is rooted in the belief that Islam cannot be integrated into French—and, consequently, secular and liberal-society. However, as Olivier Roy makes clear in this book, Muslim intellectuals have made it possible for Muslims to live concretely in a secularized world while maintaining the identity of a "true believer." They have formulated a language that recognizes two spaces: that of religion and that of secular society.

Western society is unable to recognize this process, Roy argues, because of a cultural bias that assumes religious practice is embedded within a specific, traditional culture that must be either erased entirely or forced to coexist in a neutral, multicultural space. Instead, Roy shows that new forms of religiosity, such as Islamic fundamentalism and Christian evangelicalism, have come to thrive in post-traditional, secular contexts precisely because they remain detached from any cultural background.

In recognizing this, Roy recasts the debate concerning Islam and democracy. Analyzing the French case in particular, in which the tension between Islam and the conception of Western secularism is exacerbated, Roy makes important distinctions between Arab and non-Arab Muslims, hegemony and tolerance, and the role of the umma and the sharia in Muslim religious life. He pits Muslim religious revivalism against similar movements in the West, such as evangelical Protestantism and Jehovah's Witnesses, and refutes the myth of a single "Muslim community" by detailing different groups and their inability to overcome their differences.

Roy's rare portrait of the realities of immigrant Muslim life offers a necessary alternative to the popular specter of an "Islamic threat." Supporting his arguments with his extensive research on Islamic history, sociology, and politics, Roy brilliantly demonstrates the limits of our understanding of contemporary Islamic religious practice in the West and the role of Islam as a screen onto which Western societies project their own identity crisis.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Foreign Affairs

Secularism Confronts Islam is the latest brilliant little book by the French scholar Roy, one of the world's leading academic experts on Islam, especially Islam in Europe. Roy tackles an important and controversial question: Is Islam compatible with Europe's increasingly secular society? Many scholars, politicians, and polemicists say no, arguing that Islam makes no distinction between religion and politics and that it is not just a religion but also a culture, which makes it hard to assimilate. Roy's view is more nuanced. He takes issue with the notion that there is a single, immutable version of Islam -- the claim of Muslim fundamentalists -- and reminds us that the Catholic Church also resisted secularism and the separation of church and state until at least the beginning of the twentieth century. Roy sees most Muslims in Europe as loyal citizens trying to find ways to practice their faith while abiding by the laws of their secular societies. One example: French Muslim organizations posing legal challenges to the French government's ban on wearing headscarves in schools but rejecting violent or extralegal measures to achieve their aims. Roy is not Pollyannaish about the challenges of Islam in Europe, but his highly informed exploration of those challenges is an important contribution to an often emotional debate.<

Foreign Affairs - Philip H. Gordon
[A] brilliant little book.
New York Sun - Claire Belinski
A remarkable book: articulate, original, lucid, without a paragraph that fails to contain an interesting thought.
Globe & Mail - Martin Levin
[A] valuable little monograph.
Harper's - John Gray
Roy provides a useful corrective to the interpretation of Islamism.
Insight Turkey - Talip Küçükcan
An insightful analysis.
Superb... a welcome contribution to political science, sociology, religious studies—and statecraft.
The Economist
A work of sustained deconstruction, [Roy] takes apart the myths, clichés and prejudices which characterise the current conversation about Islam.
Foreign Affairs
[A] brilliant little book.

— Philip H. Gordon

New York Sun
A remarkable book: articulate, original, lucid, without a paragraph that fails to contain an interesting thought.

— Claire Belinski

Globe & Mail
[A] valuable little monograph.

— Martin Levin

Roy provides a useful corrective to the interpretation of Islamism.

— John Gray


Superb... a welcome contribution to political science, sociology, religious studies—and statecraft.

Middle East Journal
[A] cogent work.
Insight Turkey
An insightful analysis.

— Talip Küçükcan

American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences
Rich in theoretical analysis.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231141024
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 6/29/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Olivier Roy is research director at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and lectures at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and the Institut d'Études Politiques (IEP) in Paris. His books with Columbia University Press include The Politics of Chaos in the Middle East; Globalized Islam; and, with Amel Boubekeur, Whatever Happened to the Islamists? Salafis, Heavy Metal Muslims, and the Lure of Consumerist Islam.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

PrefaceIntroduction: Laïcité and the Identity of France1. French Laïcité and Islam: Which Is the Exception? 2. Islam and Secularization3. The Crisis of the Secular State and the New Forms of Religiosity4. De Facto SecularizationNotesIndex

Columbia University Press

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