Well known religion academic Karen Armstrong has recently written a very interesting OpEd piece in The Guardian outlining the history of the rise of secular government in Western Europe and its often disastrous application in other parts of the world, most particularly in the post-Ottoman Middle East. It provides some essential context to the rise of extremism in that part of the world and is an excellent primer on the history of separating church and state.
Unfortunately, her piece eventually over-reaches. Armstrong’s life mission is to ring-fence and quarrantine The Sacred. In this instance, she does it again, essentially putting religious motivations for violence in a blender with all the other possible motivations, flicking the switch and declaring that in the resultant concoction, it’s impossible to identify that religion is a motivation per se.
Stephen Law has produced a very useful check on Armstrong’s excesses in response, wherein he defends ‘Secularism’ (with a big ‘S’) against Armstrong’s attack.
I hope to very soon put up a post of my own on religious fundamentalism – a word that has defied exact definition – but recent Middle East conflicts throw up some interesting angles on fundamentalism that are not reflected in traditional media reports on the topic.