Is religion an obstacle to the values of modernity? Popular and scholarly opinion says that it is. In a world gripped in a clash of civilizations, religious absolutism seems to threaten the modern virtues of tolerance, reason, and freedom. This collection of historical essays argues that this popular view--religion versus modernity--is used by the politically powerful to construct the religious as irrational and antimodern. The authors study how nationalists, state officials, missionaries, and scholars in the West and in the colonized world defined and redefined the relationship between the political and the religious.
Part I of the book examines the political and scholarly stakes invovled in defining religions--Buddhism, African traditional religion, and fundamentalist Judaism--as subjective and apolitical belief systems. Part II takes up the relationship between religious reform and nationalism, asking how the formalization of religious practices helped define nationalist ideologies in the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire, Japan, and India. Part III turns to religious exhibits in Turkey and the southern United States, exploring how pilgrims and tourists convert museum displays into objects of religious veneration. By treating religion as a contested social space, this book brings philosophy, theology, history, and political science together to show how struggles over the definition of the religious are bound up with colonial and national politics around the world.