Findings & Footnotes December 2016

  • Unbelieving in Modern Society (Routledge, $119.96), by Jorg Stolz, Judith Konemann, Mallory Schneuwly Purdie, Thomas Engleberger, and Michael Kruggeler, is about Swiss religion, but the authors argue that its findings can be applied to the Western religious situation in general. While many sociologists of religion use the ideas of competition and a spiritual marketplace to explain the growth of religion, Stolz and colleagues use “market theory” to explain what they see as the growing secularization of society. The book’s research team used mixed methods, drawing on surveys, interviews, and census data, allowing them to classify the Swiss into various types (and subtypes), including Institutional (active, church-going Christians), Alternative (those holding esoteric and holistic beliefs and practices), Distanced (nominally religious and often skeptical individuals with “fuzzy” beliefs), and Secular (those without any religious beliefs and practices).

    The authors find that the Distanced type is most prevalent in Swiss society, with 57.4 percent, followed by Institutional (17.5 percent), Alternative (13.4 percent), and Secular (11.7 percent). The researchers argue that the latter category will eventually predominate because of the growth of secular-religious competition. With the shift to what the authors see as a “me-society” starting in the 1960s, religions havelost their institutional following. Those religions that want to retain their members and grow have to engage in competition and even marketing. But in competing with other forms of leisure pursuits (which is what the authors argue that religions have become viewed as), religious groups will eventually lose out to the greater variety of secular offerings. The book shows that some competitive groups are holding their own and even growing to some extent, such as evangelical churches (which are portrayed as being isolated from Swiss society), but the authors see a more pervasive trend of “secular drift” as non-religious options predominate in society. Although the researchers argue that their findings can be applied to other contexts, they do so only at the book’s very conclusion, without considering how the Swiss religious market may be different than other cases.12findingsa

  • Quietist Salafism in Jordan has become a loyal partner with the state, and it is eager to dissociate Salafism from “radical Muslims,” but reformist (political) as well as jihadist Salafis partly draw their beliefs from the same sources, writes Joas Wagemakers in the new book Salafism in Jordan: Political Islam in a Quietist Community (Cambridge University Press, $99.99). In a first chapter that offers an excellent introduction to “global Salafi ideology,” Wagemakers observes that the tendency to reach back to the religion’s origins—emphasized today as a trademark of Salafism—is “in a sense, inherent to Sunni tradition,” even if Salafis push it to the point of meticulous imitation. This observation does not mean that all Sunnis are potential Salafis, but it helps to explain why their message has an appeal. Still, it is unlikely that Salafism would have spread to such an extent without Saudi Arabia actively promoting it around the world. While the exact number of Salafis in Jordan is unknown, it is probably above earlier figures of 7,000 (that may rather apply to radical Salafis) but “unlikely to be in the many tens of thousands.”

    From the beginning, the transnational dimension of Jordanian Salafism was clear. People went to study in Saudi Arabia or Egypt, while scholars came from Syria, the most significant one having been the famous al-Albani (1914–1999), who had been born in Albania but then emigrated with his family to Damascus as a child, spending the last part of his life in Jordan. Political Salafism came to Jordan when Palestinians were expelled from Kuwait in the 1990s; among the jihadi-Salafis among them was the influential scholar al-Maqdisi (b. 1959). Efforts to organize an “official Islam” in Jordan came relatively late but were intensified with the rise of radical Islam in the second half of the 1990s. Although their views are not really those of an open, tolerant approach to other religions advocated by the authorities, quietist (“peaceful”) Salafis seem to have become part of an alliance of the “moderate” forces of Islam. They have moved from apolitical quietism to cooperation with the state, from religious utopia to loyalism—going as far as encouraging voting at parliamentary elections in 2013. Both incentives from the state and confrontation with political Salafism have encouraged such developments. Documenting carefully the domestication of a majority of quietist Salafis by the state, Wagemakers concludes that heated debates among Salafis of different orientations have created “fissures that are unlikely to disappear anytime soon,” even if not always obvious at first sight.12findingsb