October 09, 2003

Reformation 1

Brian Ulrich asks, after noting that he'd always been dismissive toward calls in the media for an Islamic Reformation,

But then it struck me, could there be an odd connection after all? After all, weren't many leading Protestants people who were not exactly high-ranking clergy yet achieved religious leadership by claiming to return to an ideal golden age in the past? And didn't this take place in an environment shaped by new technologies and the formation of modern nation-states? And finally, wasn't it in many ways fundamentally conservative? Or at least, that's what I remember from my undergraduate Women's History course...

I tend to be dismissive of the idea as well, for a number of reasons. I'm not sure, to begin with, what form an Islamic Reformation is supposed to take, for example. I'll start though, with Brian's questions.

--If you look at Luther, Calvin, Tyndale (Tyndale reinvented English syntax, more or less, through translating into English the Hebrew and Greek of the Old and New Testaments) -- well, they may not have been the Pope, but they weren't exactly Everyman either. For the era (in Tyndale's case for any era) they were tremendously well-educated, and were certainly part of the elite. And I'm not sure that returning to a golden past was something they had in mind. Tyndale, for example, questioned the Canon (he doubted Paul was the author of Hebrews, to cite one example), and also believed that every generation must reinterpret scripture anew. Such views are overshadowed by the insistence of the Protestants of grounding Church practices and doctrine in the Scriptures, but there was something of a historical anomaly involved in that. To provide an analogous situation in Islam -- imagine if it were a crime to read or recite the Qur'an, if the religious authorities had adopted doctrines contained nowhere in the Qur'an, if reading the Qur'an by anyone other than the clergy was strictly forbidden to prevent believers discovering how skewed doctrine had become -- well, that's roughly what the reformers were up against with the Catholic Church.

--New technologies were crucial -- the printing press, primarily -- to the spread of Reformation ideas, but the Reformation was most successful in the German principalities (hardly a nation-state), England and Scotland (very decentralized), and the Netherlands (ditto). But I think that's one of the strengths of the Reformation -- instead of thinking of a universal, catholic (small C) church, the Protestants thought in terms of congregations. The Reformation was in many ways a local phenomenon. I also think that we're well past the point of no return regarding the various Muslim nation states -- they're already nations, fully formed.

--Again, I'm not sure that the Reformation was fundamentally conservative, because it's a meaningless term in this context. Or to put it another way, Marx, who wanted to return to the egalitarian society of hunter gatherers, was a conservative.

Sorry, these are idle thoughts, not fully formed. I'll try to follow up with a longer meditation on the subject.

Posted by Ideofact at October 9, 2003 11:22 PM

interesting that this topic has reared its head again. I found these posts from my Technorati profile as well:



and they link to my postr on unmedia, Ikraam's comment, and your post and paleo ideofact on the topic too.

Posted by: Aziz at October 10, 2003 02:56 PM

Yeah, I remember. I can't recall where we all ended up on the question, but it was an interesting discussion, but that said, I'm kind of with Brian on this one -- "This is the sort of random, potentially silly thought for which blogs are often known."

Posted by: Bill at October 10, 2003 04:10 PM

But a longer meditation on this subject will take books (already written). Lets face what bhuddists says: nam myo ho rengue kyo! (lotus flower today, problems only tomorrow...)

Posted by: beto at October 13, 2003 05:41 PM