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November 06, 2004



Conservatives - whose electoral base rests ever more on this Christianist movement - should ask how this sits with their rather undifferentiated condemnation of Islamist politics. And liberals - who are often more open to dialogue with Islamist moderates - should ask how this sits with their visceral distaste for Christianists in the United States.

Well, one difference is that Islamist moderates abroad aren't really attempting to impose their values on Americans, whereas American Christianists really are. So perhaps that helps to explain why American liberals find latter less threatening: accomodation with the one looks much different than accomodation with the other. Whether it explains all of the difference in liberal responses to the two different groups is another question.


An interesting idea to "conceptualise" Christian religious/political activism as 'Christianism', on the analogy with 'Islamism'. Being based in Paris I am not sure that it is the right term however; while for 'Islamism' the French have 'Islamisme', 'Christianisme' already exists and simply means 'Christianity'. 'Chrétienté', which is the cognate of 'Christianity', means 'Christendom'. It would be good to find a term that would have currency outside of English. A further problem might be that at least some Islamists actually refer to themselves as such, whereas no-one as far as I am aware refers to themselves as a 'Christianist'. It is something of a shame that the term 'fundamentalist' has acquired a wider and vaguer meaning, because this term after all did originally refer specifically to Christian activists in the US and was inspired by 'The Fundamentals', twelve volumes published between 1910-1915 to which contributed various Protestant 'fundamentalist' theologians opposed to numerous aspects of modern life on the grounds that they were at variance with Scripture.

the aardvark

Philip - true, nobody uses the word Christianist now... but nobody really used "Islamist" until relatively recently either, and "Islamism" itself emerged as an alternative to the widely disliked term "Islamic fundamentalism". From the French perspective, you could also see Integrisme (did I spell that right?), which was often used to describe Islamic activism but derived from an analogy with Catholic history. There were a lot of problems with the old "comparative fundamentalism" literature, but at least it had the merit of seeing Islamism as part of a more general category of a global religious transformation - not identical with what was happening in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc., but part of the same family.

Nur al-Cubicle

By Christianism, do you mean the Orange Order Cromwell Cowboys? They won't even dialog with Catholics. Has anyone every asked them what they think of Islam (shudder to ponder). Goat-kissing, idol worshiping, well, it ain't pretty. I'm old enough to remember the days of respect for the Three Great Religions, before the Reaganite commissars began deploying the term, Judeo-Christian. I'd also like to mention the Maronite, Assyrian, Chaldean and Copt Christians who have lived in Muslim lands---for century upon century. Oh, and anyone recall George Habash?

Christianism has not produced a bin Laden? Well it doesn't have in its history half naked, camel-riding Wahhabi warriors descending on the Hejaz in the 18th century. But it's produced Bob Joneses, Jim Joneses, Ian Paisleys, Branch Davidians.... I have an Italian monograph on the Valdese persecutions. The author suggests that the great persecutions and genocide conducted by Louis XVI indelibly imprinted 'Armageddon' in the minds of the quietist and evangelical Protestants--down to this day.


> What about a "reformation" or an "Islamic
> enlightenment" led by intellectual elites?

This last one made my day. But I suspect the mileage to be gotten out of "Christianism" is rather specialized. Neutral use of the term "Islamist" is largely an attempt to recover some content from its dominant meaning of "naughty Muslim" (very naughty and very Muslim, to be more precise.) The word itself is so prevalent that everyone has to deal with it in one way or another, and it's more constructive to co-opt it than criticize it. But even co-opted it still remains a vague and loaded word. "Christianism" comes in with the nice trick of projecting the abstract and unfamiliar onto home turf (affectation of occidentalism as an antidote to orientalism, as it were.) In a wider context, I think its usefulness is far more limited, tending rather towards the kind of semi-articulated vent for bad feeling that "liberal" has become. In fact, I very much agree with Gary Langer, who warns against a potentially dangerous misapprehension along related conceptual fault lines:


P.S. Why doesn't typepad allow hypertext tags in the comments?


How about "political Christianity?"

Nur al-Cubicle

... a fruitful theoretical and political dialogue might be framed...

re: War on Terror.
French Ex-Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine called for a program of exchanges and meetings of the minds between politicians and clerics representing 'Western Christianity and moderate Islam' in November 2001. Dismissed of course.

re: Christianists and Liberals. It depends who your partner in dialog is...if it's the high US Protestant churches or even US Catholics, which may have a relaxed, tolerant, well-educated and sophisticated membership, a dialog is possible. But I can't imagine it with some of the rigid "home-grown", charismatic, evangelical US sects. I see some class divisions there, too, frankly.

re: Better schools, etc. would not shrink the appeal. It is my impression that beginning in the 1980s, modest frame churches on the end of town were suddenly transformed to sprawling campuses complete with school, athletic center, and amphitheatre. Today, nearly every evangelical sect in town runs a grade school. The appeal is expanding but there is an element of racism. We have a black mayor and a large disadvantaged black community who send their children to the public schools.


"Political Christianity" has the vote of the "Islamist" Muqtedar Khan - see

As these kind of terms owe their popularity largely to the convenience factor that they allow the description of a phenomenon without having to go into detail concerning the sub-currents and conflicts within it, I would suggest "Christianism" may carry the day simply because it is slightly less of a mouthful than "political Christianity". All such terms should be used with great caution, however. The differences between various "Islamists", "Christianists" etc. are often greater than the features they have in common. In practical terms, this sort of reification may lead us to close off all possibility of dialogue, communication or joint action with certain strands of "Islamists"/"Christianists" precisely because we are unable to see beyond the "Islamist/Christianist" label, à la Daniel Pipes. Perhaps we should therefore be less hasty to invent such terms, for all their convenience.

Nur al-Cubicle

I'm not heartened by this. Dialog in jeopardy as mosques in Rotterdam, Breda and Huizen are firebombed and an Amsterdam welcome center for Morroccan workers is defaced. War on terror, clash of civilizations or whatever is breaking down into a race war.

Nur al-Cubicle

and the schools...Islamic school in Eindhoven firebombed.

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