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Fundamentalism and Gender.

Among the burgeoning library of books and articles on the cross-cultural study of fundamentalism, why should a reader turn to this one? John S. Hawley describes what is distinctive about this volume in these terms: "We [the participants in the seminars out of which these essays developed] focused on a shared sense of besetment; on the issue of historical connections and mutual awareness that exist between disparate fundamentalist groups; and, of course, on the gender dimension in fundamentalists' self-understanding" (p. 21). Unfortunately, these foci did not make their way from the seminars to the essays consistently. There is much about gender in fundamentalist movements in these pages. The book certainly covers this field better than anything which has appeared in print thus far, with essays on Christianity in America, Islam and Hinduism in India, the New Religions of Japan, and Judaism in Europe and Israel. Each of the articles also deals with besetment in some way. Yet there is little about the connections between fundamentalist groups situated in different traditions. Of the several points of contact that Hawley lists on p. 24 practically none are even mentioned, let alone analyzed, in the papers that make up the body of the book.

It is a credit to the editor that he has been bold enough to include an essay which attacks the very notion that "fundamentalist" should be used to label movements beyond American Protestantism. While I do not agree with Jay M. Harris' conclusion here, one of his arguments is convincing. Most work on fundamentalism has not been sufficiently explicit about the personal interests of the author that come into play in the analysis. Several of the essays in this book themselves invite criticism on this point, because they occasionally drop the mask of objectivity to reveal the writer's own stance. Within the context of discussing opposition to abortion, to take one example, Randall Balmer admits: "I do not wish to trivialize fundamentalist convictions on this issue. I find some of their arguments compelling and most of them sincere . . ." (p. 57). If the confession that Balmer is compelled by "some" of the fundamentalists' arguments is to serve as a guarantee that he is taking them seriously, then he must be more explicit about which ones he accepts and rejects, and why he does so.

Perhaps it is unreasonable to demand that a single collection of essays expand the comparative work of fundamentalism on all fronts. Among the many accomplishments of this book, the most salient is that it has definitely mapped new territory along the front where fundamentalism encounters gender.

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Author:Llewellyn, J.E.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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