Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective

Publication Year


"Why does Islam play a larger role in contemporary politics than other religions? Is there something about the Islamic heritage that makes Muslims more likely than adherents of other faiths to invoke it in their political life? If so, what is it? Ancient Religions, Modern Politics seeks to answer these questions by examining the roles of Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity in modern political life, placing special emphasis on the relevance--or irrelevance--of their heritages to today's social and political concerns.

Michael Cook takes an in-depth, comparative look at political identity, social values, attitudes to warfare, views about the role of religion in various cultural domains, and conceptions of the polity. In all these fields he finds that the Islamic heritage offers richer resources for those engaged in current politics than either the Hindu or the Christian heritages. He uses this finding to explain the fact that, despite the existence of Hindu and Christian counterparts to some aspects of Islamism, the phenomenon as a whole is unique in the world today. The book also shows that fundamentalism--in the sense of a determination to return to the original sources of the religion--is politically more adaptive for Muslims than it is for Hindus or Christians.

A sweeping comparative analysis by one of the world's leading scholars of premodern Islam, Ancient Religions, Modern Politics sheds important light on the relationship between the foundational texts of these three great religious traditions and the politics of their followers today."


Preface xi
Part One: Identity
Introduction to Part One 1
1 Islam and Identity 3
2 Hinduism and identity 53
3 Catholicism and identity in Latin America 123
Conclusion to Part One 156
Part Two: Values
Introduction to Part Two 159
4 Society 165
5 Warfare 215
6 Divine jealousy 249
7 Polity 309
Conclusion to Part Two 361
Part Three: Fundamentalism
Introduction to Part Three 371
8 Islam and fundamentalism 377
9 Hinduism and fundamentalism 399
10 Latin American Catholicism and fundamentalism 431
Conclusion to Part Three 440
Afterword 443
Appendix: "Hindu fundamentalism" and the Fundamentalism Project 463
Bibliography 469
Index 517

Princeton University Press
Princeton, NJ