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With God on Their Side
 - The Impact of Islamic, Jewish, & Christian Fundamentalism in the Middle East -

On September 11, 2001, a small band of zealots, acting at least in part

 from religious conviction, brought a powerful nation to a horrifying standstill with devastating attacks on its preeminent symbols of wealth and military might. This shattering event underlined once again the power of religious fundamentalism to disrupt and destroy, underscoring the need for deeper understanding of this increasingly widespread social phenomenon.


Any longstanding religion may experience outcroppings of the fundamentalist impulse, the desire to return to some imagined pristine social and cultural state by rigid adherence to a set of beliefs and practices deemed central, or fundamental, to that faith. But this impulse has appeared most often and most clearly in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, the classic “Religions of the Book,” all of which appeal to authoritative scriptures and traditions to validate them in their struggle with modernity and pluralism.


In recent decades, fundamentalists have wrought revolutions in Iran and Afghanistan and reshaped the political landscape in the United States and various Islamic countries.  But in each of these cases, fundamentalists opposed secularists and what they regarded as inferior and apostate versions of their own faiths. The struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians, however, provides us with a unique opportunity to examine all three major forms of fundamentalism as they interact in the same arena. 


Jews, Christians, and Muslims, all spiritual descendants of Abraham, regard the same region and the same city as “Holy Land.” Both Islamic and Jewish fundamentalists insist that God gave the land to them—and them only—and view the presence of the other as an abomination. American Christian fundamentalists provide key political support to the Zionist cause, believing that only when Israel is in control of Jerusalem and the temple is rebuilt—on the present site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock—will Jesus return to inaugurate the glorious millennium. Short of divine intervention declaring one of these contenders the winner and eternal champion, it is difficult to imagine just what form a peaceful resolution would take, as long as fundamentalist forces remain strong and active.

The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University will sponsor a symposium on this topic, scheduled for Tuesday, October 30, 2001, at 7:00 p.m. at the Baker Institute on the Rice Campus. Participants will include the following:


John L. Esposito, University Professor at Georgetown University, is the Founding Director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown, Past President of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America & American Council for the Study of Islamic Sciences, Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, Editor of the Oxford History of Islam, and the author of numerous books on various facets of Islam.


Marc H. Ellis is University Professor of American and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for American and Jewish Studies at Baylor University. He is the author of nine books, including The Renewal of Palestine in the Jewish Imagination and O Jerusalem: The Contested Future of the Jewish Covenant.


Timothy Weber is Professor of Church History and Dean of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary and a noted authority on Christian millennial movements. 


The Honorable Edward P. Djerejian, Director of the Baker Institute, is the former United States Ambassador to both Israel and Syria, and played a significant role in developing and articulating U.S. policy regarding Islam.


William Martin, the Harry and Hazel Chavanne Professor of Religion and Public Policy at Rice University and a Senior Scholar in the Baker Institute, is an expert on various forms of fundamentalism and the author of With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America, the companion volume to a 1996 PBS documentary mini-series of the same title.


Those wishing to attend should call: 713-348-5794.




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