Review of Patricia Madigan, Women and Fundamentalism in Islam and Catholicism: Negotiating Modernity in a Globalized World

Review of Patricia Madigan, Women and Fundamentalism in Islam and Catholicism: Negotiating Modernity in a Globalized World
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  352 Religion and Gender  , vol. 2, no. 2 (2012), pp.352-355www.religionandgender.orgURN:NBN:NL:UI:10-1-101608ISSN: 1878-5417Publisher: Igitur Publishing (Utrecht)Copyright: this work is licensed under a CreativeCommons Attribution License (3.0) Review of Patricia Madigan, Women and Fundamentalism in Islam and Catholicism: Negotiating Modernity in a Globalized World, Bern: PeterLang Publishing 2011, 338 pages, ISBN 978-3-0343-0276-0. B Y K EVIN B URKE ,   U NIVERSITY OF N OTRE D AME  Patricia Madigan’s Women and Fundamentalism in Islam and Catholicism:Negotiating Modernity in a Globalized World  seeks to broaden the scope,and provide a critique of, prior work on the development and expansion of fundamentalist religious practice in contemporary societies. In doing so shenotes that although ‘there has been an explosion of academic study of fundamentalism’ (p 3), the field remains ripe for increased depth in theexamination of how gender, politico-economic and interfaith perspectivescan be brought to bear in the creation of new scholarship. It is vital for thereader to recall, Madigan cautions, that analysis of fundamentalist religiouspractice must include an examination of how ‘global political and economicissues … underpin it’ (p 3). The book is a welcome and well-versedhistorical account of the wrong turns of religious interpretation in relationto gender in two major systems of belief. But it is more broadly anassertion of the ways in which ‘religious fundamentalism’ must be‘understood as a politics of identity, which aims to maintain a patriarchalpolitical, economic, and social order threatened by the impact of modernity’ (p 27).  353 Religion and Gender  vol. 2, no. 2 (2012), pp. 352-355 The book is divided into six chapters, but really separates into threedistinct sections. The first two and most robust sections are aimed atfleshing out the troubling blind spots in prior research on traditionalistreligion as well as an historical analysis of majoritarian (and problematic)theological interpretations of women’s roles in Catholicism and Islam.Madigan’s work here is done well and fluidly. The third section, a synopsisof survey research on an ‘interfaith dialogue between Australian Muslimand Catholic women’ (p 278) is presumably an attempt to put into practicesome of the reconstructionist feminist theological tenets fleshed outearlier in the volume.The beginning three chapters of the volume do well in establishingthree essential tenets for the historico-analytical research. 1) Although TheFundamentalism Project  (1991-1995) edited by Martin Marty and R. ScottAppleby contributes to a modern understanding of the development of fundamentalist religious sentiment and practice, it largely ignores ‘theprofoundly patriarchal character of fundamentalism’ (p 19), while alsofailing to address 2) systematic analysis of the rise in fundamentalism‘aimed at shoring up the church’s hierarchical and patriarchal powerstructures’ (p 90). That is, although there is some discussion of Catholicconservatism it is otherwise termed ‘traditionalism’, a much less fraughtterm. This shift in terminology ultimately serves to blunt the oftendevastating impact of a religio-political entity in the form of Rome and itsCuria which has increasingly moved away from the reforms of Vatican II infavour of a strand of political theology that trades in Marian worship andcontraception battles. Madigan’s examination of the rise of Islamicfundamentalism, in turn, centres on a need for 3) a ‘hierarchy of explanations’ (p 68) that takes into account the ways in which Westerncolonial rhetoric that links Islam with radicalism ignores the role thatneoliberal economic policies have played in undermining the livedpossibilities of exploited masses of people.From there, Madigan pivots to an analysis of the role of economicsthrough the lens of gender in a critique of global patriarchal capitalism orneo-patriarchy. She works a dual analysis of the historical seeds of ‘aradical social and sexual egalitarianism’ (p 164) through the prism of afeminist reconstruction of theology in both Catholicism and Islam. In thislight she examines the ways in which Sunni Islam and Catholic Christianityhave fostered the rise of ‘patriarchal resistance to cultural modernity’ (p180). Here women ‘by their very nature find themselves opposed by thecombined forces of religious fundamentalism and patriarchal capitalism’ (p180). Selective and fundamentalist readings of sacred texts are thus  354 Religion and Gender  vol. 2, no. 2 (2012), pp. 352-355 rendered as tools in service of ongoing gender dominance held in place bya matrix of religious and economic interests aimed at maintaining a statusquo. But of course, there must be hope. And here Madigan uses her fifthchapter to elucidate modes of resistance while carefully maintaining the‘multiplicity of difference’ (p 217) in which contexts and belief systems willvary and matter to the lives of women. For example, although feministinterpretations of religious texts are often useful for rebuttingfundamentalist Catholic theological claims, the term feminism is oftenseen, by Muslim scholars, as a Western concept imposed upon Islamicsociety. Whatever the name of the approach, however, the main focusremains for Madigan a critical analysis of who, in the name of religion, ‘isdoing the defining and who is benefiting from the very unequal division of power’ (p 233) wrought through an unholy alliance of economic, politicaland theological mistruths.At this point, to close the book, Madigan turns to an interfaithdialogue. The interview data are, one must say, not problematic of themselves. Indeed there is much to be recommended in work that bringsdiverse subjects, and women particularly, together. This serves both tohumanize the assumed and caricatured ‘other’ of a strange and exoticreligion, but also to create a space for the critique of troubling gendernorms imposed in similar ways by different religions. Madigan deftly showsthat these institutions are much concerned with concealing how ‘criticalissues’ of religious importance (invented or otherwise) become battlesinscribed on and read through the bodies of women (p 226). No, thetrouble with the interview data is rather in the framing of methods andmethodology in that there is a bit of the former and none of the latter. Thisseems particularly odd since Madigan is, from the initial phases of the text,very insightful about how context, positionality and subjectivities variouslydevelop into politically powerful modes of interpretation when applied tothe reading of religion in, on and through gender. That she fails to root herempirical research in a specific tradition of interviewing and analysis feelslike a missed opportunity. The voices at the end of the book remain largelyundertheorized and thus are rendered much less authoritative than theliterature cited (from both women and men) in the historical and politico-economic portions of the text. They become additive rather than integral.And although Madigan suggests that the interviews ‘provide insight intothe global issues raised’ by the study as a whole (p 305), much more couldhave been done through a thorough discussion of theories of voice andrepresentation in qualitative research. What, for instance, may be assumedabout what gets included and, perhaps, misheard in a gathering of women  355 Religion and Gender  vol. 2, no. 2 (2012), pp. 352-355 (both religiously avowed and otherwise) when the interviewer is aDominican nun? For now we can only assume because Madigan chooses tomystify her methodologies and the position of her own interviewing self inthe situating of the data. In the process, the development of an ethos of situated religious interviewing, perhaps, is missed.The work, on the whole, is to be recommended for its timeliness asmuch as for its content. Coming on the heels of the uprisings of the Arabspring and in the midst of the Catholic Church’s very public fight with theObama administration regarding health care and contraception, the textprovides a well-considered historical and theological frame forunderstanding just what role gender has, and might and should play in thedevelopment of new representative governments and more humanelyconsidered stances on the lives of women.
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