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Gerrit Steunebrink / Evert van der Zweerde

Civil Society, Religion and the Nation

Modernization in Intercultural Context: Russia, Japan, Turkey

Gerrit Steunebrink / Evert van der Zweerde (eds.):
Civil Society, Religion and the Nation: Modernization in Intercultural Context: Russia, Japan, Turkey.
Amsterdam – New York: Rodopi, 2004.
(Studies in Intercultural Philosophy 14)
XVI, 328 pages
ISBN 90-420-1665-5
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Editions Rodopi:
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The book considers our understanding of modernization and its connection to the specifically nineteenth-century constellation of citizenship, religion and nationalism to be limited, but it fails to clarify the relations between modernization and westernization.

Islamic fundamentalism versus Western modernity: It looks like the hour of Huntington's prophecy of »clash of civilizations« has already come. Modernity defines itself as »westernity.« But even if modernity has been mostly identified with the western world, it extends well beyond it. It might be of European origins, but is it in essence European? Does a country's cultural identity get lost during a modernization process? If civil society is the symbol for a modernity that entails the development of liberalism, individualism and human rights, then what is the task of nationalism and national religions?

Gerrit Steunebrink and Evert van der Zweerde's volume is concerned with the aforesaid queries. It is divided into four major sections; the first three reflect on the cases of Russia, Japan and Turkey and their respective journeys to modernity, and the last one reflects on general and theoretical contributions to the subject. These countries' historical similarities, consisting in never-colony status, ex-empires status, and a modernization path stemming from a government/ruler's political decision, motivated the editors to attempt this approach, choosing another perspective of intercultural philosophy by challenging the »seemingly monolithic concept« (11) of (Western) Modernity and its contingent nature.

In the first section Pauline Schrooyen explains the post-reform Russian society transition from traditional to modern by assessing state-society relations. Marina Bykova sees the post-Soviet Russian movement for national identity as »civic nationalism« (27), a primitive form of civil society needing a long democratization process and radical social reform. Jonathan Sutton »seeks to draw out the importance of an in inward orientation for the Russian citizen, in whose name civil society is generally promoted« (53) and for whom religion and nation offer the context for flourishing. Lastly, Hans Oversloot's paper portrays a once-empiric, now »multinational« Russia, wherein under Putin's »vertical« (73) governance lives a revival of state ideology.

In Japan, argues Paul Kevenhörster, there evolves a Japanese modernity articulated in a progressively participating civil society, despite its »grassroots conservatism« (91) and »religious syncretism« (93), and an educational reform hinting at »individualism« and »liberalization« (91). Tetsuo Najita identifies the Japanese civil society discourse as »social democratic« (101), implying left-like resemblances, while Rikki Kersten considers relevant the »public Intellectualism« (121) in post-war Japan's political culture and especially the impact of Maruyama Masao's definition of state-society relations. Inken Prohl illustrates Japan's new religions and medias as the new and »appropriate« tools that create Japanese national identity in recent times.

In the third section, Gerrit Steunebrink compares the liberalism/nationalism history of Europe and Turkey, and claims the reception of liberalism in today's Turkey and Turkey's participation in the EU as a clear sign of differences and tensions between Islam and Christianity. Yasin Ceylan describes the conflict between state and religion, and deems successful the modernization process of Muslim societies only through a radical parallel re-establishment of state and religious institutions, while Ayse Kadioglu investigates the concept of modern citizenship, and portrays the evolution of »citizen/individual« and »Will/Reason« (192) concepts in Turkey as parallel opposites creating tension between »republic« and »democracy« (192) notions. Akin Ergüden ends the section by generating a new conceptual apparatus that accounts for modernization processes in Turkey by emphasizing the knowledge/language's creative aspect roles in the establishment of Turkish public sphere »Grammar« (230).

In the last section, Peter van der Veer shows the significance of religious movements for the »mobilization of political dissent« (243) in the national/transnational public sphere. Machiel Karskens affirms the role of nationalism as a political strategy in the state-formation processes and warns of its use as social strategy that turns the public into a »general private domain« (270). Evert van der Zweerde brings the volume to an end by connecting the declining role of the (nation) state with the rise of the global civil society and advocating new forms of »Polity« (276) in the face of increasingly national border-transcending issues.

The volume's range is considerable, with diverse themes and approaches, but lamentably they are not compared and interwoven with each other in the three-cultural framework, leaving a discussion vacuum that makes this a textbook. The book considers our understanding of modernization and its connection to the specifically nineteenth-century constellation of citizenship, religion and nationalism to be limited, but it fails to clarify the relations between modernization and westernization. Notwithstanding, the avoidance of »occidentocentrism,« and the ability to think globally by using »one's own situation, as a point of departure for dialogue with other cultural intellectual and post-religious traditions« (16), is one alternative this book offers for a new intercultural approach. Its aim is to »(re)introduce difference« (11) by contributing to the ongoing discussion of modernization and as such, it is worthy of note.

Arta Ante

polylog: Forum for Intercultural Philosophy 6 (2005).
Online: http://lit.polylog.org/6/saasz-en.htm
ISSN 1616-2943
Author: Arta Ante, Vienna (Austria)
© 2005 Author & polylog e.V.
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