North African Islamists are stronger than they look


Although everyone by now has traced a narrative arc from Tunisia to the momentous events in Egypt, eyes darted first to Algeria. In the days surrounding the collapse of Tunisian President Ben Ali’s government, many wondered about the stability of the government in Algiers. In fact, some Algerian political opposition forces are currently attempting to rally around the present moment of political openness—a moment fraught with all the more potential because of the unfolding situation in Egypt.

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The “Mormon Menace”


Nineteenth-century America saw a nationwide campaign to tame the “Mormon menace.” Promoted by an alliance of religious and secular individuals, institutions, and ideals, it even led President Rutherford B. Hayes to recommend stripping Mormons of their citizenship. Although Contending Modernities will focus primarily on Mormonism’s fellow subjects of modern opprobrium—Islam and Catholicism—it is important to consider such other “shadow cases” as we examine the complex dynamics of religion in modernity. The deep pluralism characteristic of the modern age has posed, and will continue to pose, a substantial challenge to the largely Euro-American-Protestant construct of secularism that dominated much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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Egypt’s sad entrance into 2011


I returned to Egypt for a visit, as I often do around this time. On New Year’s Eve my husband and I were wandering in the nearly empty streets of our Cairo neighborhood looking for a cyber café as our internet was down. When I saw two men pass by briskly carrying three huge boxes of pastries I thought of the merriment that was unfolding in houses, clubs, and restaurants and of the shouts of joy that would resound at the stroke of midnight. Within hours, though, all hell broke out at a large Coptic church in the heart of Alexandria—ending twenty-one innocent lives and shattering peace and hope throughout the country.

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On the New Year’s Day church bombing in Egypt


Terrorism cannot be the outcome of any proper understanding of religion. It is rather a manifestation of the immorality of people with cruel hearts, arrogant souls, and warped logic. It is thus with great sadness and outrage that we witness the emergence of this disease in our nation with the recent bombing outside a church in Alexandria that killed tens of Egyptian citizens. There is no doubt that such barbarism needs to be denounced in the strongest of terms, and opposed at every turn. We demand that the perpetrators be brought to justice and stand trial.

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American identity and the challenge of Islam


A review of Akbar Ahmed, “Journey into America: the challenge of Islam” (Brookings Institution Press, 2010).

“The challenge of Islam,” as Akbar Ahmed calls it, is ushering in a new chapter in the history of American identity. But in the ideals of America’s Founding Fathers Ahmed finds hope for a vibrant, inclusive American future—if, that is, Americans remain faithful to these ideals and preserve America’s true identity.

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Multicultural modernity in Montréal


A remarkable experiment in urban modernity is taking place in Canada. Seeking a humane response to the reality of global capitalism and global migration, the government of Québec has enthusiastically embraced the concept of a “social economy.” Although this concept is explicitly secular, its Catholic heritage can be seen in its commitment to social justice and the common good.

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