book spotlight: claiming society for god by nancy j davis and rob robinson
It’s a real pleasure to see Claiming for Society for God in print. Authored by my Indiana colleagues and friends, Nancy Davis and Rob Robinson, Claiming makes a simple argument. Religious movements can succeed not only by conquering states, but by bypassing the state as well. They attempt, with a great deal of success, to set up a parallel quasi-state. Using examples from various nations and religious traditions, Davis and Robinson explore the creation of a network of schools, clubs, hospitals, charities and other organizations.
The issue that ties radical Christians, Jews, and Muslims together is that they are anti-modernist. They all reject the individualism characterizing contemporary culture and its loose controls on family and sexuality. While religious reactionaries would love to take over the state and impose their codes of personal behavior, their most successful tactic has been to actually create an alternative source of authority. They do so by providing for the poorest in society. They create an alternate welfare state that ensures continued influence in national politics.
The book should be especially interesting to movement scholars because Davis and Robinson articulate a strong criticism of movement theory as it is often practiced. Much of movement theory revolves around the conflict between incumbents and challengers, such as McAdam and Fligstein’s recent field theory. The bypassing argument provides a real alternative. You don’t need to engage in such contentious politics if you can provide social welfare. The need for community and care creates a path to influence that just avoids conventional politics or the need for confrontation.
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