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Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century Paperback – April 19, 2011
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"Brilliant and provocative. . . .A book every liberal should read."John Gray
"Kaufmann is controversial, highly informative, and thought provoking. A not-to-be-missed contribution to one of the most pressing and complex debates of modern time."Morning Star
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The thesis is fascinating, and should be more widely known than it currently is. Many in the past have passingly noted the correlation between religiosity and fertility, but Kaufmann delves into this topic with mountains of data and thorough analysis more than I've ever seen on the subject. Refreshingly, he doesn't go the route of making demographic predictions for the sake of arousing fear or furthering some agenda. Kaufmann does have his own opinions, but successfully keeps them unobtrusive in the larger text.
After analyzing the data, Kaufmann concludes that the biggest political changes of the 21st century will come not from clashes BETWEEN different cultures or religions, but rather from divergences WITHIN religions. This is an unusual angle. And after hearing his argument, I'm convinced.
In my experience, most demographic projections that are more than a few decades out tend to be way off the mark. Demographic projections assume that present conditions continue with minimal change, and don't take into account 'quantum leaps' in demography. In reality (such as with the case of Iran's TFR dropping from 7 children per woman to 2 children per woman in a short time), changes in population behavior can occur rapidly. With that in mind, when Kaufmann speaks of religious fundamentalists, it's not clear to me that their behavior in 2010 will match their behavior in 2050. But his interpretation is absolutely worth considering nonetheless.
Finally, as mentioned in another review, the book raises some really profound philosophical questions. Is there something intrinsically necessary or inevitable about religion? Is it the case, for purely practical reasons, that individualistic societies cannot survive in the long run? Can a 'high culture' maintain its sophisticated and open nature, or does history ensure that any advanced civilization will ultimately be subsumed by 'barbarians at the gates'?
He gives an impartial, unbiased analysis which would be difficult on such a contentious subject. Highly recommended for anyone interested in getting a fact based glimpse into the future of religion and society in the 21st century.
The question in the title, "Shall the religious inherit the earth?", is answered in the book's final sentence: "The religious shall inherit the earth."
I tried to figure out the author's personal religious viewpoint, and I came to feel that he believes in the possibility of a God of some sort; but he is basically a secularist, with the standard secularist outlook on such things as abortion and gay rights, and even global warming. This means that he cannot be accused of promoting a piece of religious propaganda - in fact, he seems distressed by his conclusions.
His principal focus is on three areas: the religious right in the US, fundamentalist Islam, and ultra-orthodox Judaism. This last area is particularly fascinating and contains much that those outside the Jewish world will be unfamiliar with.
There is surprisingly little mention of Catholicism, and in fact he seems to make an error regarding the Catholic Church. On page 23 he says, referring to Vatican II, that it "helped bring Church policy on contraception and birth control into line with the liberal practice of many modern Catholics...". This is completely wrong. Has he never heard of Paul VI's encyclical Humanae vitae, which caused such an uproar?
He mentions (page 94) the American patriarchal movement, Quiverfull, and quoting the work of the journalist Kathryn Joyce, says that Quiverfull rejects even the rhythm method of birth control. But does anyone still use the rhythm method? As I understand, the Billings method has long ago overtaken the rhythm method as a far more reliable technique of natural birth control.
Secularists ought to read the book to gain some idea of what may be coming. If they are older they will not live to see it come to fruition, but if they are younger, they very well may. Nevertheless, it is worth bearing in mind that history contains many sudden and unforeseen changes in direction.
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