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Taming the Gods:
Religion and Democracy on Three Continents
Ian Buruma

Paperback | 2012 | $14.95 | £12.95 | ISBN: 9780691156057
144 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400834204 |
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For eight years the president of the United States was a born-again Christian, backed by well-organized evangelicals who often seemed intent on erasing the church-state divide. In Europe, the increasing number of radicalized Muslims is creating widespread fear that Islam is undermining Western-style liberal democracy. And even in polytheistic Asia, the development of democracy has been hindered in some countries, particularly China, by a long history in which religion was tightly linked to the state.

Ian Buruma is the first writer to provide a sharp-eyed look at the tensions between religion and politics on three continents. Drawing on many contemporary and historical examples, he argues that the violent passions inspired by religion must be tamed in order to make democracy work.

Comparing the United States and Europe, Buruma asks why so many Americans--and so few Europeans--see religion as a help to democracy. Turning to China and Japan, he disputes the notion that only monotheistic religions pose problems for secular politics. Finally, he reconsiders the story of radical Islam in contemporary Europe, from the case of Salman Rushdie to the murder of Theo van Gogh. Sparing no one, Buruma exposes the follies of the current culture war between defenders of "Western values" and "multiculturalists," and explains that the creation of a democratic European Islam is not only possible, but necessary.

Presenting a challenge to dogmatic believers and dogmatic secularists alike, Taming the Gods powerfully argues that religion and democracy can be compatible--but only if religious and secular authorities are kept firmly apart.


"[Buruma] writes intimately about the relationship between politics and faith in Britain, the Netherlands, France, China, Japan and the United States. And beneath every cliché--about American religious fervor, French intolerance or Japanese godlessness--he uncovers ironies that wreak havoc with popular stereotypes. . . . Taming the Gods is an admirably learned book. Buruma's writing is spare and careful, and one never feels that he is stretching his material to fit some all-encompassing theory. . . . Ultimately, Buruma's message is that people should respect other faiths while insisting that the faithful not violate democracy's rules of the game. And in the skeptical, informed, affectionate tone he adopts toward the countries he chronicles, his book exemplifies that spirit."--Peter Beinart, New York Times Book Review

"Ian Buruma's study of the relationship between religion and democracy in America, Asia and Europe does not allude to Todorov's magisterial work . . . but it deserves a place next to Todorov on the bookshelf. . . . Buruma seeks to chart a path through the swamps and thickets of competing religious values and cultural identities. . . . This is a useful contribution to what is becoming one of Europe's most urgent debates."--Malise Ruthven, Times Literary Supplement

"By examining the history of church/state relations in the U.S. and Europe, the role of religion in the politics of China and Japan, and the growing role of Islam in contemporary Europe, Buruma makes 'an attempt to sort out, in different cultures, how democracies have been affected . . . by these tensions [between religious and secular authorities].' One of his most provocative investigations involves secular, liberal Europeans, some of whom now find common ground with conservatives in their opposition to Islam."--Publishers Weekly

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Table of Contents:

Introduction 1
CHAPTER ONE: Full Tents and Empty Cathedrals 11
CHAPTER TWO: Oriental Wisdom 47
CHAPTER THREE: Enlightenment Values 83
Notes 127

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Based on the Princeton Public Lectures

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