Nativism and the Politics of Gender in Catholicism and Islam

  • Jose Casanova


The contemporary global discourse on Islam as a fundamentalist, antimodern, undemocratic, and sexist religion shows striking similarities with the old discourse on Catholicism that predominated in Anglo-Protestant societies, particularly in the United States, from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Both discourses were based on four similar premises: (a) a theologico-political distinction between “civilized” and “barbaric” religions—that is, between religions compatible with Enlightenment principles and liberal democratic politics, on the one hand, and, on the other, religions grounded in traditions that resisted the progressive claims of the Enlightenment philosophy of history, liberalism, and secularism; (b) a nativist anti-immigrant posture that postulated the unassimilability of foreign immigrants due to their uncivilized social customs and habits; (c) transnational attachments and loyalties either to a foreign religious authority (i.e., the papacy) or to a transnational religious community (i.e., the ummah) that appeared incompatible with republican citizen principles and the exclusive claims of the modern nation-state; and (d) a set of moral claims about the denigration of women under religious patriarchies in contrast to their elevation by Protestantism. Any of these four principles may have been more or less salient at any particular time and place. It is their super-imposition, however, that has given the anti-Catholic and anti-Muslim discourses their compelling effect.


Religious Tradition Muslim Country Muslim World World Religion Religious Pluralism 
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© The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and the Women’s Studies in Religion Program, Harvard Divinity School 2009

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  • Jose Casanova

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