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The Challenges of Modernity: The Case of Political Islam

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image of Perspectives on Global Development and Technology
For more content, please see Journal of Developing Societies.

Since the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century in England, all traditional cultures at one point in history have been challenged by modernity. This happened first in Europe and later in the rest of the world as a result of the late nineteenth century expansion of European capitalism and civilization. When confronted with modernity, individual traditional cultures conflict with the increasing plurality of lifestyles and values. There are two ways to solve this conflict: either remain in the past or innovate. In the first case, tradition prevails. In the second case, the challenges of modernity are embraced by adapting to the new circumstances. This will eventually lead to the renewal of one's own culture. Since the late nineteenth century, the challenges of modernity have resulted in a variety of often contradictory Islamic political ideologies and practices. In contrast to the cultural-essentialist and a-historical assumptions of some scholars, such as Samuel Huntington, who see the phenomenon of political Islam as a characteristic of an inevitable "clash of civilizations"—according to which conflicts and threats to world peace and security in the twenty-first century will be carried out along "civilizational fault lines"—this article argues that the actual fault-lines are socio-economic, not geo-cultural, and that conflicts in today's world do not take place between cultures but within them. Those societies that are more successful in adapting to the challenges of modernity show a relatively stronger capacity to cope with the growing complexity of political and cultural pluralism.

Affiliations: 1: International Institute for Asian Studies and Adjunct Professor of International Relations, Webster University


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