RealNews

Historians Trace an Unholy Alliance: Religion and Nationalism

When Shiite Muslims in Iraq took to the streets to protest the presence of American troops as well as Saddam Hussein, was the world witnessing the birth of nationalism? When President Bush used the term crusade to describe the war on terrorism, was he inadvertently revealing religious roots in American patriotism? In short, is religious sentiment, long considered the prime enemy of nationalism, actually one of its founding elements? This iconoclastic theory has been gaining ground among historians. Until recently, there was a growing scholarly consensus that nationalism was a distinctly modern phenomenon, a product of post-Enlightenment culture. Public celebrations of the Fatherland, the creation of national anthems and devotion to the flag all occurred in the wake of the French and American Revolutions. As several essayists show in the 1995 collection “The Invention of Tradition,” edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (Cambridge University Press), many of the great national traditions we tend to think of as originating in the mists of the distant past — like the clan tartans of the Scottish highlanders — were 19th-century inventions, meant to generate national pride. Full Story

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