Conflicted on Islam
Series: Bloomsbury Advances in Religious Studies
- ISBN: 9781350175587
- Published By: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
- Published: June 2021
American Evangelicals: Conflicted on Islam is a sociological analysis that contributes new evidence to the wide field of scholarship on Muslim-Christian relations, focusing on evangelicals in particular. In this book, Ashlee Quosigk reveals that US evangelicals hold a variety of views and opinions regarding Muslims and the Islamic faith by presenting new data from evangelical congregations and leaders. She places their views on a spectrum and argues against the notion that evangelicals are united in hostility towards Islam. Quosigk argues that this offers scholars a more complex understanding of evangelicals, who are more diverse than many assume. Additionally, the author uses this book as an opportunity to illuminate the limitations of Christian Smith’s “subcultural identity” theory, according to which groups will unite against a perceived common “threat.” Furthermore, she broadens the scope of James Hunter’s “culture wars” thesis and presents new sociological methods on moral authority. Altogether, Quosigk helps make advances in sociological methods while providing a more complex picture of the relationship between US evangelicals and Muslims.
The book is divided into seven chapters, with the first two chapters devoted to providing a background on evangelicals and how they have reacted to and been conflicted towards previous threats, including slavery, modernism, and Islam, with special attention to the question of “Chrislam” and other missiological debates. In the third chapter, Quosigk sets out her methods and the theories that she uses to answer the question of how evangelicals could be divided on Islam. She argues the persistent “diversity within their ranks” on other issues negates Smith’s ingroup/outgroup hypothesis (51). Instead, James Davision Hunter’s thesis on intra-group conflict helps to show why evangelicals are conflicted on Islam and finds that “debates within Evangelicalism on the topic of Islam concern matters of moral authority” (54). Quosigk also proposes a fourfold progressive-traditional spectrum for gauging moral authority rather than Hunter’s binary (72). Specifically, she analyzes one’s stated moral authority in contrast to what they actually appeal to—which she calls evidential moral authority—in conceptualizing views about specific topics.
In chapters 4 and 5, Quosigk presents data on evangelical leaders and congregants. She does so separately to better understand whether leaders are the primary influencers in creating a group identity and promulgating intergroup conflict (71). In interviews with both leaders and congregants, the questions were structured around several categories: politics, the Qur’an, Muhammad, “Chrislam,” and interfaith dialogue. The author found similar degrees of diversity among both leaders and congregants. In terms of moral authority, she determined that leaders exercise an important role for how congregants construct their views Among leaders, many stated they were right-leaning and had a conservative moral authority (85). However, Quosigk found that several of these interviewees had a progressive or progressive-traditional evidential moral authority. In her analysis, she finds that congregants are engaged in culture wars in the same way Hunter theorizes (140). The appeal to a moral source of authority provided both leaders and congregants with a justification for their positions, and therefore the groups are engaging in culture wars. Additionally, the leaders were often more polarized on issues than congregants, which supports Hunter’s prediction that “elites” will be more polarized.
Quosigk concludes the book by comparing the data. The beliefs found among evangelicals vary considerably—some object to Islam on historical grounds while others support “Insider Movements,” in which Muslims follows Jesus but maintain Muslim practice. Perhaps her most important takeaway from the data is that evangelicals are more progressive in their evidential moral authority than their stated moral authority (118). An application of Quosigk’s method toward other evangelical issues of concern could provide a more nuanced view of evangelicals. Using her progressive-traditional spectrum and classification of moral authority would also provide sociologists with the tools to understand group conflict among other religious groups as well, particularly ones that many people would assume are homogenous.
American Evangelicals makes helpful contributions to the field of Muslim-Christian relations, and Quosigk's methodology will be of great use to scholars doing similar work in the future. Her study clearly illustrates that US evangelicals are not wholly united against Islam, but more work should be done to gauge how diverse opinions are. A further breakdown and more diverse sample population will provide this, which Quosigk acknowledges throughout the book. Her engagement with Smith’s hypothesis is weaker, and based on the data it seems like some evangelicals do not see Islam as a threat at all. Those types of evangelicals may not see themselves aligned with ones who do view Islam as a threat, and this is another area that requires further questioning.
Quosigk’s creation of a spectrum from Hunter’s binary remains a key development for the field, along with the distinction she draws between stated and evidential moral authority. Rather than analyzing one’s opinions as traditional or progressive like Hunter, Quosigk finds it more helpful to look at the spectrum of views. Her study is a wonderful example of how a spectrum can provide a better understanding of groups than a simple binary. One potential limitation is how to effectively identify evidential moral authority. It may prove difficult to have standard for this. Her evidence shows that most people operate with a hybrid set of views that are sometimes traditional and other times progressive. Therefore, while the spectrum is helpful for seeing how people identify their views, it does not improve the binary for identifying evidential moral authority. In this way, she has provided clear evidence about evangelicals and advanced this area of sociological research. For these reasons, scholars of Evangelicalism and sociology, along with readers interested in these topics, will find this book to be helpful in rethinking their own methods, and to better understand the ongoing conflict among evangelicals about how to think about Islam and engage with Muslims in society.
Payden Brown is a graduate student in theological studies at the University of Notre Dame.Bobby Payden BrownDate Of Review:July 28, 2022