Holy Ignorance

When Religion and Culture Part Ways

Part of the CERI/Sciences Po. series
October 2010 9781850659921 288pp
May 2017 9781849044479 288pp


Olivier Roy, world-renowned authority on Islam and politics, finds in the modern disconnection between faith communities and socio-cultural identities a fertile space for fundamentalism to grow. Instead of freeing the world from religion, secularisation has encouraged a kind of holy ignorance to take root, an anti-intellectualism that promises immediate, emotional access to the sacred and positions itself in direct opposition to contemporary pagan culture. The secularisation of society was supposed to free people from religion, yet individuals are converting en masse to fundamentalist faiths, such as Protestant evangelicalism, Islamic Salafism, and Haredi Judaism. These religions either reconnect adherents to their culture through casual referents, like halal fast food, or maintain their momentum through purification rituals, such as speaking in tongues, a practice that allows believers to utter a language that is entirely their own. Instead of a return to traditional religious worship, we are now witnessing the individualisation of faith and the disassociation of faith communities from ethnic and national identities. Roy explores the options now available to powers that hope to integrate or control these groups; and whether marginalisation or homogenisation will further divide believers from their culture.


‘Olivier Roy, the outstanding scholar of contemporary religions, has written a book of startling clarity and wisdom. Illuminating trends, issues and movements that had before appeared bizarre or simply antipathetic, he provides us with tools for the comprehension of matters as diverse as coverage of the war on terror to the common individual confusion over one’s own beliefs and scepticisms.’ — Financial Times

‘An erudite account of intricate relationships between religion and other markers of identity, including nationality, socially defined race, language, class, political ideology, generation, gender and sexual orientation.’ — Times Literary Supplement

Holy Ignorance is in a way a synthesis of all Roy’s previous work on the sociology of religion. It formulates forcefully the thesis that has been taking shape throughout his previous works: in a globalised world, religion thrives to the extent that it has severed its ties with culture. This de-culturation of religions explains their revival, and much of our difficulties in understanding them. – It is certainly an important book that is written in an easy, accessible language fit for a wide audience – Roy’s erudition is simply flabbergasting, and it has the merit of making his book very concrete, very vivid.’ — Nicholas Guilhot, New York University

‘Roy’s central theses about the way religion is going in today’s world (a breathtakingly ambitious exercise to be sure) could, and deserve to, reset debates about secularisation and secularism, and give birth to creative new departures in theory and research.’ — David Lehmann, Cambridge University

‘A highly complex book that critically examines the relationship between religion, culture and globalization, Holy Ignorance provides theoretical keys to unlocking the riddle of the religious imagination and the “deculturation” of religious movements in the modern world. Few scholars of religion are as qualified as Olivier Roy to write such an erudite work on religious and cultural trends, to contextualize them and to make sense of them.’ — Fawaz A. Gerges, Professor and Chair of Middle Eastern Politics and International Relations, London School of Economics

‘With Holy Ignorance Olivier Roy moves beyond his established perch as one of contemporary Islam’s foremost scholars to train his formidable analytical skills on the question of globalization’s broader impact on religion. The result is a tour de force of comparative religious sociology, and represents required reading for anyone seeking to understand the relationship between faith, culture, and the market.’ — Peter Mandaville, George Mason University and author of Global Political Islam

‘Firmly rooted in the uncompromisingly laique tradition of French sociology, Roy serves his sweet and sour soup of secularism, a peculiar melange of empirical history and normative history, in the chalice of postmodernity, proclaiming globalization as the only universal faith of our times.’ — The Muslim World Book Review

Holy Ignorance offers an impressive insight and a significant contribution to the field of religious sociology by addressing the second scheme of secularization that will have an enduring influence on the global discourse regarding the issue of the role of religion in our modern world.’ – Abdullahi A. Gallab, Sociology of Religion

‘An intriguing thesis slithers through this impressively profuse and promiscuous garden of sociohistorical erudition. Religion is not experiencing a comeback, the renowned scholar of political Islam argues, but a significant transformation brought about by the secularization intended to marginalize and diminish it.’ — Michael P. Kramer, Common Knowledge.


Olivier Roy is Professor at the European University Institute in Florence. Six of his highly acclaimed books on religion and politics are published by Hurst, including Globalised Islam; Jihad and Death; Holy Ignorance; and Is Europe Christian?

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