This thoughtful exploration of identity, culture and fundamentalism focuses on a critically important question confronting so many countries in the post-Cold War epoch: are culturally determined political conflicts rooted in the cultures themselves, or spawned only by their political instrumentalization? Professor Meyer presents and critiques, at both the conceptual and empirical level, Samuel Huntington's celebrated argument about the inevitability of violent conflict between different civilizations.
While acknowledging people's need to adopt identities, and that cultures necessarily imply differentiated identities, Professor Meyer argues that most religions share core values, and difference only leads to intolerance and violence when politically ambitious leaderships exploit it. In the present age of globalization, Meyer suggests that social crisis grows out of an exclusionary dynamic that marginalizes growing numbers of people.
This argument, if valid, contains real grounds for optimism. In seeking political strategies to defeat fundamentalism and the identity mania that accompanies it, the focus must be on developing economic and social structures that do not exclude or make people insecure, but that give all citizens a common interest in the operations of a socially responsible market economy, which delivers to all.