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Trend #6: Hot Religion

Via Meadia’s sixth big trend of the decade — the rise of hot religion — has been very much in the news. As the final results of Egypt’s parliamentary elections, announced yesterday, only reconfirmed, faith is on the march – in the Middle East, as in most parts of the world.

When the Arab Spring burst onto the world stage last year, there was a lot of empty chatter about the rise of liberal democracy in the region. Developments since have disappointed the hopes of liberal, secular democrats at every turn. Economic and political grievances helped fuel the popular resistance, but in country after country it was religious activists and parties who capitalized on the discontent. By wide margins, voters in the liberated countries swept Islamist parties into the power vacuum left by authoritarian strongmen; and where the revolutions are still underway, faith is fueling the fire.

Religious forms of ideology and identity have largely replaced secular nationalism across the Middle East.  From Iran and Turkey to Morocco, secularism continues to retreat and religious forces are gaining sway. Hamas is gaining at the expense of secular Fatah; the Sunni-Shiite divide has polarized Middle Eastern countries in a stark and startling way. In Israel, tension between secular and ultra-Orthodox groups is on the rise.

Nigeria, always a country of interest to those following the influence of religion on politics, has fallen into a deep crisis over terror attacks by the radical Boko Haram sect.  Christian retaliation against Muslims for Boko Haram attacks has begun to take place; hopefully Nigeria will muddle through this crisis as it has so many others, but the danger of a spiral of religious and ethnic violence is real.

As we wrote two years ago when describing this trend:

The competing secular ideologies that once held religion in check have melted; the problems of life that demand ideological answers seem more acute than ever. This is why religion is on the march.

Looking ahead, we would only note that trees do not grow to the sky. Hot religion is on the march in the Middle East because (except for Turkey) secular parties and ideologies failed. Miserable economic performance discredited secularism, and religion based parties and ideas were the only alternatives left standing.

Via Meadia’s crystal ball is not completely reliable, but it seems likely that the Islamists also will fail to make Egypt rich. The problems of development in the Arab world and more broadly in a lot of the Islamic world are complicated and difficult. In the short to medium term, relatively moderate Islamist forces could lose ground to more radical groups as economic failure leads to disillusion with the revolutionary governments. But what happens if more radical groups gain power and they, too, fail to bring down the manna from heaven that makes everyone rich?

But meanwhile, in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and much of the rest of the world, the political salience of religion continues to grow, and in many of these places the hotter forms of religion are doing better than the cooler ones.  The hot religion trend will be with us for some time.

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  • Anthony

    WRM, where reasonable men can reasonably disagree, as they can about political and economic ideologies, their decisions in favor of one or another alternative are not severely discredited if failed but generally replaced. Hot religion in places cited and premised on credal belief for many of its adherents provides commune against indecipherable world conditions – as you say the trend will be with us for some time.

  • Eric

    The other reason for rise of the moderate Islamists compared with Salafists for example is the widespread disgust with corruption.

    Unfortunately if the people in Egypt and Tunisia think voting Islamists into power will reign in corruption they may find themselves disappointed, as the example of Iran shows.

  • Tom Holsinger


    I suggest you pay more attention to Egyptian financial reserves and food imports. Spengler’s reports are chilling.

  • Jeff Cronheim

    Is this a rise of “hot religion” or a surge in Islam? And is it fair to obscure the fact that Islam seems to be singularly responsible for the rise in the religious temperature under the blanket term “hot religion”?

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    You could have as easily have said Hot Democracy. These newly formed Democracies’s will now learn the reasons for separation of mosque and state.
    “Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.” Edmund Burke
    Islamic Cultures are very backward, at least now there is movement going on, instead of the stagnation. I will watch with great interest the progress of these infant Democracies, as they must crawl before they can walk, and walk before they can run.

  • WigWag

    “Via Meadia’s sixth big trend of the decade—the rise of hot religion — has been very much in the news…” (Walter Russell Mead)

    Best recent book on the subject: Eliza Griswold’s “The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches From the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam.”

    The New York Times book review can be found here,

    Professor Mead is mentioned in the acknowledgement section although the publishers spelled his name wrong

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