Theocracy and Secularization

  • David Cowan


Saudi is not a secular society, but it is partly capitalist. The spirit of modern capitalism is secular, and indeed secularization has gone hand-in-hand with capitalism. Secularization theory (A Conversation with Peter L. Berger “How My Views Have Changed” Gregor Thuswaldner. is a term that was used in the 1950s and 1960s by a number of social scientists and historians to describe social and economic change, and diagnosed that modernity inevitably produces a decline of religion. If we take this point seriously, then we can perhaps understand the resistance from within Islam and Saudi toward aspects of modern capitalism. If the product is secularization, then the inevitability is social change, and for many believers the damaging of Islam and the Saudi way of life. As discussed in the previous chapter, Islam is not anti-economic or anti-capitalism as such, but there is much in the modern form of capitalism that is of concern and is also the basis of much anti-Americanism. When some Christians express fear that Islam is a threat to their faith, they might want to reflect on the argument that in some respects Christianity has been much more “damaged” by American capitalism and secularization than it has by Islam. In the secular west, capitalism has generated a consumer culture which holds up a mirror to society. The easy availability and disposability of goods has impacted values, while social media and communications have distracted society. There is a greater materialist culture, though no shortage of spiritual ideas and pursuits, many produced by the materialist state of affairs. It seems that the richer a society gets the more spiritually impoverished it is; but this need not be the case. It is hard to see how western society can reverse this trend, if indeed it should, but Saudi as an Islamic country has the potential to show how a society can evolve in a spiritual way and at the same time be economically successful. The question is one of whether economic development and success is necessarily secular and needs a secular spirit. To understand this, we need to look at what we mean by the term secular.


  1. al-Rasheed, Madawi, ed. 2008. Kingdom Without Borders: Saudi Arabia’s Political, Religious and Media Frontiers. London: Hurst.Google Scholar
  2. al-Wadi’i, Muqbil. 2005. Mushahadaiî iî al-Mamlaka al-‘Arabiyya al-Sa‘udiyya. Sanaa: Dar al-athar.Google Scholar
  3. An-Na’im, Abdullahi Ahmed. 2008. Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari’a. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barber, Benjamin R. 2001. Jihad vs McWorld: Terrorism’s Challenge to Democracy. New York: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  5. Bell, Richard. 1968. The Origin of Islam in Its Christian Environment: The Gunning Lectures, Edinburgh University 1925. London: Macmillan, 1926; reprint: London: Cass, 1968.Google Scholar
  6. Berger, Peter L. 1967. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  7. ———. 1973. The Social Reality of Religion. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  8. ———., ed. 1999. The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.Google Scholar
  9. Black, Antony. 2001. The History of Islamic Political Thought: From the Prophet to the Present. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Bowering, Gerhard, ed. 2015. Islamic Political Thought: An Introduction. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Craze, Jonathan, and Mark Huband. 2009. The Kingdom: Saudi Arabia and the Challenge of the 21 st Century. London: Hurst & Co.Google Scholar
  12. Cunningham, Robert B., and Yasin K. Sarayrah. 1993. Wasta: The Hidden Force in Middle Eastern Society. Westport: Praeger.Google Scholar
  13. Esposito, John L. 2002. Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Ghosh, Peter. 2017. Max Weber and the Protestant Ethic: Twin Histories. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Halliday, Fred. 2000. Nation and Religion in the Middle East. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.Google Scholar
  16. Hamid, Shadi. 2016. Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World. New York: St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  17. Haykel, Bernard, Thomas Hegghammer, and Stéphane Lacroix. 2015. Saudi Arabia in Transition: Insights on Social, Political, Economic and Religious Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Heggenhammer, Thomas. 2010. Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and Pan-Islamism Since 1979. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. ———. 2015. Saudi Arabia in Transition: Insights on Social, Political, Economic and Religious Change. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Houellebecq, Michel. 2016. Submission. New York: Picador.Google Scholar
  21. Hourani, Albert. 2002. A History of the Arab Peoples. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  22. Karsh, Effraim. 2006. Islamic Imperialism: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Kepel, Gilles. 2004. The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West. Trans. Pascal Ghazaleh. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  24. Khaldūn, Ibn. 1967. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Kuhn, Thomas. 1996. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lacey, Robert. 2009. Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Terrorists, Modernists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia. New York: Viking.Google Scholar
  27. Lackner, Helen. 1978. A House Built on Sand. A Political Economy of Saudi Arabia. London: Ithaca Press.Google Scholar
  28. Lewis, Bernard. 2002. The Arabs in History. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Luciani, Giacomo, ed. 1990. The Arab State. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  30. Maher, Shiraz. 2016. Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea. London: Hurst & Company.Google Scholar
  31. Mansfield, Peter. 1985. The Arabs. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  32. Matthiesen, Toby. 2015. The Other Saudis: Shiism, Dissent and Sectarianism. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Naqvi, S.N.H. 1994. Ethics and Economics: An Islamic Synthesis. Leicester: The Islamic Foundation.Google Scholar
  34. Nasr, Vali. 2009. The Rise of Islamic Capitalism: Why the New Muslim Middle Class Is the Key to Defeating Extremism. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  35. Patai, Raphael. 1973. The Arab Mind. New York: Scribner.Google Scholar
  36. Plantinga, Alvin, and Nicholas Wolterstorff, eds. 1983. Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  37. Quaesem, Muhammad Abdul. 1983. The Jewels of the Qur’an: Al-Ghazali’s Theory. London: Islamic Book Trust.Google Scholar
  38. Said, Edward W. 1979. Orientalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  39. ———. 1981. Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  40. Salame, Ghassan, ed. 1994. Democracy Without Democrats? The Renewal of Politics in the Muslim World. London: I.B. Tauris.Google Scholar
  41. Schumpeter, Joseph A. 1954. History of Economic Analysis. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Shabbir, Akhtar. 1985. In Philosophy Bridging the World Religions, ed. P. Koslowski. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  43. Southern, R.W. 1978. Western Views of Islam in the Middle Ages. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Taylor, Charles. 2007. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  45. Watt, W. Montgomery. 1953. The Faith and Practice of Al-Ghazali. London: George Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  46. Weber, Max. 2010. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Wilson, Bryan. 1966. Religion in a Secular Society. London: Watts.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Cowan
    • 1
  1. 1.Boston CollegeBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations