Tuesday, October 18, 2011
We continue our consideration of our conflicts with each other with Eliza Griswold's The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam. Griswold traveled for seven years along the tenth parallel, the line of latitude 700 miles north of the equator, along which half of the world's Christians and Muslims live--and compete for new converts and scarce natural resources, as we see daily in international news.
She decided to write the book after she traveled with Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son, in 2003 to visit with Sudan's President Omar al Bashir. Franklin had recently called Islam "a very wicked and evil religion" just after 9/11, and Griswold was curious to see their interaction. With vivid stories of her travels and interviews, Griswold helps readers understand the way religion and the struggle to survive are intertwined in Africa and Asia. She says that all of the conflicts she reported on had a secular trigger, such as a dispute over land rights and control of a natural resource such as water, oil, or chocolate, yet because the state is no longer a strong unifying factor in people's lives, the conflicts are framed by religious differences. Surprisingly, based on her observations over these seven years, she argues that the greatest upheavals are within these religions, not between them, as the understanding of faith and nationhood evolves.
A "preacher's kid" herself, Griswold is the daughter of liberal Episcopalian Bishop Frank Griswold. In an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, she describes how her background influenced the writing of the book: "I grew up in a household where questions of faith and intellect were raised on a daily basis, so I definitely have always wondered, how do smart people believe--and there are many [believers] among conservatives and liberals alike--how do they take these stories to be true? So I certainly came from that background of these two intertwined threads and that's how I came to wonder about the question of whether all fundamentalism leads to violence. I thought that I would find among the fundamentalists--whether they were Christian or Muslim--that their beliefs would be entirely different and entirely incomprehensible [to me]. But that is not what I found. What I found was that I had more sympathy and more ability to understand their different points of view than I had imagined. And I think that that had something to do with my upbringing."
Griswold notes that since the first lines of latitude were drawn in the third century B.C.E., the regions they define "have carried social and moral connotations, and cartographers have used them to separate one 'type' of human from another." The tenth parallel falls within what was called the "Torrid Zone," thought by Aristotle and philosophers who followed him to be home to a race of strange and violent peoples but containing rich resources. We saw the roots of the geographical and religious competition for converts and resources in our first book this year, The Fourth Part of the World by Toby Lester. After reading The Tenth Parallel, what do you predict for the future of this region of the world? Is religion interfering with peace, or is it the best hope for peace?
Archbishop Desmond Tutu says of Griswold's book, which won the 2011 Anthony J. Lukas prize, "She returns us to the most basic truth of human existence: that the world and its people are interconnected." We hope you will join the discussion: Tuesday, November 1, at 6:00 p.m. at Main Library; Thursday, November 17, at 11:00 a.m. at West Ashley Branch Library; and here on the blog.