A “revitalization movement” is a deliberate, organized, systematic attempt by members of a society to create a culture they find more acceptable. That’s a pretty broad definition but one form it often takes is in an emphasis on “old ways” in an attempt to return to the culture of an earlier era which people believe is more congenial.
The general pattern is something like this:
- Period of generally satisfactory adaptation to a group’s social and natural environment.
- Period of increased individual stress. While the group as a whole is able to survive through its accustomed cultural behavior, changes in the social or natural environment frustrate efforts of many people to obtain normal satisfactions of their needs.
- Period of cultural distortion. Changes in the group’s social or natural environment drastically reduce the capacity of accustomed cultural behavior to satisfy most persons’ physical and emotional needs.
- Period of revitalization: (1) reformulation of the cultural pattern; (2) its communication; (3) organization of a reformulated cultural pattern; (4) adaptation of the reformulated pattern to better meet the needs and preferences of the group; (5) cultural transformation; (6) routinization, when the adapted reformulated cultural pattern becomes the standard cultural behavior for the group.
- (In a successful one) New period of generally satisfactory adaptation to the group’s changed social and/or natural environment.
In the cases I am talking about, the “period of revitilization” generally involves picking elements from the cultures historical norms an emphasizing them in an effort to “restore” or “revitalize” that earlier generally successful adaptation.
A classic example is the Ghost Dance of the Plains Indians in the post Civil War era.
Typhoid fever and other diseases had decimated native populations. Native cultures were not well equipped to handle these stresses. In that environment, Paiute spiritual leader Jack Wilson claimed to have seen visions, one in particular during the Solar Eclipse of 1889. His vision showed people in Heaven living in a land of plentiful game and engaging in their traditional activities. This essentially provided a nostalgic view of their own past as an idea of paradise.
While Wilson’s message was one of peace and love, some of his followers did not take it so. Many started wearing “Ghost shirts” (which may have been inspired by Latter Day Saint “temple garments”) that were reputed to be able to repel bullets through spiritual power. Add in that the Lakota interpretation of a “renewed Earth” where “all evil is washed away” as including that all European Americans are eradicated from their lands and you have the potential for a powder keg.
To make a long story short, the result was Wounded Knee, a particularly dark spot in American History. American troops were confiscating weapons from the Lakota camped at Wounded Knee Creek. One old, deaf Lakota refused to relinquish his weapons. A weapon was discharged in the struggle, probably accidentally I would guess. An officer gave the command to open fire and the Lakota grabbed for their confiscated weapons. The resulting massacre ended with 25 US soldiers dead, along with 153 Lakota, mostly women and children.
In the end the Ghost Dance did not create a “renewed Earth” and most certainly did not remove European Americans from the land.
The key here is that often when societies are stressed, when they see their way of life and culture threatened, they revert to a kind of fundamentalism. Sometimes it can save the culture. But often it is the last gasp of a dying culture.
As we look around, what do we see?
In the time of Saladin, the Muslim world was as advanced as any. While they may not have been the origin of much that folk will give them credit for (given their location on the Silk Road, a lot of ideas passed from one end to the other that they happily took credit for), they were still a marvel of the day. However, somewhere between the Renaissance and the early industrial age progress passed them by. Trade going by ship, first around the Horn, then in Transatlantic and Transpacific trade more and more rendered the Silk Road less important. The switch in Europe from muscle power to various forms of mechanical power, starting with widespread use of water mills to power foundries and on into steam power lead to their pulling ahead in technology and engineering. Islamic military conquests slowed dramatically, pretty much ceasing in the West (and eventually people would start to bruit the idea about that “jihad” didn’t really mean military conquest for religious reasons, it meant an internal struggle. Really. Trust us).
This was not a fast process, but the accumulation of centuries. And for the most part they were able to live in their own parts of the world, largely untouched by the outside world.
But then came the mid to late 20th century and mass communication. People were seeing more and more of what was outside their own little world. (Much like the response of some folk in the old Soviet Union to films that were supposed to show the plight of the poor in Western, “capitalist” countries: “The poor people have cars? The poor people are fat?”)
And, of course, the 21st century with widespread Internet and the near ubiquitous access to vast amounts of data only exacerbated the problem.
But instead of just adapting to the new reality, which might require taking a hard look at their own presumptions and considering that some might not be valid, a position that was emotionally unacceptable to them, they retreated to those beliefs. They built ever higher and steeper walls between themselves and what was outside. Anything not within those walls was the enemy. And jihad, in the old sense of actual war against the unbeliever, was once again on the table in spades, only more so.
And the result is the various “fundamentalist” groups, striving to bring a strain of Islam from the 7th and 8th centuries, unfiltered by the intervening years, into the modern world. But the violence and fanaticism are not signs of strength. Just the opposite. They are the signs of a culture tottering on the ropes, trying desperately to return to glory days that never were save in their fevered imaginations.
Painful it may be, but it may actually be a good sign, so long as we’re willing to stay the course and not surrender to them.