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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 1 .

The Construction of Nationhood: Ethnicity, Religion and Nationalism
Adrian Hastings

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
xii, 235 pp. Index.

This highly readable book, which was the basis for the Wiles Lectures in Belfast of 1996, is framed as a fundamental attack on the approach of Hobsbawm's 'Nations and Nationalism since 1780' (CUP, 1990). Prof. Hastings is concerned to show (1) that English national identity predated 1066; (2) that (contrary to the `modernist' thesis) the principal European nations had already emerged by the sixteenth century; (3) that Christianity, by permitting translation of the Bible, and other religious literature, and by providing the myth of a chosen people, encouraged the development of ethnicities and nations; (4) that Islam, by contrast, "deconstructs" nations; (5) that nationalism based on the jus soli, attachment to a territory, as in the French case, is inherently more benign than nationalism based on jus sanguinis, as in the German case (jus sanguinis having ethnic cleansing as its logical end product).

Professor Hastings provides a convincing critique of the modernists for ignoring English and Irish nationalisms, and for failing to consider the role of religious print literature and in particular vernacular Bibles in generating national feeling and creating national cultures (on both these points he provides suggestive and enlightening historical analyses). Historians no doubt feel that historical sociology is too important to be left to sociologists, but they rarely venture to engage with them directly. Professor Hastings is to be congratulated for forsaking the safe ground of his own specialisms and historical periods, and venturing to compose such a wide- ranging, generalizing, but at the same time authentically historical and empirically based, essay.

David N. Gellner, Brunel University

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