One: There sure are a lot of fascinating and wacky religiosities in the strip of Africa (crossing Nigeria, southern Sudan, and Somalia) and Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines) that borders Latitude 10 degrees north of the equator. Most obviously, Christianity and Islam often live side by side here. That encounter becomes violent all too often as beliefs about how to encounter God become mixed with differences in ethnicity, language, and economic status and simple survival. This is most clearcut in her reports from the Sudan and the Philippines. But there's also plenty of violence within the two great religions between adherents who hold different interpretations of their own one true way.
But those stories are not the ones that gripped me; perhaps I've read too much about Christian-Muslim conflict elsewhere. Rather, I was fascinated and surprised by some of the oddities she encountered. There's Bishop David Oyedepo, a Nigerian Pentecostal preacher who presides over a megachurch called Canaanland with its own university. His thousands of followers proclaim to a prosperity gospel.
Okay, I know that prosperity-oriented Christian groups also thrive in some communities in the U.S. But Griswold's next subject is the Nigerian Islamic counterpart of the same sort of faith; that comes to me as a bit of a surprise.
Apparently the human impulse to make the temple a center of commerce finds expression in the most austere of faiths.
Two: That woman sure gets around! I was simply awed by Griswold's range -- to collect this material, she ventured into a myriad of situations where Western reporters seldom travel. And I was awed by her bravery. Lots of these places were deeply dangerous to their own residents and especially to foreign intruders. In most of them, she interviewed warriors -- overwhelmingly male warriors -- who define their battles as religious. Many of these men are not just aspirational killers. For this aging feminist, it's stunning to know we now live in a world in which a determined woman can do this work. Kudos to Griswold.
The book reads as if it had started life as series of magazine articles, which it almost certainly did. In consequence (and for lack of copy editing) there are annoying repetitions and a certain sense of skimming once over lightly among impossibly complex realities and people. (Griswold certainly gives every indication of knowing she has just touched surfaces.) But oh, what a tour! I live in a bigger world for having read it.