Review of Holy Ignorance by Olivier Roy

Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part WaysHoly Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways by Olivier Roy

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This was an enjoyable, if mostly baffling book. Roy has a massive reputation and I felt at times like he was depending more on that and random anecdotes than on solid research to make his point.

His point seems to be that there is a relationship between non-critical reading of a text and religious fundamentalism, which is what he calls ‘holy ignorance’. The problem with this is that his brand of critical, contextual scholarship is not the norm, from which fundamentalists depart. Rather, it is the exception which liberals depart to. Nor is it clear to me that the non-religious are any more informed than the holy ignoramuses. I have met a lot of secular folks who look down on conservative religious folks, but in their own way are just as fundamentalistic and non-reflexive as are religious fundamentalists. Witness the lack of ability of most people on the left to even grasp that one might have a valid reason to not support same-sex marriage. Also, he does not adequately address the fact that sometimes a critical reading of a (con)text can actually lead to the same conclusions that one blessed with holy ignorance comes to.

Of more interest are his ideas regarding the relation between secularism and fundamentalism. Cult begets culture, culture begets secularization, secularization forces religion into a corner and sometimes that corner becomes fundamentalism. Again, that is my own synopsis of his thought. This has some interesting ramifications, and it may well be more or less accurate. My concern though is that his way of speaking of fundamentalism is so overly-broad and imprecise that it his theory becomes impossible to test.

In sum, there is enough ignorance to go around, and there is nothing particularly holy about it. I belong to the Episcopal Church, which is every bit as narrow-minded and fundamentalist as the snake-handlers in Alabama, it just happens to be a fundamentalism of the left, and one that is only distantly informed by echoes of personal theism from yester-decade.

Roy is very famous. I am not. His grocery list has been cited in more times than all my works combined. That notwithstanding, I’m going to recommend you not read this book.

View all my reviews


Author: duanemiller

I was born in Montana and grew up in Colorado and Puebla (in Mexico). I completed a BA in philosophy at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and then an MA in theology at St Mary's University (also in San Antonio). Later life took me to Jordan where my wife and I studied Arabic, to Israel where I helped found a seminary, and to Scotland for doctoral work, among other places. I live in Madrid now where I teach and minister. I'm highly interested in the interactions of Islam, Christianity and secularism in modern contexts. My main areas of research for my PhD in divinity were religious conversion from Islam to Christianity, contextual theology, and the shari'a's treatment of apostates. I've also published research on global Anglicanism and the history of Anglican mission in the Ottoman Empire. I've had the pleasure of teaching in many places over the years: from Costa Rica to Turkey, and Kenya to Tunisia. I am associate professor at the Protestant Faculty of Theology at Madrid (UEBE) and priest at the Anglican Cathedral of the Redeemer in Madrid, Spain. Visit my blog ( or page for more information.

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