Olivier Roy

Synergy Program, in collaboration with the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States (New York Book Office)

The Speaker

Olivier Roy is a specialist and international expert on Islam. He received his Agrégation in Philosophy in 1972, and first worked as a high school teacher starting the following year, before being recruited by the CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research) as a researcher in 1985.

Olivier Roy received his doctorate in political science in 1996 and became director of research at the CNRS and department chair at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences) in Turkish Studies.

He led the Tajikistan mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 1993-1994, and was a consultant for the Office of the United Nations on issues related to Afghanistan. His areas of specialization include Islamism, Islam in Europe, the Middle East and religion (comparative studies).

Olivier Roy’s work and publications stress the difference between Islam and Islamism and the analysis of the ideology from a geopolitical, sociological and historical perspective.

He is also an associate researcher at the Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (Center for International Studies and Research). In 2008-2009, he was a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

Since September 2009, he has been a professor at the European University Institute in Florence where he heads the Mediterranean program.

He has published numerous articles and books, including:
La Sainte ignorance. Le temps de la religion sans culture (Holy Ignorance, When Religion and Culture Diverge), Le Seuil, 2008 ;
La Laïcité face à l'Islam (Secularism Confronts Islam), Stock, Paris 2005 ;
La Turquie aujourd’hui, un pays européen ? (Turkey Today: A European Country?), direction/Universalis, Paris, 2004;
Les Illusions du 11 septembre. Le débat stratégique face au terrorisme (llusions of 9/11. Strategic Debate Confronts Terrorism), Le Seuil, Paris, 2002 ;
L'Islam mondialisé (Globalized Islam), Le Seuil, Paris, 2002 ;
Iran : comment sortir d'une révolution religieuse ? (Iran: How to Exit a Religious Revolution?), Le Seuil, Paris, 1999 ;
La nouvelle Asie centrale ou la fabrication des nations (The New Central Asia or the Creation of Nations), Le Seuil, Paris, 1997 ;
Afghanistan, Islam et modernité politique (Afghanistan, Islam and Politcal Modernity), Le Seuil, Paris, 1985.

In  L’Islam mondialisé (Globalized Islam), Olivier Roy presents an essay which clarifies the true position of Islam today and the all too often ignored influence of the west on neo-fundamentalist movements. According to Roy, the most radical of the Islamist movements were conceived and formed in the west.

Cutting ties with their country of origin, their family and their host country, some Islamists have drifted towards terrorism, coming up with their own brand of Islam. As a result, they "are far from representing the religious community from which they have preferred to marginalize themselves.” Olivier Roy in fact believes that the Islamist world has not changed from within but from the outside. The other example on which Roy bases his thesis is Bin Laden, who did not strike out against Saint-Peter’s in Rome, but rather Wall Street: thus his war is not a war of religion but a war waged against sovereign imperialism.  

Through his latest work, La Sainte ignorance (Holy Ignorance), he more broadly questions the foundation of the religious revival in the world: why have tens of thousands of Muslims converted to become Christians or Jehovah’s Witnesses? How can we explain that the fastest growing religion in the world is Pentecostalism? Why are young Europeans attracted by the particularly austere Muslim doctrine of Salafism?
According to Olivier Roy, this religious “revivalism” is a result of globalization and the culture crisis, and has little to do with the expression of traditional cultural identities. “Holy ignorance” is the myth of a pure religiousness which is thought to form outside of cultures. This myth fuels modern fundamentalists, in competition in a religious marketplace which both exacerbates their differences and standardizes their practices. 

Books issued in the United States

The Politics of Chaos in the Middle East, Columbia University Press, 2008;
The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism, Olivier Roy and Antoine Sfeir, Columbia University Press, 2007;
The New Central Asia: Geopolitics and the Birth of Nations, New York University Press, 2007;
Secularism Confronts Islam, Columbia University Press, 2007;
Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah, Columbia University Press, 2006;
Islamist Networks: The Afghan-Pakistan Connection, Columbia University Press, 2006;
Turkey Today: A European Country? Anthem Press, 2000;
The Failure of Political Islam, Harvard University Press, 1998;
Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan, Cambridge University Press,1990. 


Topics and contents of the lectures will be announced later.


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