Religion in International Affairs
Selected Project Profiles
News & Events
Politics of Religious Freedom—Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Saba Mahmood, and Peter G. Danchin, eds. (The University of Chicago Press, 2015)
In a remarkably short period of time, the realization of religious freedom has achieved broad consensus as an indispensable condition for peace. Faced with widespread reports of religious persecution, public and private actors around the world have responded with laws and policies designed to promote freedom of religion. But what precisely is being promoted? What are the cultural and epistemological assumptions underlying this response, and what forms of politics are enabled in the process?
The fruits of the three-year Politics of Religious Freedom research project, the contributions to this volume unsettle the assumption—ubiquitous in policy circles—that religious freedom is a singular achievement, an easily understood state of affairs, and that the problem lies in its incomplete accomplishment. Taking a global perspective, the more than two dozen contributors delineate the different conceptions of religious freedom predominant in the world today, as well as their histories and social and political contexts. Together, the contributions make clear that the reasons for persecution are more varied and complex than is widely acknowledged, and that the indiscriminate promotion of a single legal and cultural tool meant to address conflict across a wide variety of cultures can have the perverse effect of exacerbating the problems that plague the communities cited as falling short.
Religion and the Politics of Development—Philip Fountain, Robin Bush, R. Michael Feener, eds. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
Eschewing tired doctrines of strict demarcation between development, religion and politics, this volume takes up the task of critically analysing this triple nexus. The chapters brought together in this landmark collection draw on detailed empirical studies from around contemporary Asia. Through their engagements with Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and secularism, among other traditions, the chapters argue persuasively for a new research agenda that attends to the ways in which development, religion, and politics are dynamically interconnected. In doing so, they deploy innovative conceptual approaches that rework taken-for-granted frames.
Islam in a Changing Middle East. (Project on Middle East Political Science, 2012-present)
Islam in a Changing Middle East was launched in August 2013 to meet the deep, powerful need in the policy community, academic community, and broader public for new knowledge about the evolving role of Islam in the politics and societies of the Middle East. The Arab uprisings, which began in late 2010, have created dramatically new opportunities and challenges not only for Islamist movements but also for the academic and policy communities that study them.
Choreographies of Shared Sacred Sites: Religion, Politics, and Conflict Resolution—Elazar Barkan and Karen Barkey, eds. (Columbia University Press, 2014)
Islam in a Changing Middle East seeks to address both the public and the academic challenges posed by these dramatic changes by supporting innovative research on this vital subject, disseminating this research to relevant audiences and promoting engagement across the academic-public-policy divides. One key initiative of the program is a series of thematic publications comprised of the latest research and analysis on Islamist movements. Copies are viewable online here.
This anthology explores the dynamics of shared religious sites in Turkey, the Balkans, Palestine/Israel, Cyprus, and Algeria, indicating where local and national stakeholders maneuver between competition and cooperation, coexistence and conflict. Contributors probe the notion of coexistence and the logic that underlies centuries of "sharing," exploring when and why sharing gets interrupted--or not--by conflict, and the policy consequences.
Boundaries of Toleration—Alfred Stepan and Charles Taylor, eds. (Columbia University Press, 2014)
These essays map the choreographies of shared sacred spaces within the framework of state-society relations, juxtaposing a site's political and religious features and exploring whether sharing or contestation is primarily religious or politically motivated. Although religion and politics are intertwined phenomena, the contributors to this volume understand the category of "religion" and the "political" as devices meant to distinguish between the theological and confessional aspects of religion and the political goals of groups. Their comparative approach better represents the transition in some cases of sites into places of hatred and violence, while in other instances they remain noncontroversial. The essays clearly delineate the religious and political factors that contribute to the context and causality of conflict at these sites and draw on history and anthropology to shed light on the often rapid switch from relative tolerance to distress to peace and calm.
How can people of diverse religious, ethnic, and linguistic allegiances and identities live together without committing violence, inflicting suffering, or oppressing each other? In this volume, contributors explore the limits of toleration and suggest we think beyond them to mutual respect. Salman Rushdie reflects on the once tolerant Sufi-Hindu culture of Kashmir. Ira Katznelson follows with an intellectual history of toleration as a layered institution in the West. Charles Taylor advances a new approach to secularism in our multicultural world, and Akeel Bilgrami responds by offering context and caution to that approach. Nadia Urbinati explores why Cicero's humanist ideal of Concord was not used in response to religious discord. The volume concludes with a refutation of the claim that toleration was invented in the West. Rajeev Bhargava writes on Asoka's India, and Karen Barkey explores toleration within the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires. Sudipta Kaviraj examines accommodations and conflicts in India, and Alfred Stepan highlights contributions to toleration and multiple democratic secularisms in such Muslim-majority countries as Indonesia and Senegal.
Democracy and Islam in Indonesia—Mirjam Künkler and Alfred Stepan, eds. (Columbia University Press, 2013)
Indonesia's military government collapsed in 1998, igniting fears that economic, religious, and political conflicts would complicate any democratic transition. Yet in every year since 2006, the world's most populous Muslim country has received high marks from international democracy-ranking organizations. In this volume, political scientists, religious scholars, legal theorists, and anthropologists examine the theory and practice of Indonesia's democratic transition and its ability to serve as a model for other Muslim countries. They compare the Indonesian example with similar scenarios in Chile, Spain, India, and Tunisia, as well as with the failed transitions of Yugoslavia, Egypt, and Iran. Essays explore the relationship between religion and politics and the ways in which Muslims became supportive of democracy even before change occurred, and they describe how innovative policies prevented dissident military groups, violent religious activists, and secessionists from disrupting Indonesia's democratic evolution. The collection concludes with a discussion of Indonesia's emerging "legal pluralism" and of which of its forms are rights-eroding and rights-protecting.
Tolerance, Democracy, and Sufis in Senegal—Mamadou Diouf, ed. (Columbia University Press, 2013)
This collection critically examines "tolerance," "secularism," and respect for religious "diversity" within a social and political system dominated by Sufi brotherhoods. Through a detailed analysis of Senegal's political economy, essays trace the genealogy and dynamic exchange among these concepts while investigating public spaces and political processes and their reciprocal engagement with the state, Sunni reformist and radical groups, and non-religious organizations. The anthology provides a rich and nuanced historical ethnography of the formation of Senegalese democracy, illuminating the complex trajectory of the Senegalese state and reflecting on similar postcolonial societies. Offering rare perspectives on the country's "successes" since liberation, the volume identifies the role of religion, gender, culture, ethnicity, globalization, politics, and migration in the reconfiguration of the state and society, and it makes an important contribution to democratization theory, Islamic studies, and African studies.
Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey—Ahmet T. Kuru and Alfred Stepan, eds. (Columbia University Press, 2012)
While Turkey has grown as a world power, promoting the image of a progressive and stable nation, several choices in policy have strained its relationship with the East and the West. Providing historical, social, and religious context for this behavior, the essays in Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey examine issues relevant to Turkish debates and global concerns, from the state's position on religion to its involvement with the European Union.
Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari`a—Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`im (Harvard University Press, 2010)
Written by experts in a range of disciplines, the chapters explore the toleration of diversity during the Ottoman Empire's classical period; the erosion of ethno-religious heterogeneity in modern, pre-democratic times; Kemalism and its role in modernization and nation building; the changing political strategies of the military; and the effect of possible EU membership on domestic reforms. The essays also offer a cross-Continental comparison of "multiple secularisms," as well as political parties, considering especially Turkey's Justice and Development Party in relation to Europe's Christian Democratic parties. Contributors tackle critical research questions, such as the legacy of the Ottoman Empire's ethno-religious plurality and the way in which Turkey's assertive secularism can be softened to allow greater space for religious actors. They address the military's "guardian" role in Turkey's secularism, the implications of recent constitutional amendments for democratization, and the consequences and benefits of Islamic activism's presence within a democratic system. No other collection confronts Turkey's contemporary evolution so vividly and thoroughly or offers such expert analysis of its crucial social and political systems.
What should be the place of Shari‘a—Islamic religious law—in predominantly Muslim societies of the world? In this ambitious and topical book, a Muslim scholar and human rights activist envisions a positive and sustainable role for Shari‘a, based on a profound rethinking of the relationship between religion and the secular state in all societies. An-Na‘im argues that the coercive enforcement of Shari‘a by the state betrays the Qur’an’s insistence on voluntary acceptance of Islam. Just as the state should be secure from the misuse of religious authority, Shari‘a should be freed from the control of the state. State policies or legislation must be based on civic reasons accessible to citizens of all religions. Showing that throughout the history of Islam, Islam and the state have normally been separate, An-Na‘im maintains that ideas of human rights and citizenship are more consistent with Islamic principles than with claims of a supposedly Islamic state to enforce Shari‘a. In fact, he suggests, the very idea of an “Islamic state” is based on European ideas of state and law, and not Shari‘a or the Islamic tradition.
Read more about the project on Law, Religion, and Human Rights at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion.
Sacred Aid: Faith and Humanitarianism—Michael Barnett and Janice Gross Stein (Oxford University Press, 2012)
From church-sponsored AIDS prevention campaigns in Africa to Muslim charity efforts in flood-stricken Pakistan to Hindu charities in India, religious groups have altered the character of the global humanitarian movement. Moreover, even secular groups now gesture toward religious inspiration in their work. Clearly, the broad, inexorable march toward secularism predicted by so many Westerners has halted, which is especially intriguing with regard to humanitarianism. Not only was it a highly secularized movement just forty years ago, but its principles were based on those we associate with “rational” modernity: cosmopolitan one-worldism and material (as opposed to spiritual) progress. How and why did this happen, and what does it mean for humanitarianism writ large? That is the question that the eminent scholars Michael Barnett and Janice Stein pose in Sacred Aid, and for answers they have gathered chapters from leading scholars that focus on the relationship between secularism and religion in contemporary humanitarianism throughout the developing world.
Rethinking Secularism—Craig Calhoun, Mark Juergensmeyer, and Jonathan VanAntwerpen, eds. (Oxford University Press, 2011)
In recent decades, the public has become increasingly aware of the important role religious commitments play in the cultural, social, and political dynamics of domestic and world affairs. This so called ”resurgence” of religion in the public sphere has elicited a wide array of responses, including vehement opposition to the very idea that religious reasons should ever have a right to expression in public political debate. The current global landscape forces scholars to reconsider not only once predominant understandings of secularization, but also the definition and implications of secular assumptions and secularist positions. The notion that there is no singular secularism, but rather a range of multiple secularisms, is one of many emerging efforts to reconceptualize the meanings of religion and the secular. Rethinking Secularism surveys these efforts and helps to reframe discussions of religion in the social sciences by drawing attention to the central issue of how ”the secular” is constituted and understood.
Read more about the Social Science Research Council’s work on Religion and International Affairs.
No Establishment of Religion: America’s Original Contribution to Religious Liberty—T. Jeremy Gunn and John Witte, eds. (Oxford University Press, 2012)
The First Amendment guarantee that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” rejected the millennium-old Western policy of supporting one form of Christianity in each nation and subjugating all other faiths. The exact meaning and application of this American innovation, however, has always proved elusive. Individual states found it difficult to remove traditional laws that controlled religious doctrine, liturgy, and church life, and that discriminated against unpopular religions. They found it even harder to decide more subtle legal questions that continue to divide Americans today: Did the constitution prohibit governmental support for religion altogether, or just preferential support for some religions over others? Did it require that government remove Sabbath, blasphemy, and oath-taking laws, or could they now be justified on other grounds? Did it mean the removal of religious texts, symbols, and ceremonies from public documents and government lands, or could a democratic government represent these in ever more inclusive ways? These twelve essays stake out strong and sometimes competing positions on what “no establishment of religion” meant to the American founders and to subsequent generations of Americans, and what it might mean today.
Read more about the project on Law, Religion, and Human Rights at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion.
Religion, Identity, and Global Governance: Ideas, Evidence, and Practice—Patrick James, ed. (University of Toronto Press, 2010)
In the wake of 9/11, and with ongoing wars and tensions in the Middle East, questioning contemporary connections between and among religion, identity, and global governance is an exercise that is both important and timely. This volume, edited by Patrick James, addresses essential themes in international relations today, asking how we can establish when religious identity is a relevant factor in explaining or understanding politics, when and how religion can be applied to advance positive, peace-oriented agendas in global governance, and how governments can reconsider their foreign and domestic policies in light of religious resurgence around the world. Exploring topics such as Pope John Paul II’s Just War, the role of religious NGOs in relation to states, and religious extremism among Muslims in India, the contributors highlight the central role that religion can play in foreign policy. Taken together, these essays contend that global governance cannot and will not improve unless it can find a way to coexist with the powerful force of religion.
Religion, Terror, and Error: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement—Douglas M. Johnston, Jr. (Praeger, 2011)
How should the United States deal with the jihadist challenge and other religious imperatives that permeate today’s geopolitical landscape? Religion, Terror, and Error: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement argues that what is required is a longer-term strategy of cultural engagement, backed by a deeper understanding of how others view the world and what is important to them. The means by which that can be accomplished are the subject of this book.
This work achieves three important goals. It shows how religious considerations can be incorporated into the practice of U.S. foreign policy; offers a successor to the rational-actor model of decision-making that has heretofore excluded “irrational” factors like religion; and suggests a new paradigm for U.S. leadership in anticipation of tomorrow’s multipolar world. In describing how the United States should realign itself to deal more effectively with the causal factors that underlying religious extremism, this innovative treatise explains how existing capabilities can be redirected to respond to the challenge and identifies additional capabilities that will be needed to complete the task.
Rethinking Religion and World Affairs—Timothy Samuel Shah, Alfred C. Stepan, and Monica Duffy Toft, eds. (Oxford University Press, 2012)
In recent years, the role of religion in the study and conduct of international affairs has become increasingly important. The essays in this volume seek to question and remedy the problematic neglect of religion in extant scholarship, grappling with puzzles, issues, and questions concerning religion and world affairs in six major areas. Contributors critically revisit the “secularization thesis,” which proclaimed the steady erosion of religion’s public presence as an effect of modernization; explore the relationship between religion, democracy, and the juridico-political discourse of human rights; assess the role of religion in fomenting, ameliorating, and redressing violent conflict; and consider the value of religious beliefs, actors, and institutions to the delivery of humanitarian aid and the fostering of socio-economic development. Finally, the volume addresses the representation of religion in the expanding global media landscape, the unique place of religion in American foreign policy, and the dilemmas it presents.
Read more about the Social Science Research Council’s work on Religion and International Affairs.
Between Terror and Tolerance: Religious Leaders, Conflict and Peacemaking—Timothy D. Sisk, ed. (Georgetown University Press, 2011)
Civil war and conflict within countries is the most prevalent threat to peace and security in the opening decades of the twenty-first century. A pivotal factor in the escalation of tensions to open conflict is the role of elites in exacerbating tensions along identity lines by giving the ideological justification, moral reasoning, and call to violence. Between Terror and Tolerance examines the varied roles of religious leaders in societies deeply divided by ethnic, racial, or religious conflict. The chapters in this book explore cases when religious leaders have justified or catalyzed violence along identity lines, and other instances when religious elites have played a critical role in easing tensions or even laying the foundation for peace and reconciliation. This volume features thematic chapters on the linkages between religion, nationalism, and intolerance, transnational intra-faith conflict in the Shi’a-Sunni divide, and country case studies of societal divisions or conflicts in Egypt, Israel and Palestine, Kashmir, Lebanon, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Tajikistan.
Read more about the project on Religious Leaders and Conflict Management in Deeply Divided Societies at the University of Denver’s Center for Sustainable Development and International Peace.
Religion and International Relations Theory—Jack Snyder, ed. (Columbia University Press, 2011)
Religious concerns stand at the center of international politics, yet key paradigms in international relations, namely realism, liberalism, and constructivism, barely consider religion in their analysis of political subjects. The essays in this collection rectify this. Authored by leading scholars, they introduce models that integrate religion into the study of international politics and connect religion to a rising form of populist politics in the developing world. Contributors identify religion as pervasive and distinctive, forcing a reframing of international relations theory that reinterprets traditional paradigms. One essay draws on both realism and constructivism in the examination of religious discourse and transnational networks. Another positions secularism not as the opposite of religion but as a comparable type of worldview drawing on and competing with religious ideas. With the secular state’s perceived failure to address popular needs, religion has become a banner for movements that demand a more responsive government.
Read more about the projects of the Center for the Study of Democracy and Toleration at Columbia University.
Religion and Human Security: A Global Perspective—James K. Wellman and Clark B. Lombardi, eds. (Oxford University Press, 2012)
Since the 1950s the world has witnessed a period of extraordinary religious revival in which religious political parties and non-governmental organizations have gained power around the globe. At the same time, the international community has come to focus on the challenge of promoting global human security. This groundbreaking book explores how these trends are interacting. In theoretical essays and case studies from Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, the Americas, Africa and Europe, the contributors address such crucial questions as: Under what circumstances do religiously motivated actors advance or harm human welfare? Do certain state policies tend to promote security-enhancing behavior among religious groups? The book concludes by providing important suggestions to policymakers about how to factor the influence of religion into their evaluation of a population’s human security and into programs designed to improve human security around the globe.
Read more about the project on Religion and Human Security at the University of Washington’s Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies.
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