Published online by Cambridge University Press: 19 January 2021
A new wave of scholarship has made major advances in how we understand the politics of civilizational identity by drawing powerfully from conceptual tools developed over the years to study other forms of identity. What unites this wave is treating civilizations not as distinctive “things” that might “clash” but as meaningful social imaginings. This growing body of work is far from monolithic, generating alternative theories that should structure scholarly debate going forward. Central issues include whether civilizational identity is primarily elite led or mass driven, whether it inherently involves conflictual human impulses, what the role of religion and values are in driving it, what its relationship is to nationalism, and how similarly we can expect the countries and people who share civilizational identity to behave. We also find emerging debates on what this newly conceptualized civilizational identity explains in contemporary world politics. Social scientists are now only beginning to apply important tools of social science to this question, with even public opinion research in its infancy. Early findings suggest civilizational identity may be shaping not only elite foreign policy making but also patterns of domestic politics, including the recent rise of populism and levels of democracy and authoritarianism more generally.