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International politics after secularism


At the height of the influence of the secularisation thesis religion was understood to be absent from affairs of state and the law, including international politics and international law. As the critique of secularisation gained momentum this master narrative fell apart, and a new consensus began to take shape. The notion that religion had been ignored and should be ‘brought back in’ to International Relations took centre stage among many academics and practitioners. The assumption is that restoring religion in the right way will help address the problems associated with having ignored religion in IR, paving the way for the marginalisation of violent religion and globalisation of religious freedom. This article undertakes a critical analysis of this restorative narrative and the religious and political world it is creating. It then proposes a different approach to the intersection of religion and world politics after secularism. This approach draws attention to the authority of transnational actors such as the United States, United Nations, and European Union to shape the public administration of religious affairs globally. Channels through which this is accomplished include the promotion of religious freedom, humanitarian intervention, foreign aid, nation building and democratisation, counterterrorism and peace-building efforts, and the pronouncements of supra-national courts.

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1 Salomon Noah and Walton Jeremy F., ‘Religious criticism, secular criticism, and the “critical study of religion”: lessons from the study of Islam’, in Orsi Robert A. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), p. 408.

2 Fox Jonathan and Sandler Shmuel, Bringing Religion into International Relations (New York: Palgrave, 2004).

3 President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, ‘A New Era of Partnerships: Report of Recommendations to the President’, Washington, DC, White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships with support from the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the US Department of Health and Human Services (March 2010), p. 71.

4 Haynes Jeffrey, Religion, Politics and International Relations: Selected Essays (London and New York: Routledge, 2011); Toft Monica Duffy, Philpott Daniel, and Shah Timothy Samuel (eds), God's Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2011); Hanson Eric O., Religion and Politics in the International System Today (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); and Carlson John D. and Owens Erik C. (eds), The Sacred and the Sovereign: Religion and International Politics. (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2003).

5 Hassner Ron E., War on Sacred Grounds (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009).

6 Monica Duffy Toft, ‘Religion, Rationality and Violence’, in Snyder (ed.), Religion and International Relations Theory; Fox and Sandler, Bringing Religion into International Relations; Seiple Robert A., and Hoover Dennis R. (eds), Religion and Security: The New Nexus in International Relations (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, Inc, 2004).

7 Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), ‘Mixed Blessings: U.S. Government Engagement with Religion in Conflict-Prone Settings’, Washington, DC (August 2007), p. 25.

8 President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, ‘A New Era of Partnerships’, p. 85.

9 Bosco Robert M., ‘Persistent Orientalisms: The Concept of Religion in International Relations’, Journal of International Relations and Development, 12:1 (2009), p. 108.

10 My own work on the politics of secularism is an example; see chap. 2 of The Politics of Secularism in International Relations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008). Examples of IR scholarship that problematises the assumptions underlying the restorative narrative include Wilson Erin K., After Secularism: Rethinking Religion in Global Politics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011); Fitzgerald Timothy, Religion and Politics in International Relations: The Modern Myth (Continuum, 2011); Calhoun Craig, Juergensmeyer Mark, and VanAntwerpen Jonathan (eds), Rethinking Secularism (Oxford University Press, 2011); Barnett Michael and Stein Janice Gross (eds), Sacred Aid: Faith and Humanitarianism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012); Sheikh Mona Kanwal, ‘How does religion matter? Pathways to religion in International Relations’, Review of International Studies, 39:2 (April 2012), pp. 365–92; Cecelia Lynch, ‘A Neo-Weberian Approach to Religion in International Politics’, International Theory, 1:3 (2009), pp. 381408. Earlier works in this genre include Petito Fabio and Hatzopoulos Pavlos (eds), Religion in International Relations: The Return from Exile (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003); Thomas Scott M., The Global Resurgence of Religion and the Transformation of International Relations: The Struggle for the Soul of the Twenty-First Century (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); and Rudolph Susanne Hoeber and Piscatori James (eds), Transnational Religion and Fading States (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997).

11 ‘The armed services are still determining how such knowledge should be used in practice. Much of the strategic implementation of religious knowledge today is occurring at the Joint Intelligence Operations Centers and the regionally focused Combatant Commands’, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), ‘Mixed Blessings: U.S. Government Engagement with Religion in Conflict-Prone Settings,’ (Washington, DC: August 2007), p. 26, fn. 114, emphasis added.

12 Dressler Markus and Mandair Arvind, ‘Introduction: Modernity, Religion-Making, and the Postsecular’, in Dressler and Mandair (eds), Secularism and Religion-Making (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 26.

13 Robert Joustra, ‘Review: God's Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics’, Cardus Policy in Public (25 November 2011).

14 Toft, Philpott and Shah, God's Century.

15 Tony Blair, ‘Taking Faith Seriously’, New Europe Online (2 January 2012). {}.

16 The tendency to approach the category of ‘religion’ in ontologically fixed terms – aptly described by Fitzgerald as a ‘misplaced concreteness’ – has been deconstructed and historicised over the past two decades across academic disciplines. For recent examples see Fitzgerald, Religion and Politics in International Relations; Dressler and Mandair, Secularism and Religion-Making; Gorski Philip, Torpey John, Kim David, and VanAntwerpen Jonathan, The Post-Secular in Question: Religion in Contemporary Society (New York: New York University Press, 2012); and Calhoun Craig, Juergensmeyer Mark, and VanAntwerpen Jonathan (eds), Rethinking Secularism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

17 Casanova's Public Religions in the Modern World in many ways opened the door for public acceptance of this narrative.

18 Banchoff Thomas and Wuthnow Robert (eds), Religion and the Global Politics of Human Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 5.

19 Philpott Daniel, ‘What Religion Brings to the Politics of Transitional Justice’, Journal of International Affair, 61:1 (Autumn 2007), pp. 93110.

20 Deneulin Séverine with Bano Masooda, Religion in Development: Rewriting the Secular Script (London: Zed Books, 2009); Clarke Gerard and Jennings Michael (eds), Development, Civil Society and Faith-Based Organizations (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

21 For a critical reading of the Save Darfur Coalition see Hicks Rosemary R., ‘Saving Darfur: Enacting Pluralism in Terms of Gender, Genocide, and Militarized Human Rights’, in Bender Courtney and Klassen Pamela E. (eds), After Pluralism: Reimagining Religious Engagement (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), pp. 252–76.

22 USAID and World Learning for International Development, ‘Fostering Religious Harmony in Albania: Final Report (30 June 2007), {}.

23 Courtney Bender, ‘Pluralism and Secularism’ (unpublished paper, June 2010). Hurd, in progress.

24 See Hurd E. S., ‘Rescued by law?: Secular universalism, human rights and the politics of gender’, in Cady Linell E. and Fessenden Tracy (eds), Gendering the Divide: Religion, the Secular, and the Politics of Sexual Difference (New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming).

25 Wineburg Robert J.Leveling the Playing Field: Epitomizing Devolution through Faith-Based Organizations’, Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 35:1 (2008), p. 31.

26 See Exec. Order No. 13,199, 66 Fed. Reg. 8,499 (29 January 2001) on the inclusion of faith-based organisations in social services and Exec. Order No. 13,279, 67 Fed. Reg. 77,141 (12 December 2002) requiring equal protection for faith-based initiatives.

27 The 2002 Executive Order 13280 creating a new CFBCI at USAID was meant to ensure that provisions of the 2001 Act were reflected in USAID policy.

28 Hopgood Stephen and Vinjamuri Leslie, ‘Faith in Markets’, in Barnett Michael and Stein Janice (eds), Sacred Aid (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 3764.

29 US Agency for International Development, Center for Faith-based and Community Initiatives, ‘Participation by Religious Organizations in USAID Programs’, 22 CFR Parts 202, 205, 211, and 226 (19 October 2004), {}.

30 Clarke Gerard, ‘Agents of Transformation? Donors, Faith-Based Organisations and International Development’, Third World Quarterly, 28:1 (2007), p. 82.

31 Clarke, ‘Agents of Transformation’, p. 82.

32 Clarke, ‘Agents of Transformation’, p. 83. Clarke argues that they also have no obligation to explain that non-believers can avail themselves of such services on an equal basis.”

33 Clarke, ‘Agents of Transformation’, p. 79. While DFID and other public international donors had previously been ‘heavily influenced by the legal separation of church and state,’ recently ‘a number of [DFID] country offices have launched projects with significant FBO involvement or are preparing new projects and the development education arm of DFID has worked with UK Protestant, Catholic, Islamic, Hindu, Sikh and Jewish organisations to publicise the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] in the idioms of the faith’, p. 86.

34 Clarke, ‘Agents of Transformation’, p. 85. This resulted in the publication of a report entitled ‘Working Together: Cooperation Between Government and the Faith Communities’ (London: Home Office Faith Communities Unit, 2004).

35 {,,menuPK:64193238~pagePK:64192526~piPK:64192494~theSitePK:537298,00.html}. On the Bank's engagement see Marshall Katherine, ‘Journey Towards Faith Development Partnerships: the Challenge and the Potential’, in Cornille Catherine and Willis Glenn (eds), The World Market and Interreligious Dialogue (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2011), pp. 190210.

36 Blair, ‘Taking Faith Seriously’.

37 Lauren Vriens, ‘Islam: Governing under Sharia’, Council on Foreign Relations Backgrounder (New York: 23 March 2009), {}.

38 I agree with Asad's observation that ‘those many people in the West today who decry the singular intolerance of Islam are mistaken not because Islam is really “tolerant” (whatever that might mean), but because it makes no sense to talk about the “essence of Islam” – or of any other ‘religion’ for that matter – if one is not already in some sense committed to it. Talk about the essence of a religious or non-religious tradition is part of a political discourse of persuasion or dissuasion; it is not a neutral exercise of Reason.’ Talal Asad, ‘Muhummad Asad Between Religion and Politics’, Islam Interactive. {}. For an original collection of essays that works through the question of how the concept of Islamophobia ‘solves and creates problems for those who use it, why it is necessary, what alternative sensibilities it brings into relief, and what histories come embedded in the term and its usage’, see Shryock Andrew (ed.), Islamophobia/Islamophilia: Beyond the Politics of Enemy and Friend (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010), p. 3.

39 Salomon and Walton, ‘Religious criticism, secular criticism, and the “critical study of religion”’, p. 417.

40 Hirschkind Charles, ‘Religious Difference and Democratic Pluralism: Some Recent Debates and Frameworks’, Temenos, 44:1 (2008), p. 72. ‘The incorporation of what had been modernity's other – religion – into its very fabric does not decenter the conceptual edifice of European modernity in any way that might allow a reconsideration of Europe's religious minorities, but on the contrary redoubles it, deepening the fundamental otherness of those who cannot inhabit its Christian genealogy.’

41 Moyn uses this phrase in a review of Ikenberry's Liberal Leviathan in which Moyn argues that Ikenberry and other liberal internationalists provide ‘theoretical rationales for the American policy shop that they sometimes directly serve’. Moyn, ‘Soft Sells: On Liberal Internationalism’, The Nation (3 October 2011).

42 Berman Paul Schiff, Global Legal Pluralism: A Jurisprudence of Law Beyond Borders (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Sassen Saskia, Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).

43 Comaroff Jean, ‘The Politics of Conviction: Faith on the Neo-liberal Frontier’, in Kapferer Bruce, Tell Kari, and Eriksen Annelin (eds), Contemporary Religiosities: Emergent Socialities and the Post-Nation-State (New York: Berghahn Books, 2010), p. 19. Drawing on the work of Bruno Latour, Jane Bennett elaborates on this point: ‘Thus it is that modernity, an inconsistent and paradoxical combination of claims about nature and culture, passes itself off as the clean, enlightened alternative to a messy, primitivistic cosmology that confuses the natural with the cultural, mixes the animal with the human, mistakes the inanimate for the animate, and contaminates the moral with the prudential. Latour reminds us that modernity too is a kind of cosmology, even though its sense of itself as a radically new event and its recurrent suppression of this or that side of its own vision prevent it from acknowledging this fact … To acknowledge modern hybridizing would call into question modernity's standing as the progressive triumph over an enchanted world.’ Bennett , The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), pp. 97–8.

44 Sullivan argues that religion lived and interpreted in this fashion ‘seems to neither need particular accommodation nor careful separation’. Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, ‘Varieties of Legal Secularism’, in Comparative Secularisms in a Global Age, p. 118.

45 Sullivan Winnifred Fallers, Yelle Robert A., and Taussig-Rubbo Mateo, ‘Introduction’, in Sullivan , Yelle and Taussig-Rubbo (eds), After Secular Law (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), p. 12.

46 Asad Talal, ‘Response to Gil Anidjar’, interventions, 11:3 (2009), p. 398.

47 Personal conversation with Bryan Hehir, Brooklyn, New York (27 February 2009). The exchange between Hehir and Ruggie took place about a year earlier.

48 Julian Rivers estimates that roughly a third of the violations picked up by the Special Rapporteurs ‘involve the status and regulation of religious associations, and problems in this field have affected about half of the States referred to in the reports, or about a third of the Member States of the UN’. Rivers Julian, The Law of Organized Religions: Between Establishment and Secularism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 44.

49 Agrama Hussein Ali, ‘Secularism, Sovereignty, Indeterminacy: Is Egypt a Secular or a Religious State?’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 52:3 (2010): pp. 495523.

50 For evidence that this is occurring see Weiss Thomas G. and Thakur Ramesh, Global Governance and the UN: An Unfinished Journey (Indiana University Press, 2010).

51 Dressler and Mandair describe three trajectories in the critique of secularity: the socio-political philosophy of liberal secularism exemplified by Charles Taylor (and to some extent shared by thinkers such as John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas); the ‘postmodernist’ critiques of ontotheological metaphysics by radical theologians and continental philosophers that have helped to revive the discourse of ‘political theology’; and, following the work of Michel Foucault and Edward Said, the various forms of discourse analysis focusing on genealogies of power identified with the work of Talal Asad. Dressler and Mandair ‘Introduction’, p. 4.

52 See Beaman Lori and Sullivan Winnifred Fallers (eds), Varieties of Religious Establishment (London: Ashgate, forthcoming).

53 Benjamin Schonthal, ‘Ruling Religion: Buddhism, Politics, and Law in Sri Lanka’, University of Chicago (unpublished dissertation, 2012).

54 Isabelita Solamo, ‘The Sharia Courts and the Philippine Code of Muslim Personal Laws’, Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Law and Society Association, Honolulu, Hawaii, (5 June 2012). Solamo is Executive Director of the PILIPINA Legal Resource Center that took the lead in these legal reform initiatives. The ARMM, which assumed its current legal form and current name in 1990, has been the traditional homeland of Muslim Filipinos since the fourteenth or fifteenth century, before Spanish colonisation of the Philippines began in 1565. Each of these examples is discussed in more detail in other parts of this project.

55 deRoover Jakob, ‘Secular Law and the Realm of False Religion’, in After Secular Law, Sullivan Winnifred Fallers, Yelle Robert, and Taussig-Rubbo Mateo (eds) (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), p. 45.

56 deRoover, ‘Secular Law’, p. 43, emphasis added, citing Smith Steven D., The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), pp. 2638 on the concept of smuggling presuppositions into secular discourse. Sullivan, Yelle and Taussig-Rubbo argue similarly that, ‘the bare question of what constitutes religion” in the secular state necessarily involves the law in a process of theologizing, demonstrating the “impossibility of religious freedom” and of a complete separation between law and religion’. ‘Introduction’, p. 6.

57 Sullivan, Yelle, and Taussig-Rubbo, ‘Introduction’, p. 8.

58 Evans acknowledges ‘the power of human rights approaches – when properly mediated through domestic, regional and international political processes – to influence the application of domestic law and administrative practice’. Malcolm D. Evans, ‘Advancing Freedom of Religion or Belief: Agendas for Change’, Lambeth Inter Faith Lecture, Lambeth Palace (8 June 2011).

59 Sassen, Territory, Authority, Rights, p. 23.

60 For an example focusing on the Algerian state management of religion with attention to the regulation of conversion to Christianity, see Marzouki Nadia, ‘Conversion as Statelessness: A Study of Contemporary Algerian Conversions to Evangelical Christianity’, Middle East Law and Governance, 4 (2012), pp. 69105.

61 Evans Malcolm and Petkoff Peter, ‘A Separation of Convenience? The Concept of Neutrality in the Jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights’, Religion, State and Society, 36:3 (September 2008), p. 212.

62 Cited in Asad Talal, ‘Trying to Understand French Secularism’, in de Vries Hent and Sullivan Lawrence E. (eds), Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006), p. 524, fn. 80. The Stasi Commission, named for the former government minister and deputy who chaired it, issued a report entitled Laïcité et République: Rapport de la commission de réflexion sur l'application du principe de laïcité dans la République remis au Président de la République le 11 décembre 2003 (Paris: La Documentation Française, 2004).

63 US Department of State, International Religion Freedom Report 2010, Thailand (17 November 2010), {}.

64 Bender, ‘Pluralism and Secularism’. This also means that there is no such thing as authentic religion or authentic secularism, as suggested in the epigraph.

65 Feldman Ilana, Governing Gaza: Bureaucracy, Authority, and the Work of Rule 1917–1967 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008).

66 CSIS, ‘Mixed Blessings: U.S. Government Engagement with Religion in Conflict-Prone Settings’, p. 2.

67 Gutkowski Stacey and Wilkes George, ‘Changing Chaplaincy: a Contribution to Debate over the Roles of US and British Military Chaplains in Afghanistan’, Religion, State and Society, 30:1 (2011), p. 113.

68 Sullivan, Yelle, and Taussig-Rubbo, ‘Introduction’, p. 13. Sullivan argues that in the US ‘the descriptive divisions between the church and the state, and between persons “of faith” and persons not “of faith”, on which separation law depends, no longer makes sense. Such divisions can only be made on a doctrinal basis by established religious or legal authorities who define insiders and outsiders. Such authorities no longer exist in the United States.’ Sullivan Winnifred Fallers, ‘We are all religious now. Again’, Social Research, 7:4 (2009), p. 1193.

69 This is not to suggest that these debates are irrelevant. The critique of secularism is a necessary step in the process of decentring the secular-religious opposition, creating spaces in which new possibilities for theory and practice such as those explored in this Special Issue can emerge. See Hurd , The Politics of Secularism in International Relations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); and Gorski, Torpey, Kim, and VanAntwerpen (eds), The Post-Secular in Question. On the historical emergence of the category of religion see Masuzawa Tomoko, The Invention of World Religions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

71 E. S. Hurd, ‘Believing in religious freedom’, The Immanent Frame (1 March 2012).

72 Connolly William E., ‘Taylor, Foucault, and Otherness’, Political Theory, 13 (1985), p. 371.

73 Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, ‘Varieties of Legal Secularism’, in Comparative Secularisms in a Global Age, pp. 110, 118, citing W. Clark Gilpin, ‘Secularism: Religious, Irreligious, and Areligious’, The Religion and Culture Web Forum (March 2007).

74 Agrama Hussein, ‘Asking the Right Questions: Two Engagements with Islam and Modernity’, Political Theory, 34:5 (October 2006), p. 655.

75 Shryock Andrew, ‘Editorial Foreword’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 52:3 (July 2010), p. 692.

76 Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, ‘After Secularism: Governing through Spiritual Care’, presented at the Center for Law and Public Affairs, Princeton University (7 March 2011).

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