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Religious actors as epistemic communities in conflict transformation: the cases of South Africa and Northern Ireland


With the increasing influence of theocrats and other religious actors on policymakers and masses, recognising the agency of the clergy is crucial. This article uses the ‘epistemic communities’ framework to place the religious ‘agents’ in contemporary politics and it shows how hermeneutics can be treated as a form of ‘episteme’. Until recently, this framework has been used to explain how scientific communities affect policymaking. Using the cases of South Africa and Northern Ireland, this article claims that religious actors, especially with their shared set of normative and principled beliefs as well as shared norms of validity, also meet the requirements of the epistemic community category. The employment of this established IR framework in theorising religious politics has the potential to shed light not only on peacebuilding and mediation, but also violent movements and terrorist organisations that use religion as justification.

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4 McGarry John and O'Leary Brendan, Explaining Northern Ireland: Broken Images (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 1995), pp. 354355 ; Smith David J. and Chambers Gerald, Inequality in Northern Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991) . The nature of the conflict in Northern Ireland is admittedly less clear-cut than in the South African case. For an in-depth treatment of the issue, see Clayton Pamela, ‘Religion, Ethnicity and Colonialism as Explanations of the Conflict in Northern Ireland’, in Miller David (ed.), Rethinking Northern Ireland (London: Longman, 1998), pp. 4054 ; Coulter Colin, Contemporary Northern Irish Society: An Introduction (London: Pluto Press, 1999) . For the argument that the nature of the conflict was religious, see Hickey John, Religion and the Northern Ireland Question (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1984) .

5 Bruce Steve, Conservative Protestant Politics (NY: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 4954 .

6 Akenson Donald H., God's Peoples: Covenant and Land in South Africa, Israel and Ulster (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992) .

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8 Polanyi Michael, Science, Faith and Society (London: Oxford University Press, 1946) ; Polanyi Michael, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-critical Philosophy (London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1958), p. 171 .

9 Gopin Marc, Holy War, Holy Peace: How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002) ; Johnston Douglas and Cox Brian, ‘Faith-Based Diplomacy and Preventive Engagement’, in Johnston Douglas (ed.), Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik (NY: Oxford University Press, 2003) ; Tombs David and Liechty Joseph (eds), Explorations in Reconciliation: New Directions in Theology (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006) ; Johnston Douglas, ‘The Churches and Apartheid in South Africa’, in Johnston Douglas and Sampson Cynthia (eds), Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995) ; Herbert David, Religion and Civil Society: Rethinking Public Religion in the Contemporary World (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003) ; Little David, Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) .

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11 Annas Julia, ‘Moral Knowledge as Practical Knowledge’, in Selinger Evan and Crease Robert (eds), The Philosophy of Expertise (NY: Columbia University Press, 2006) .

12 Olafson Frederick A., ‘Hermeneutics: “Analytical” and “Dialectical”’, History and Theory, 25:4 (1986), pp. 2842, 28 .

13 Adler Emanuel, ‘The Emergence of Cooperation: National Epistemic Communities and the International Evolution of the Idea of Nuclear Arms Control’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), pp. 101145 .

14 Haas Peter M., ‘Introduction: Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), pp. 135 .

15 Ibid., p. 16.

16 Haas Peter M., ‘Do Regimes Matter? Epistemic Communities and Mediterranean Pollution Control’, International Organization, 43:3 (1989), pp. 377403 .

17 Haas Peter M., ‘Banning Chlorofluorocarbons: Epistemic Community Efforts to Protect Stratospheric Ozone’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), pp. 187224 .

18 Adler, The Emergence of Cooperation.

19 Gough Clair and Shackley Simon, ‘The Respectable Politics of Climate Change: The Epistemic Communities and NGOs’, International Affairs, 77:2 (2002), pp. 329346 .

20 Youde Jeremy, ‘The Development of a Counter-Epistemic Community: AIDS, South Africa, and International Regimes’, International Relations, 19:4 (2005), pp. 421439 .

21 Davis-Cross Mai'a, The European Diplomatic Corps: Diplomats and International Cooperation from Westphalia to Maastricht (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) .

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23 Brassett James and Higgott Richard, ‘Building the Normative Dimensions of a Global Polity’, Review of International Studies, 29 (2003), pp. 2955 .

24 Thomas Scott, The Global Resurgence of Religion and the Transformation of International Relations (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), pp. 108112 ; Weber Max, Economy and Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), pp. 2526 .

25 Foucault Michel, The Order of Things: The Archaeology of Human Sciences (London: Tavistock Publications Ltd., 1970) .

26 Weber, Economy and Society, p. 85 .

27 Porter Stanley E. and Clarke Kent D., ‘What is Exegesis? An Analysis of Various Definitions’, in Porter Stanley E. (ed.), Handbook to Exegesis of the New Testament (Boston, MA: Brill Publishers, 1997) .

28 Examples include: The Journal of Theological Studies (Oxford Journals), Journal of the Academy of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology (Cambridge University Press), Doctrine and Life (Dominican Publications), First Things, Theology Today (Princeton Theological Seminary), Journal of Biblical Studies.

29 Adler, The Emergence of Cooperation, p. 124 .

30 Geertz Clifford, The Interpretation of Culture (NY: Basic Books, 1973) ; Stark Rodney and Bainbridge William, ‘Of Churches, Sects, and Cults: Preliminary Concepts for a Theory of Religious Movements’, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 18 (1979), pp. 117133 .

31 Geertz Clifford, ‘Centers, Kings and Charisma: Reflections on the Symbolics of Power’, in Ben-David Joseph and Clark Terry N. (eds), Culture and Its Creators (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1977), p. 267 ; Kokoslakis Nikos, ‘Legitimation, Power and Religion in Modern Society’, Sociological Analysis, 46:4 (1985), pp. 367376, 371 .

32 Walton Douglas N., Appeal to Expert Opinion: Arguments from Authority (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997), p. 24 .

33 Little David and Appleby Scott, ‘A Moment of Opportunity?’, in Coward Harold and Smith Gordon S. (eds), Religion and Peacebuilding (NY: SUNY Press, 2004) ; Byrnes Timothy A. Catholic Bishops in American Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991) ; Hertzke Allen D., Representing God in Washington: The Role of Religious Lobbies in the American Polity (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1988) .

34 Johnston and Cox, Faith-based Diplomacy, p. 14 .

35 Gilbert Christopher P., The Impact of Churches on Political Behavior: An Empirical Study (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993) ; Jelen Ted, ‘Political Christianity: A Contextual Analysis’, American Journal of Political Science, 36 (1992), pp. 692714 .

36 Lederach John Paul, Building Peace (Washington, DC: US Institute of Peace, 1997), p. 50 .

37 Kyoto Conference Proceedings (1973).

38 Nardin Terry, Law, Morality, and the Relations of States (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984) .

39 Although this phenomenon is not investigated in this article, it is plausible to state that there are ‘religious communities’ which define their identities primarily against ‘non-believers’ as opposed to believers in other traditions. This kind of ‘othering’ might make cross-traditional understanding easier, but has also the potential to cause conflicts between the Westphalian state and the religious segments of societies.

40 See Nukhet A. Sandal, ‘Clash of Public Theologies? Rethinking the Concept of Religion in Politics’, forthcoming in Alternatives.

41 Adler Emanuel and Haas Peter, ‘Conclusion: Epistemic Communities, World Order and the Creation of a Reflective Research Program’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), pp. 367390, 368 .

42 de Gruchy John W., The Church Struggle in South Africa (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1979), p. 32 .

43 Esterhuyse Willie, Apartheid Must Die (Cape Town: Tafelberg Publishers, 1981), pp. 3435 .

44 Ryan Colleen, Beyers Naude: Pilgrimage of Faith (Claremont, S. Africa: David Philip Publishers, 1990), p. 34 .

45 See Johnston, The Churches and Apartheid.

46 Oosthuizen Gerhardus C., ‘Christianity's Impact on Race Relations in South Africa’, in Prozesky Martin (ed.), Christianity Amidst Apartheid (NY: St. Martin's Press, 1990) .

47 Berryman Phillip, Liberation Theology (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1987) ; Gutierrez Gustavo, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics and Salvation (NY: Orbis Books, 1988) .

48 Allan Boesak, The Politics of Hope or The Politics of Delusion, The Ashley Kriel Memorial Lecture, 30 July 2008; Roberts J. Deotis, Liberation and Reconciliation: A Black Theology (Westminster: John Knox, 2005) .

49 Despite the employment of theology and religious credentials in the process, the counter-Apartheid epistemic community in South Africa cannot be equated with the profession of priesthood. The religious epistemic communities in general may include academics, religion based NGOs and even educated members of congregations who participate actively in the creation of public theologies.

50 Appleby Scott, The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence and Reconciliation (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000) .

51 South African Democracy Education Trust, The Road to Democracy in South Africa: 1960–1970 (2004), p. 679.

52 Statement quoted in Gruchy John de and Villa-Vicencio Charles (eds), Apartheid is a Heresy (Cape Town: David Philip, 1983) .

53 Klotz Audie, ‘Norms Reconstituting Interests: Global Racial Equality and US Sanctions Against South Africa’, International Organization, 49:3 (1995), pp. 451478 .

54 Quoted in Kinghorn Johann, ‘On the theology of Church and Society in the DRC’, Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, 70 (1990), pp. 2136, 22 .

55 Monaghan Rachel, ‘Community Based Justice in Northern Ireland and South Africa’, International Community Justice Review, 18:1 (2008), pp. 83105 ; Amstutz Mark, The Healing of Nations: The Promise and Limits of Political Forgiveness (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005) ; Scott Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred.

56 English Richard, Irish Freedom: The History of Nationalism in Ireland (London: Macmillan, 2006), pp. 410411 .

57 See Hayden Tom, ‘Northern Ireland, South Africa in Secret Peace Talks’, The Nation (28 September 2007) .

58 Morgan Timothy and Cagney Mary, ‘Northern Ireland: For God or Ulster?’, Christianity Today (5 October 1997) .

59 Craith Máiréad N., Culture and Identity Politics in Northern Ireland (NY: Palgrave, 2003), p. 120 .

60 See Brewer John D., ‘Sectarianism and Racism, and Their Parallels and Differences’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 15:3 (1992), pp. 352364 .

61 Bell J. Bowyer, The Secret Army: The IRA (Edison, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1997), p. 340 .

62 English, Irish Freedom, pp. 368382 .

63 Rafferty Oliver, Catholicism in Ulster 1603–1983: An Interpretative History (London: Hurst Publications, 1994), p. 270 .

64 Finke Roger and Stark Rodney, The Churching of America, 1776–1990: Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992) ; McCleary Rachel and Barro Robert, ‘Religion and Economy’, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20:2 (2006), pp. 4972 ; Iannaccone Laurence, ‘Voodoo Economics? Reviewing the Rational Choice Approach to Religion’, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 34:1 (1995), pp. 7689 .

65 Whyte John, Interpreting Northern Ireland (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990) .

66 Jelen, The Political World of the Clergy.

67 Brewer John D., C. Wright Mills and the Ending of Violence (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 75 .

68 Morrow Duncan, ‘Suffering for righteousness sake? Fundamentalist Protestantism and Ulster Politics’, in Shirlow Peter and McGovern Mark (eds), Who are “the people”?: Unionism, Protestantism and Loyalism in Northern Ireland (London: Pluto Press), pp. 5571, 55 .

69 McCreary Alf, In War and Peace: The Story of Corrymeela (Belfast: The Brehan Press Ltd., 2007) .

70 Stevens David, The Place Called Reconciliation: Texts to Explore (Belfast: The Corrymeela Press, 2008) .

71 Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred.

72 Power Maria, From Ecumenism to Community Relations: Inter-Church Relationships in Northern Ireland 1980–2005 (Portland, OR: Irish Academic Press, 2007), pp. 198199 .

73 Wells Ronald A., Friendship Towards Peace: The Journey of Ken Newell and Gerry Reynolds (Dublin: The Columba Press, 2005) .

74 Moloney Ed, A Secret History of the IRA (London: Allan Lane, 2002) .

75 Power, From Ecumenism, pp. 101, 200 .

76 McCreary, In War and Peace, p. 241 .

77 Ganiel Gladys, ‘Ulster Says Maybe: The Restructuring of Evangelical Politics in Northern Ireland’, Irish Political Studies, 21:2 (2006), pp. 137155 .

78 Tom Hayden, ‘Northern Ireland’.

* I am grateful to Emanuel Adler, Laurie Brand, Mai'a Davis-Cross, Jonathan Fox, Thomas Goodnight, Jeffrey Haynes, Patrick James, Michael Kennedy, Neophytos Loizides, Daniel Philpott and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the earlier versions of this article.

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Review of International Studies
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