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The Place of Religion in International Politics

The question that emerges is whether or not we can bypass religion in world politics. My answer is no. Religion is a powerful constituent of cultural norms and values. And because it addresses the most profound existential issues of human life (e.g., freedom and inevitability, fear and faith, security and insecurity, right and wrong, sacred and profane), religion is deeply implicated in individual and social conceptions of conflict and peace both local and global.

Religion is “a stubbornly persistent” reality and actor. Policy-making and academia are growing more aware of religion’s presence and salience. It is becoming more and more apparent that we need reappraisal of the role of religion in international relations, international politics and diplomacy. I do not mean to suggest that we need to 'religionize' international relations in the manner of making nation-states religious as opposed to secular, for example. No. I mean that it is time we invested a little more in religious literacy in international affairs. This is certainly different from notions of religiosity among domestic populations. It really does not matter if anybody belongs to or practices any religion but it matters that a good grasp of the role of religion in international politics informs policy in the international political market place. Religion is menacingly present for international actors to possibly transact and successfully so the international business (I do not mean trade!) devoid of any sense of it.  

Religion is somewhat a living tradition that is historically extended, socially embodied argument, and an argument precisely in part about the goods which constitute the tradition. However even as we grapple with cases where the mainstream advocates bettering the world through nonviolent means it is good to assert that religions are not monolithic entities. This deserves emphasis here because they are often presented as such, distorting or stalling debate that genuinely engages questions surrounding religion’s role in violent conflict, for instance. How is it going to be possible to counter acts of violence such as terrorism if (1) we “baptize” them religious and (2) we are not ready to use religion as a policy tool? If terrorism has been internationalized and christened religious, we may need to internationalize the discourse on religion regardless on whether or not we agree that there is nothing religious about terrorism. This is a good challenge to “secularism” in the manner of seeing nothing, hearing nothing, speaking nothing religious in the global political order. There is a better understanding of secularism that does not question religion. This is what we know and read about but the posture in which business of international relations and diplomacy are conducted demonstrate a clear tilt towards an inclination to reject religion and suffocate its space in world politics. At the end we lose!

If world politics is about peace, let’s gaze into the toolkit of world religions. For instance, methinks ordaining certain types of violence as religious makes certain religions appear to be at least tolerating violence if not fanning it; creates perceptions of existence of violent religions and ultimately a dichotomy between certain religions that are perceived to be good and others perceived to be bad. How bad can it get? You cannot possibly tell anyone that his/her religion is bad and expect them to take it smiling! Are you?

We need to step back and recollect ourselves. Escalation of terrorism in the world today is, in my view, an outcome of two major things: (1) misuse of religion, and (2) bad responses based on misconceptions of terrorism as having to do with something religious. The latter is, no doubt, causing religious hatred and expanding the rift between the already perceived dichotomies of good/bad religion. To overcome this challenge, we need to redefine terrorism, for instance, make it absolutely clear both in concept and practice that terrorism is not religious ad has nothing to do with any religion. I guess, one of the best ways to demystify the fact that terrorism has nothing to do with religion is through authentic religious teachings, values and actors etc. How can we do this without anchoring policies on sound religious teachings?  How can we do it by isolating world religions and religious peoples of the world? How can we do it without religious actors and leaders on board?

The heterogeneity of the world’s largest religions means that at any time or in any territory, these living traditions might be a source of violence. Yet, it also means that within each of these religions there is room for the normative tasks of conflict resolution and peacebuilding. There are existing and developing spiritual practices and theological and ethical resources for hermeneutics of peace. World politics should device policies and programs that diminish the former and enhance the latter. International relations always navigate through dangerous often violent terrains; it has to once again walk down the path of religions. The emerging global citizen must be supported to take this route. It is the surest way to break religious walls and overcome many forms of hatred and violence perceived to be religious or inspired/driven by religion.

We may need to make religion one of the mainstays of international politics because as I said earlier religion is menacingly present. I am not able to conceive a world devoid of religion I the foreseeable future. Religion is a socio-political force that affects not only individual but also local and international processes. In new terms of terror, religion has been a constant factor (perceived or real) in wide ranging violent acts in the world. We need religion to correct and sanctify religion.


The Place of Religion in International Politics The Place of Religion in International Politics Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on June 07, 2017 Rating: 5

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