By Javad Heirannia

Religion can be important component of restructuring of international relations theory: Entessar

October 24, 2018

TEHRAN - Nader Entessar, Professor Emeritus of Political Science from university of South Alabama says that “Religion and religious paradigms may contribute to our understanding of our complex world.”

He adds that “Religion can be an important component of the restructuring of international relations theory, but it must remain an integral, and not a separate, part of the theory of international relations.”
Following is the full text of the interview:

Q: When did the religious issues became a matter of great importance in the theorizing of International Relations?

A: Before the end of the Cold War, only a handful of international relations theorists engaged in a serious discussion of links between such cultural factors as religion and international affairs.   But even in the immediate post-Cold War period, the treatment of cultural factors as main variables affecting global politics remained on the periphery of international relations theory in the West.  It wasn’t until the events of 9/11 and the subsequent emergence of ‘the war on terrorism” that scholars began to analyze the impact of religion and religious movements on world politics.  It took some time before serious scholarly publications on this topic began to be published.  In 2011, Jack Snyder, a prominent political science professor at Columbia University and a noted international relations theorist, published an impressive edited book titled Religion and International Relations Theory in which the contributors to this volume analyzed how religion can alter the basic pattern of international relations.  Similarly, in an article titled “Religion and International Theory” and published in the March 2011 issue of the European Journal of International Relations, scholars Nukhet Sandal and Patrick James analyzed if and under what conditions religion as a variable can be integrated into mainstream international thinking.  More specifically, they looked at three major traditions in international relation theory—classical realism, structural realism, and neoliberalism—to see how religion can contribute to our understanding of international relations within the framework of each of these theories.  In short, although theoretical work on the interplay of religion and international affairs is receiving increasing attention in the discipline of international relations, there is still a long way to go before the mainline international relations theories can integrate religion into their body of work. 

Q: Some argue that if the theory of International Relations means a constitutive and critical theory, then bringing religion into International Relations is possible, but if the theory of International Relations is an explanatory-empirical theory, then theorizing religion in International Relations is not possible and, in fact, there is not theological positivism theory in International Relations. What is your opinion?

A: International relations theory and the academic field of international relations in the West, especially in the United States, have been heavily influenced by empirical and quantitative methodologies.  As such, issues like religion that don’t lend themselves to easy quantification, have until recently remained outside the mainstream academic studies of international relations.  In my opinion, as long as empirical-quantitative methodologies dominate academic research and publishing in the discipline of international relations, we will have difficulty highlighting religion as a building block of its theories.

Q: Some scholars such as “Michael Allen Gillespie” in the book “The Theological Origins of Modernity” believe that modernity was not initially against religion, and in later years, as a result of social, cultural and political conditions, it has led to secularism. So, based on this conception, religion is not in conflict with modernity, so can it be said that religion is not in conflict with the International Relations theory stemming from modernity?

A: Prior to the European Enlightenment, the concepts of modernity and religion were not generally viewed in conflictual terms.  However, many assumptions of Enlightenment and its secularist thesis changed this.  In general, scientific thinking emanating from Enlightenment affected academic thinking and academic reasoning in the West.  As a result, secularism became a sine qua non for modernity, and contemporary international relations theory has generally followed this trend.

Q: Some argue that the current International Relations theory cannot explain some of the current phenomena of international relations and we need a religious theory of International Relations, especially with regard to religious issues. What is your opinion? In general, theorizing Religion in International Relations is feasible?

A: As I alluded to in my previous answers, religion is a relatively new variable in the study of international relations.  What is needed today is not a separate religious theory of international relations.  Rather, scholars and theorists of international relations need to acknowledge that religion plays an important part in the 21st-century world, and there is a need to operationalize and develop new paradigms within the existing frameworks of international relations theory that recognizes the inherent role religion plays in our broader world.  In other words, there is a need for a post-Enlightenment paradigm.

Q: If theorizing Religion in International Relations is possible, can this religious theory in International Relations explain all the unresolved issues and problems?

A: No single phenomenon can explain the multifaceted nature of international relations.  Religion and religious paradigms may contribute to our understanding of our complex world.  In other words, religion can be an important component of the restructuring of international relations theory, but it must remain an integral, and not a separate, part of the theory of international relations.

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