By Javad Heirannia

Religion needs considered as major factor in current world order: Adib-Moghaddam

November 4, 2018

TEHRAN - Professor Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Chair of the Centre for Iranian Studies at the London Middle East Institute believes that Religion needs to be taken into consideration as a major factor in the ideological composition of the current world order.

Professor in Global Thought and Comparative Philosophies and Chair of the Centre for Iranian Studies at the London Middle East Institute, also adds that “The use and abuse of Islamic symbols, imagery and norm, in particular, is a potent force in politics and needs to be added to the repertoire of any social science.”

He adds that “The Eurocentric idea that modernity was tied up with secularism is more of a normative dictate, rather than an analytical statement that could survive scholarly scrutiny.”

Here is the full text of the interview:

Q: When became religious issues a matter of greater importance in theorizing International Relations?

A: There were at least two main ceasuras in the field that privileged other factors, including religion, to be studied more closely. First, the end of the Cold War and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union which was not predicted, despite of their promise to that end, by (neo)realists who constituted the major school of IR until then. For generations, (neo) realism was predicated on, and hence received major funding, “forecasting” international politics in general and changes in the system from bipolarity (U.S. versus USSR) to unipolarity in particular. Yet none of the neorealists saw the demise of the Soviet Union - or any other major event in the international system for that matter - coming. Therefore in the 1990s, as probably one of the last social sciences, IR theorists began to take more seriously other paradigms including social constructivism, a philosophical school of thought that borrows heavily from sociology in order to appreciate the complexity of world politics including the impact of religion. Other paradigms such as the Dependencia School put forward by Latin American colleagues or feminist and post-colonial approaches were also increasingly prominent. 

The second change in thinking came after the terror attacks on the United States on 11th September 2001 during which more U.S. citizens died than during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour during the Second World War. Whereas the former was a conventional inter-state war which fitted somewhat better into the state-centric premises of (neo) realism, al-Qaeda was a non-state actor inspired by an ideology that many IR theorists, quite wrongly, thought to be motivated by religion. In fact, al-Qaeda and other movements can be studied better in comparison to fascist movements. In Germany, for instance, there is a long history in Totalitarianism Studies and the forms of fanatic jihadism that we have been experiencing with al-Qaeda or Daesh fit rather neatly into some of those paradigmatic concepts. Certainly, we can’t understand these movements by looking into religious scripts. They are purely political and what they say and do happens here and not in some remote parallel universe.


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, theorizing religion is not possible and, in fact, there is no theological-positivist theory in International Relations. What is your opinion?

A: Well IR or any approach to the human world for that matter is not and will never be a laboratory science. So a good dose of critical acumen makes for better scholarship and more accurate truth results. Religion needs to be taken into consideration as a major factor in the ideological composition of the current world order. The use and abuse of Islamic symbols, imagery and norm, in particular, is a potent force in politics and needs to be added to the repertoire of any social science. Naturally, good scholarship, can only unravel these issues from a staunchly secular position, where all inventions of the social world, including those with a religious garb, are investigated and deconstructed as exactly what they are: human inventions that serve particular this-worldly interests, mostly political and economic. Here, secular does not mean separating religion out, but to approach the matter from a sober, critical perspective that appreciates that everything in the world surrounding us has been created by someone for some purpose. This leaves out the element of faith which is a meta-physical matter tied into the individuals belief system and has to be respected as such. 

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 conflict with modernity, so can it be said that religion is not conflict with the International Relations theory stemming from modernity? 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: The Eurocentric idea that modernity was tied up with secularism is more of a normative dictate, rather than an analytical statement that could survive scholarly scrutiny. One can be modern and religious at the same time as Martin Luther, Thomas Hobbes and Ernest Renan on the one side and Jamaladin Al Afghani and Mohammad Abduh on the other would agree. Indeed, recent rather more progressive scholarship to which I subscribe and put forward by the late Jack Goody or John Hobson undermines the idea that there ever existed one all-encompassing modernity. If modernity is reduced to industrialisation, then, of course we are talking about the enlightenment period in Europe from the late 18th century onwards. But even this particular modernity was a global event, and must be studied as such. Modernity, the renaissance, the enlightenment had its different local manifestations in Latin America, in Europe, in Asia in Africa, where different modernities were constructed within a common human experience. For instance, workers in the first commercially viable oil fields of Masjed-e Soleiman in Khuzestan must have felt a comparable modern enslavement to capital as the coal miners in Liverpool. The pious Muslim or Chrsitian worshipper who was suddenly confronted with “modern” ideas of a secular kind whether he was in Rome, Tehran, Buenos Aires, Lima or Berlin must have felt a very similar sense of alienation, a spiritual emptiness that was so symptomatic for the despair of many Islamists of a liberal-literal persuasion. In fact, Islamism as any other “ism” is a direct manifestation of a modernity. So the bottom line is that global events need to be studied as a common global-historical experience rather than in isolation. As a part of this lifelong intellectual effort that I have commenced over a decade ago, it has been analytically necessary to deconstruct the archives of human history and to introduce a truer reading of our world instead. Of course, we could open up the Pandora’s Box of post-modernity now, but let’s keep Foucault, Artificial Intelligence, Instagram and Twitter for another time. 

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