By Javad Heirannia

We need understand religious communities with their religious character: Philpott

January 2, 2019

TEHRAN - Daniel Philpott, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, says there are many valid methodologies for studying religion in international affairs and this includes empirical theory.

Author of “Religious Freedom in Islam” adds “the leading theories of international relations over the past few centuries -- realism and liberalism -- do not account well for the influence of religion in global politics.”

“We need theories, then, that understand religious communities with respect to their religious character and not simply characterize them as "non-state actors who pursue rational ends" or some generic, empty description like this”, Professor Philpott said the Tehran Times. 

He also says “I do not think that there is a religious theory of international relations in general but I do think that we can make progress in developing explanations of how religion influences international relations.”

Q: When did the religious issues has been a matter of great in Theorizing of International Relations?

A: The study of religion in international relations gained momentum in the early 2000s and has become a small subfield within the discipline (in the West). Samuel Huntington's book Clash of Civilizations of 1996 gained great notoriety, and, to be sure controversy, around the world. Whatever one thinks of his thesis, it woke people up -- and I mean both scholars and the general public -- to the importance of religion in global affairs. I was part of a working group of scholars that Huntington helped to lead that sought to give momentum to the study of religion in international affairs in 2000. We applied for a grant from a Harvard Institute for international relations scholarship that year but did not succeed in winning it. Then, the attacks of September 11, 2001, came and nobody could dispute credibly any longer that religion was important in global politics we applied for the grant again and this time received it. By then, people were ready to recognize that there was something wrong with the secularization thesis, which had held that religion has disappeared from political affairs.

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, the 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: In my view, there are many valid methodologies for studying religion in international affairs and this includes empirical theory. In the book God's Century (Norton, 2011), which I published with coauthors Monica Duffy Toft and Timothy Samuel Shah, we sought to test propositions regarding the behavior of religious actors in global politics in the areas of democratization, peace and reconciliation, civil war, and terrorism. We could do this in such a way that anyone from any religious perspective could accept or reject based on the evidence, we argued. But one can also study the constitutive role of religion in international affairs or approach the subject theologically. There is room for all of us.

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 does not conflict with modernity, so can it be said that religion does not conflict with the International Relations theory stemming from modernity?

A: Yes, it is too simple to say that religion and modernity are at odds. Gillespie 's thesis that theological developments were at the origins of modernity should be taken seriously. That said, I think it is important to recognize that some of the most prominent political philosophies in early modern Europe and the Enlightenment were ones that wanted to marginalize religion from public life and underwrote this marginalization with certain philosophical and theological arguments, for instance, ones that rendered religion little more than a private set of ideas. This led to anti-clericalism and the outright suppression of religion, as was seen first in the French Revolution and then, more harshly, in 20th-century communism. However, there is also a version of modernity that is open to and accepting of religion, as emerged in the American Revolution and in Christian Democratic parties in 20th century Europe and Latin America. Modernity, then, involves both negative secularism (hostile to religion) and positive secularism (open to religion).

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: I have argued that the leading theories of international relations over the past few centuries -- realism and liberalism -- do not account well for the influence of religion in global politics. There is a good reason for this. Both realism and liberalism were incubated by thinkers who wanted to minimize religion's influence and to envision a world in which religion would play a little public role. Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Rousseau were the realists; Locke and Kant were the liberals. They envisioned states pursuing entirely secular ends like power, security, and prosperity and modeled states' behavior on these assumptions. In fact, for decades after they wrote, it looked like the secular world they envisioned was being achieved. Over the past 50 years, however, religion has resurged in global politics in every region of the globe and within every religious tradition. In order to understand the political influence that religion exerts, we need new theoretical assumptions. We need to understand global religions as communities of people that extend across borders, have their own hierarchies, were (for the most part) around many centuries before the state, and pursue ends that transcend what states pursue. Yet, they shape the kinds of things that people care about in the political realm -- what sort of regime governs, whether states are at war or peace, and phenomena like terrorism. We need theories, then, that understand religious communities with respect to their religious character and not simply characterize them as "non-state actors who pursue rational ends" or some generic, empty description like this. I do not think that there is a religious theory of international relations in general but I do think that we can make progress in developing explanations of how religion influences international relations.

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

A: Perhaps not, but I do think that some propositions can help us understand why religious communities sometimes contribute to war and sometimes to peace, sometimes to democracy and sometimes to dictatorship. In God's Century, my coauthors and I identified two major factors that we believe shapes the behavior of religious communities. These are institutional independence -- call it the "distance" that religious communities keep from the government -- and political theology, the set of ideas through which religious communities channel their basic commitments into political ends. Those religious communities who maintain the most distance from the state and who carry political theologies that favor ends like human rights and democracy are most likely to be forces for peace and democracy, while those who are most prone to be arms of the state and to carry regressive political theologies are most likely to foment war and terror. These factors explain the difference between the political behavior of the Catholic Church in Europe in the 1980s who, under the leadership of Pope John Paul II, brought down communism and helped to end the Cold War, or the Muslim community in Indonesia, who brought down the Suharto dictatorship in 1998, and, on the other hand, the Catholic Church in Rwanda, who was swept into the country's genocide, or the Hindu community in India, who has made itself an accessory to an exclusivist religious nationalism.

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