By Javad Heirannia

 “International Political Theology” should be added to International Politics: Prof.Kubalkova

February 11, 2019

TEHRAN - Professor Vendulka Kubalkova from University of Miami, says that many thinkers of modernity were theologians.

Visiting Professor, VŠE, Economics University, Vysoká škola ekonomická v Praze, Czech Republic adds that only since the Enlightenment of the late 17th and 18th century, intellectuals believed that the inevitable consequence of modernity was the decline of religion.

Former senior Fulbright Professor at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University also adds that “International Political Theology” (IPT) should added to International Politics (IP) and International Political Economy (IPE).  

Author of “Religion in International Relations: A Return from Exile” says “That is to say, to add to the study of the pursuit of power (IP) and the pursuit of wealth (IPE) also a pursuit of meaning (IPT). IP, IPE, and IPT rhymed, but of course, it could not happen.”

Following is the full text of the interview:

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

A: The interest in religion in the International Relations (IR) discipline, as it was established as an academic field in the U.S. and the UK after World War 1,  goes back to the last century.  Some IR scholars, Catholics, Protestants, or, just those influenced by Judeo-Christian faith, resisted processes underway in the U.S. study of IR of casting the discipline in the U.S. as a positivist, rationalist, social science, which like natural sciences, is objective, its findings universally valid. Among those objecting, there were some well-known figures: for example George Kennan, famous for his 1946 cablegram proposing a containment policy between the USSR and the USA. Besides those involved such as Reinhold Niebuhr, Kenneth Thompson, Arnold Wolfers, there was the towering figure of IR discipline Hans Morgenthau. Their goal was to insulate the study of power from the rationalist concept of a science of politics. As Morgenthau put it, a discovery of a meaning of the world – an ultimate foundation – became irretrievably lost:  men, Morgenthau said, now “meet under an empty sky from which the gods have departed.”

I had picked up this concern when I came up with an idea of "International Political Theology" (IPT) in 1998. I proposed it to be added to International Politics (IP) and International Political Economy (IPE).  That is to say, to add to the study of the pursuit of power (IP) and the pursuit of wealth (IPE) also a pursuit of meaning (IPT). IP, IPE, and IPT rhymed, but of course, it could not happen. It has not “rhymed” with the U.S. IR discipline mainstream. My use of the term theology does not go as far as political theologians’ claim that political theorizing should have its ultimate ground in religious revelations. “Theology” was once synonymous with philosophy and science. Following the understanding of sociologists of religion, I took “theos” not in its common secular meaning as “erroneous beliefs in supernatural extraterrestrial existence”, but I took “theology’ and “theos” to refer to the systematic study of discourses and relations amongst them concerning world affairs that search for—or claim to have found—a response, transcendental or secular, to the human need for meaning. My purpose was to find a way of bringing the study of religion and IR together in a manner which would minimize their distortion and facilitate their understanding. 

The occasion of proposing IPT was a conference convened by two Ph.D. students at London School of Economics Fabio Petito and Pavlos Hatzopoulos in May, 1998  titled in a prescient way “Religion and International Relations.” The papers of the conference were published in 2000 in Millennium: Journal of International Studies, one of the pre-eminent British journals in the field of International Relations. In 2003 they were published by Palgrave Macmillan as a book Religion in International Relations: The Return from Exile. I mention the 1998 conference in London since it took place before the events of September 2001 referred to as 911 which predictably forced the issue of religion into the forefront of attention of also scholars of IR. The conference was based on the claim that the global resurgence of religion confronted international relations theory and that the secular foundations of international relations discipline were not sustainable. The 1998 conference was in my view the foundational event. Except for Cecilia Lynch (UC Irvine) and myself (University of Miami) the participants hailed from the UK, Germany, Denmark and Israel. Others from the U.S. were not affiliated with IR discipline (e.g., Professor Esposito). 

After the 911 events of 2001, in the first decade of the 2000s there followed a large number of articles and books, special issues of journals. They explored the Christian tradition of the 20th century – also referred to by some as Augustinian tradition, some reminding us that "all liberal concepts are secularized Christian concepts" (Carl Schmitt, 1922) or that “liberalism is Christianity without God.” Nicolas Guilhot (NYU) described it as a “revival of intellectual interest in and commitment to Christianity dating back to the l930s.”  The main professional organization in the U.S., the International Studies Association, has opened a section on “Religion and IR,” but it is not a part of the U.S. IR “mainstream.” 

 And this despite the key developments in other academic fields, sociology and philosophy:  for example, the retraction by the sociologist Peter Berger, the leading proponent of the "secularization thesis” and Jurgen Habermas, the famous philosopher connected to the Western Marxist Frankfurt School naming the current era as “post-secular.” Not to mention the flurry of debates (and rebuttals) of the controversial “clash of civilizations,” a description of the post-Cold War by American political scientist Samuel Huntington in 1993. Despite that, the academic U.S. IR discipline is staunchly secular, positivist, rationalist.

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?

Your first question was so broadly based that I think I already answered it.  But let me corroborate my answer by quotes from one of the top U.S. journals World Politics, by a Brandeis University political scientist. (Bellin, Eva R.. "Faith in Politics: New Trends in the Study of Religion and Politics." World Politics 60. January (2008): 315-47).  Eva Bellin is a professor of Arab Politics: she minces no words, but she might be representative of many mainstream IR theorists. IR books that deal with religion, claimed Bellin, want to bring religion back into international relations, bemoaning the exile of religion from IR, ….are characterized by “majestic ambition, announcing the inauguration of grand theory but largely eschewing middle-level theorizing or empirically driven puzzle solving” (Ibid:338). These efforts, she says, do not yield generalizable hypotheses “to be linked to larger theoretical debates in political science, to be cumulative in the theoretical sense”. Bellin rejected the argument that Scott Thomas made in his 2005 seminal book, The Global Resurgence of Religion and the Transformation of International Relations: The Struggle for the Soul of the Twenty-First Century, namely, that a positivist approach to the study of religion in politics is precluded because, as Thomas argued, in a “conscious world of human beings with intention and meaning,” it may be inappropriate to assume that events are “governed by general laws, patterns, and regularities like the natural world/physical world.” Bellin disagreed that meaning and conscious intent in human affairs preclude the goal of discovering law-like regularities with predictive power that can be discovered and tested. Religion, after all, according to Bellin, is a subset of ideas and is handled adequately by liberal IR scholarship. In other words all that is possible is an absorption or inclusion of religion but on the terms of political science- for example, establishing a religious economy school or the religious market theory, applying microeconomic analysis and the logic of rational choice to the study of religion, embracing an economic model of church behavior as an economic firm.”
The above citation summarizes perhaps extreme but rejection to treat religion in IR seriously.
For more info see:

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 [b]ased on this conception, religion is not [in] conflict with modernity, so can it be said that religion is not conflict with the International Relations theory stemming from modernity?

It is a bit more complicated. You are making me leap across centuries and libraries of literature about Renaissance, the Age of Reason, Enlightenment!  Plus to answer your question you have to look at the circumstances in which International Relations as a system of governance came into existence - to become then in the 20th century theorized.  

To summarize and simplify a few terms. “The modern” became those who would give up obsolete superstitious thought of the medieval religious past, and espouse the new scientific thought of the secular present. Religious consciousness was to be replaced by an empirical, rational and instrumental orientation. And the context here is important: “modern” can mean all of post-medieval European history, in the context of dividing history into three large epochs: Antiquity, Medieval, and Modern. The term “Modern” is also applied to the period beginning somewhere between 1870 and 1910, through the present, and even more specifically to the 1910-1960 period. So Gillespie was right: many thinkers of modernity were theologians. Only since the Enlightenment of the late 17th and 18th century, intellectuals believed that the inevitable consequence of modernity was the decline of religion. The reason was supposed to be the progress of science and its accompanying rationality, replacing the irrationality and superstition of religion. Nietzsche declared the death of God in 1882 and other seminal modern thinkers shared that view—notably Marx (religion as the opiate of the masses) and Freud (religion as an illusion). 

However, it has not worked like this.  It was discovered that religion has not been declining. On the contrary, in much of the world, there has been taking place what some call an explosion of religious faith. 
The formation of the territorial system of states - central to your question - began in Christian Europe, in the era of Christian Reformation. The 1648 Peace of Westphalia was a treaty attempting to conclude the 30 year bloody internecine Christian wars in the small part of Europe, the Holy Roman Empire.  The treaty adopted the principle cuius regio, eius religio literally translated as "Whose realm, his religion," meaning that the religion of the sovereign ruler was to dictate the religion of those ruled.  To stop the internecine wars, religion was removed from the interactions of states into the purview of individual states.  So - in my view - religion has not really been returning from an exile but from the “basement” – from within/ inside states to which it was confined.  So this is the additional complication for IR theorists in theorizing religion. It has been pointed out that Islam would not ever tolerate the cuius regio, eius religio separation:  Islam apparently does not have something similar to the Christian injunction "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's."  And the “ceasars” the rulers of the sovereign territorial states became in charge of religion on their territory, under their jurisdiction. Of course, skipping centuries of expansion of the European “Westphalian system” and its worldwide spread via colonialism  IR discipline is even now stuck with the need to recognize the sovereign territorial system of states which is, I hope I explained, by definition secular.

Modernity seems to have an unexpected consequence:  not necessarily secularizing; if anything it is pluralizing. The secularization process has been deemed an adjunct, a facilitator of modernity.  It has not happened, nor we discuss modernization, subsumed now in the discourse of “globalization.”

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 don’t think those advocating the study of Religion in IR look for a particular one religion and in a globalizing world of the 21st century, it is neither feasible nor desirable. What might happen is the recognition that the word is plural, a "broad church," recognizing religions, cultures, civilizations. Modernity seems to have an unexpected consequence:  not necessarily secularizing; if anything it is pluralizing. 

It is worth mentioning that the Iranian President Mohammad Khatami countered the “clash of civilizations” thesis of Samuel Huntington of the 90s with the idea, not of a clash but the dialogue and following his proposal the UN declared the year 2001 as a year of the “dialogue of civilizations.”   

We witness a beginning of a significant change: the discipline of IR does not exist only as it did some hundred years ago in two countries, the U.S. and the UK: IR is now a globalized discipline. According to an authoritative survey (TRIP), in 2014 IR as a field of study existed in 32 countries, and nine languages and a mere three years later, in 2017, TRIP World Faculty Survey found IR in 40 countries on six continents.

It seems to be amazing since it was after all only in 1977 that Stanley Hoffmann had called IR “an American Social Science” serving primarily as a legitimizing tool for American foreign policy, dominated by scholars from the U.S., much of its content devoted to understanding the world from the American point of view”. The ontology and the epistemology of the discipline, according to Hoffmann, were all American, demonstrably Eurocentric, America centered. Of course, IR is taught in a large number of some estimated 5000 tertiary outfits existing in the U.S., dwarfing studies of IR anywhere on the planet. In the globalized IR, the U.S. IR contingent continues to dominate the worldwide study of IR with its largest and best-funded academic community and the dominant journals. 
But the literature advocating the search for and recognition of “non-Western” approaches is growing in which post-colonial studies now play an important role. So far many authors report, it has been difficult to shed the Western categories no matter how hard they are being rearticulated: they are a lens through which the world has learned to view itself, through models and concepts presented as objective, universally valid, but in fact, so it is argued, developed in and for the “West.” 

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

Having said that I don’t think one religious theory is possible nor would it in my view resolve the issues the world faces. Instead, following Khatami, we have to engage in a dialogue.  There is now The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations; there are many fora organized by a range of NGOs to foster a dialogue. Alas, there is not much of a connection between these initiatives and the academic IR discipline. But, to repeat, there is no longer just one Anglo-American discipline of IR but many and they will by definition reflect their respective cultures, civilizations, and religions. They all argue that they have to play a role in the understanding and the construction of the world.  

For people like myself, an academic, university teacher, there is only one path - education.  In the U.S. we have to add to the curricula these issues, and it is a difficult task.  To do that IR becomes much broader than it is now - I call it International PLUS series of educational videos. IR is no longer about states, it is no longer just about some perspectives and excluding others – and claiming universality.  It is not possible to set aside philosophical issues and understanding cultures, civilizations and religions: students have to grasp such questions as what is it that we know and how we know it.

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