Religion and Nation: Modernity, Secularism, and Politics

By Imre, Robert; Jose, Jim | Nebula, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Religion and Nation: Modernity, Secularism, and Politics


Imre, Robert, Jose, Jim, Nebula


The papers published here are the result of a multidisciplinary symposium with contributors dealing with issues regarding the political nexus of religion and the modern nation-state. The symposium aimed to highlight the nuances and complexities of the politics of religion. We therefore asked the presenters to examine socio-political problems rather than questions of doctrine. In their varying approaches the participants rose to the occasion and moved discussion beyond the simplistic equations of the "rise of religion" in the face of globalization. Some of the specific issues included, legal-constitutional questions, religious and political violence, the role of religion in East-Central European Politics, political identities influenced by religion, political religions in the contemporary world, civil society and the role of religion, and a number of other considerations. The relationship between politics and religion was treated as something that was not merely a "straight-line" narrative depicting religion on one side and secularism on the other; one as pre-modern and "savage" and the other as modern and rational. At times such simple dichotomies emerged in one or two papers, but this was mostly a matter of the logic of the issues being tackled by those papers. That caveat notwithstanding, the symposium generated a variety of analyses, interpretations, and considerable debate. Each of the participants entered into the spirit of the symposium and delivered an agenda for further research. In opening up this vista, we sought to broaden the conversation around religion and politics in the modern era.

On the day, the symposium opened with early versions of John Tate's paper "Liberalism, Blasphemy and Religion" and closed with Jim Jose's "Political Rule: Still in Thrall of Gods and Masters?" While the revised versions of each of these will be discussed in due course here we note that both presentations took the issue of modernity as their leitmotif inasmuch as both explored, from quite different philosophical perspectives, paradoxes of modernity. Their papers thus served as bookends for the rest of the papers presented at the symposium, though this only emerged once all the proposals for papers had been submitted and the symposium program was being finalized. Hence this in no way constrained the themes developed and presented by each of the scholars attending the symposium.

After the symposium each presenter was asked to revise and refine their arguments for publication in this special issue of Nebula. Two other papers in this special issue, Guy Charlton and Barry Brunette's "Colonialism and Civilization" and Christine Doran's "The Chinese Origins of Democracy" were not actually presented on the day as their authors were unable to get to Newcastle in time. However, we decided to include them in this special issue because both papers, very much in the spirit of our brief to participants, took the discussion away from a preoccupation with the West's narcissistic frames of reference with clashing "civilizations" and other simplistic conventions of analysis (a concern that we have already raised elsewhere, see Imre & Jose 2010), and instead turned the analytical spotlight on the modernity's colonial others. Their contributions to the volume here round out the themes and added to all of the papers in terms of their opening up of new vistas for discussion and debate.

With these points in mind we now turn to a brief overview of each of the revised papers. Interestingly, while there is considerable overlap between the papers, they also fall into five distinct groupings: modernity, liberalism and issues of separation; religious influences on the development of ideas about democracy; the impact of religious values on practical politics; nationalism, identity and state-building; and issues of political and religious violence. It will be seen that each of the papers opens up the vista for understanding the intersections and multiple sites of contestation between religion and politics. …

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