Rethinking Religion and World Affairs

Rethinking Religion and World Affairs

Rethinking Religion and World Affairs

Rethinking Religion and World Affairs


In recent years, the role of religion in the study and conduct of international affairs has become increasingly important. The essays in this volume seek to question and remedy the problematic neglect of religion in extant scholarship, grappling with puzzles, issues, and questions concerning religion and world affairs in six major areas. Contributors critically revisit the "secularization thesis," which proclaimed the steady erosion of religion's public presence as an effect of modernization; explore the relationship between religion, democracy, and the juridico-political discourse of human rights; assess the role of religion in fomenting, ameliorating, and redressing violent conflict; and consider the value of religious beliefs, actors, and institutions to the delivery of humanitarian aid and the fostering of socio-economic development. Finally, the volume addresses the representation of religion in the expanding global media landscape, the unique place of religion in American foreign policy, and the dilemmas it presents. Drawing on the work of leading scholars as well as policy makers and analysts, Rethinking Religion and World Affairs is the first comprehensive and authoritative guide to the interconnections of religion and global politics.


Four guided missiles packed with explosive material hurtled into the morning sky. Though the day was brilliant blue and cloudless, no one saw them coming. They were aimed at a nation that did not see itself at war. Moreover, it was a nation convinced that missiles fired in anger no longer posed a serious threat to its security. the weapons were conventional in the strict sense: they did not carry nuclear warheads.

But the weapons and the attackers who launched them were anything but conventional. the 19 hijackers who commandeered four civilian jetliners on the morning of September 11, 2001, were not sent by a state or nation. They were not motivated by any purely secular or political cause. Born of religious zeal, they sought to strike a blow against a power they believed was in thralldom and service to Satan. Motivated by faith, they wanted to strike a blow for Allah.

Religion, which was supposed to have been permanently sidelined by secularization, suddenly appeared to be at the center of world affairs. Seemingly without warning, faith had transgressed the neat boundaries that organized the thinking and planning of our best and brightest policy makers, policy analysts, and scholars. Religious believers were supposed to stay confined to one side of the boundary that sealed private faith off from global public affairs—a boundary that separated the irrational from the rational, the mystical from the purposeful. However, guided by an astonishing combination of zealous faith and coolly calculating rationality, September 11 showed that organized religious believers could act with purpose, power, and public consequence.

And we—not only America, but the whole world of professional policy making and analysis—were unprepared. As Robert Keohane, a leading international relations scholar, had the humility to admit shortly afterward:

The attacks of September 11 reveal that all mainstream theories of world politics
are relentlessly secular with respect to motivation
. They ignore the impact of
religion, despite the fact that world-shaking political movements have so often
been fueled by religious fervor. None of them takes very seriously the human

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