Editors Forward

Journal of International Affairs, Fall-Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Editors Forward


It was ten years ago that the Journal of International Affairs examined religion's role in the post-Cold War period. At the time, new theories--such as the "end of history" and a "clash of civilizations"--influenced and divided much of the thinking as scholars struggled to define this new moment in the international relations system. In that Summer 1996 issue, many of our contributors argued that the Cold War had obscured the deeper, cultural roots of numerous global conflicts and found religion to play a central role in many of them.

Why revisit the subject of religion one decade later? First, the attacks of September 11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have warranted renewed scrutiny of religion's relevance in international affairs. We have also witnessed a rise in political participation from religious groups throughout the world and, consequently, the challenge to encourage toleration and cooperation between secular entities (whether it be states or political parties) and those that represent religious constituencies. The increasing geopolitical influence of religious states also demands international affairs scholars to revisit this ever-evolving subject.

According to Scott M. Thomas, a contributor to this new issue, "We live in a world that is not supposed to exist." The rise of the modern state system saw the role of rationality take center stage in political and economic organization. Accordingly, explanations referring to forces outside the earthly realm were increasingly rejected. Science was to displace the historical primacy of religion. Secularization theory--described in the early 20th century by theorists such as Max Weber--predicted the decline in the importance of religion as societies modernized. Yet, religion's importance continues unabated in our world.

Religion's emphasis on faith distinguishes it from the practicality that characterizes traditional instruments of statecraft. The indelibility of religious identity has fuelled many conflicts, which threaten the stability prescribed by the modern nation-state. Thus, with a world view firmly planted in Western rationalism, scholars of international affairs have traditionally regarded religion with suspicion, viewing it primarily through the prism of security. This perspective, however, limits our understanding of religion's complex interactions with states and non-state actors; it ignores the ubiquity of religion in shaping everyday realities for a significant portion of the world's population. Drawing upon the work of a diverse set of scholars, "Religion & Statecraft" endeavors to widen the scope of examination beyond the issue of security, exploring salient themes such as religion's role in democratization, reconciliation, and development.

Broadening the analysis of religion's role in international affairs requires a philosophical examination of toleration--an examination conducted by Michael Blake in the capstone essay. In this piece, the author provides a philosophical framework for the toleration of theocracies by liberal states. He offers a conception of tolerance that seeks to combine a belief in the moral importance of equality with a willingness to speak, listen and understand.

Scott Thomas addresses general trends in the role of religion in international affairs over the past century. He refutes the argument that secularization causes a decline in religion and argues instead that there has been a resurgence and restructuring of religion. Thomas explains that religion is taking on new forms, roles and functions in domestic and world politics as a result of modernization and globalization.

Jonathan Fox's survey of 175 states between 2000 and 2002 finds that religious discrimination was present in the majority of states and that mean levels of such discrimination rose during this timeframe. His extensive quantitative analysis adds new dimensions to the exploration of the role of religion in international affairs. …

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