The Politics of Secularism in International Relations

The Politics of Secularism in International Relations

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    The Politics of Secularism in International Relations
    Book Description:

    Conflicts involving religion have returned to the forefront of international relations. And yet political scientists and policymakers have continued to assume that religion has long been privatized in the West. This secularist assumption ignores the contestation surrounding the category of the "secular" in international politics.The Politics of Secularism in International Relationsshows why this thinking is flawed, and provides a powerful alternative.

    Elizabeth Shakman Hurd argues that secularist divisions between religion and politics are not fixed, as commonly assumed, but socially and historically constructed. Examining the philosophical and historical legacy of the secularist traditions that shape European and American approaches to global politics, she shows why this matters for contemporary international relations, and in particular for two critical relationships: the United States and Iran, and the European Union and Turkey.

    The Politics of Secularism in International Relationsdevelops a new approach to religion and international relations that challenges realist, liberal, and constructivist assumptions that religion has been excluded from politics in the West. The first book to consider secularism as a form of political authority in its own right, it describes two forms of secularism and their far-reaching global consequences.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2801-2
    Subjects: Political Science, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    Religion is a problem in the field of international relations at two distinct levels. First, in recent years religious fundamentalism and religious difference have emerged as crucial factors in international conflict, national security, and foreign policy. This development has come as a surprise to many scholars and practitioners. Much contemporary foreign policy, especially in the United States, is being quickly rewritten to account for this change. Second, the power of this religious resurgence in world politics does not fit into existing categories of thought in academic international relations. Conventional understandings of international relations, focused on material capabilities and strategic interaction,...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Varieties of Secularism
    (pp. 23-45)

    Sociologists have debated the secularization thesis for decades.¹ Political theorists have analyzed the public-private divide since the founding of the discipline.² These debates have only just begun to enter the field of international relations. When Christine Sylvester wrote that international relations “smacks of debates within the hierarchy of one church,” she might have been right in more ways than one.³ For the most part, it is a secular church.⁴ Contemporary international relations takes the Euro-American definition of religion and its separation from politics as the natural starting point for social scientific inquiry.

    This book adopts a different starting point. Secularism...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Secularism and Islam
    (pp. 46-64)

    Written by Maryland lawyer Francis Scott Key in 1805, these two verses of what would in 1814 become the American national anthem celebrate the accomplishments of postrevolutionary American soldiers in the war against Tripoli in the early years of the American republic. The lyrics suggest that early American national identity was composed at least in part of American (“star-spangled flag”) opposition to, and victory over, Muslims (the “Crescent,” “infidel blood”).

    There is a multidisciplinary attempt underway to understand how the West has been constituted through interactions with other societies. As Lockman argues, however, “exploration of how the modern West has...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Contested Secularisms in Turkey and Iran
    (pp. 65-83)

    This chapter bridges the conceptual and historical arguments of the two preceding chapters and the more applied arguments of chapters 5 and 6. Its primary objective is to introduce domestic Turkish and Iranian renegotiations of the secular. Woven into these historical accounts are examples of how the epistemological and evaluative stances described in the preceding chapters as laicism and Judeo-Christian secularism have operated in practice to condition Western responses to religiopolitical developments in Turkey and Iran. Developments in these countries do not fall easily into categories available to Western observers for understanding religion and politics. The cases in this chapter...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The European Union and Turkey
    (pp. 84-101)

    Social and religious factors have played a significant role in European opposition to Turkish accession to the European Union (EU). To identify the presence and political effects of the cultural and political sensibilities, collective dispositions, and discourses identified in earlier chapters as laicism and Judeo-Christian secularism, this chapter draws on policy statements, pundit commentaries, international agreements, opinion polls, court decisions, conference proceedings, and popular and academic accounts of Turkish and European politics. Using a similar methodology but a different set of sources, the next chapter examines the influence of these two forms of secularism upon U.S.-Iranian relations.

    Most observers depict...

  9. CHAPTER SIX The United States and Iran
    (pp. 102-115)

    An imposing calendar hung on the wall of Mrs. Soderlund’s fourth-grade class at Field Elementary School in Minneapolis. With each day that passed in 1979–80 during which fifty-two American diplomats were held hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran for 444 days, Mrs. Soderlund would cross out the date with a thick red “X.” Marking time in this way was not unusual during the crisis. Melani McAlister notes that during those months “the United States existed on two calendars, with the number of days in captivity superimposed over the Gregorian dates.”² The red marks on the calendar in my...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Political Islam
    (pp. 116-133)

    InRule of Experts, Timothy Mitchell writes that “the possibility of social science is based upon taking certain historical experiences of the West as the template for a universal knowledge.”³ This observation applies to the knowledge about “political Islam” generated by secularist epistemology in the field of international relations. The conceptions of secularism underlying social inquiry in this discipline determine the kinds of questions that can be asked and are worth asking about secularism, religion, and politicized religion.⁴ As Hirschkind argues, “greater recognition must be given to the way Western concepts (religion, political, secular, temporal) reflect specific historical developments, and...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Religious Resurgence
    (pp. 134-146)

    Religion and politics overlap and intersect in complex and multiple formations in different times and locations, composing political settlements that wax and wane in their influence. Religion and politics do not belong to distinct domains of culture and power. As King observes, “examples of religious and political association are no longer automatically seen as the inappropriate grouping of two separate spheres of human cultural existence.”¹ Secularism is a social construction.

    The challenge to conventional European and American secularist divisions between religion and politics is now being felt in the discipline of international relations. The problem of how religion fits with...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Conclusion
    (pp. 147-154)

    If the traditions of secularism discussed in this book are not fixed but socially constructed, then they are also subject to modification. One way in which modification could occur is through the cultivation of a practice of agonistic or agonal secular democracy. Agonistic secular democracy elicits and seeks out public expression of contending views on religion and its relationship to the political: “a democracy infused with a spirit of agonism is one in which divergent orientations to the mysteries of existence find overt expression in public life.”¹ At the same time, such a practice of democracy also continually interrupts attempts...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 155-212)
  14. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 213-236)
  15. Index
    (pp. 237-247)