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Department of the Study of Religions

Religion and Global Politics: Themes and Theories

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The so-called ‘resurgence’ of religion in the public sphere in recent decades is now a significant area of interdisciplinary scholarship eliciting a complex array of responses, ranging from vehement opposition to the very idea that religious concepts and commitments have a right to expression in public, political debates to a reassessment of the provenance and implications of divisions between the secular and the religious and their relationship to the nation state. The current geopolitical landscape wherein ‘religion’ has become a force to be reckoned with has demanded a reassessment of once predominant understandings of processes of secularisation, as well as the meanings of, and tensions inherent within, secular assumptions and secularist positions. The notion that there is no singular secularism, but rather a plurality of secularisms, and of religion as an invention of European modernity and colonialist exigencies are two of many emerging efforts to reconceptualise the meanings of religion and the secular and the entangled relationship between them.

This course will offer a comprehensive overview of the various debates around the nature of the secularism and the role of religion in the public sphere, in order to attend to the central issue of how 'the secular' is constituted, understood, and instantiated in both domestic and international or transnational contexts. Other related themes will also be examined, taking a case-study approach, such as the relationship between religious discourses and political violence, the legislative difficulties presented by contradictions in liberalist political principles that underpin the political systems of the global North and models of multiculturalism, theocratic conceptions of the state, the role of religion in identity politics and transnational institutions, and state responses to religious identity claims and priorities.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

On successful completion of this course, a student will:

  1. Expertise in the theoretical premises and critical paradigms underlying the interdisciplinary study of religion and politics.
  2. Training in European and non-European critical theorisations and genealogies of secularism, postsecularism, and religion in the public sphere.
  3. Familiarity with critical scholarship and ways of constructing theoretical frames in order to assess the complexity of historical and contemporary structurations of relations between religion and state.
  4. An ability to extend theoretical frameworks to ‘real-world’ situations and contexts and to attend to regional specificities;
  5. An ability to evaluate and position critically a variety of books, journals and other sources of information relevant to the topics studies on the course.

Scope and syllabus

  • Religion, modernity and postmodernity
  • Secularism and secularization: histories and regional differences
  • Postsecularism and political theology
  • Religion and transnational institutions
  • Religion and globalisation
  • Religion and nationalism
  • Religion, migration and diaspora
  • Multiculturalism, gender, and liberalism
  • Citizenship and religious identity
  • Public policy and the management of religious diversity
  • Human rights versus cultural rights
  • The status of religious law in Liberal Democracies
  • Inter-religious dialogue
  • Religion and violence
  • Fundamentalism and religious extremism
  • State persecution of religious communities
  • Religion and conflict resolution
  • Religion, development and faith-based NGOS

Method of assessment

The course will be examined by one 10,000-word essay (80%) and one group presentation (20%)