Religion and World Politics

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 2
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Politics and International Studies

Module overview

International Relations as a discipline has historically given little importance to religion as an explanatory category in modern international politics. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks and with the advent of the 'war on terror' there were increasing efforts to address this gap - however this reintroduction of religion by way of counterterrorism leads only to a very limited engagement with religion (one disproportionately focused on Islamic terrorism). Where other types of religious political movements and actors are analysed, religion is often either reduced to simply an identity category or seen as a displacement for other, more worldly, concerns- it is rarely taken seriously on its own terms.

This module seeks to provide a more holistic approach to the role of religion in contemporary world politics. The module will engage with a number of religious traditions from across the World in order to interrogate questions of secularism, violence, religious nationalism, civil society, soft power initiatives, and conflict resolution. What role does religion play in addressing the major crises of the present day? The module will also address methodological questions raised by the engagement with diverse religious traditions, as well as the uses of religion as an analytical category more broadly. We will ask whether the significance of religion can be easily fit into existing IR models or whether taking religion seriously requires a more radical departure.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module


On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Understand the functioning of religion as an analytical category in International Relations scholarship
  • Utilise basic methodological skills in comparative theological thought
  • Understand the interplay of religion and politics in today’s world
  • Understand key conceptual issues around the functioning of secularism, nationalism, global civil society, and violence




This module will be taught over 10 weeks with:

  • 1 hour lecture per week
  • 1 hour tutorial per week


Method of assessment


Assignment 1: Essay 50%
Unseen written examination 50%


Suggested reading

  • Bosco, Robert (2009) 'Persistent Orientalisms: the concept of religion in International Relations', Journal of International Relations and Development, 12: 90-111
  • Fitzgerald, Timothy (2011) Religion and politics in international relations: the modern myth. London: Continuum
  • Wilson, Erin K. (2014) 'Theorizing religion as politics in postsecular International relations', Politics, Religion & Ideology, 15(3): 347-365.
  • Cavanaugh, William T. (2009) The myth of religious violence: secular ideology and the roots of modern conflict. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Asad, Talal (2003) Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, modernity. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules