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Article

Tanya B. Schwarz and Cecelia Lynch

Though religion was never absent from international relations, since the Iranian Revolution, the end of the Cold War, and the events of 9/11, the international community has taken a renewed interest in it. Questions center on the role of religion in peace and conflict, the compatibility of religious law and norms with different systems of government, and the influence of religious actors on a wide range of issues. A reliance on Enlightenment assumptions, which link “the religious” to the irrational, magical, or emotive, led many to deem religion inappropriate for the public sphere and a key factor leading to conflict. On the other hand, the same assumptions led to an association of “the secular” with reason, proper forms of government, and peace. Multiple scholars challenged such a dichotomous framework, arguing that “the religious” and “the secular” cannot be meaningfully separated, or that, at the very least, the origins of the category of “religion” must be examined in order to study acts and practices deemed religious in the 21st century. Scholarship that wishes to avoid broad generalizations and problematic assumptions about religion should move beyond Enlightenment assumptions and approaches that treat diverse religious communities, acts, and ideas as inherently “good” or “problematic.” To do so, scholars should reflexively engage with religion, paying attention to their own ontological assumptions and the consequences of those assumptions for analyses of religion and politics. In addition, scholars must situate the practices, principles, and identities of religious individuals and communities within broader historical and geographical contexts in order to understand the critical factors informing their ethical frameworks. There are several approaches that are attentive to interpretation, practice, and ethics, including neo-Weberianism, positive ethics, securitization theory, and a relational dialogical approach. These approaches provide alternatives to essentialized notions of religion and shed light on why and how religious actors choose some possible courses of action over others.

Article

Steven Kettell

The boundary between the religious and the secular spheres of life is contested in many parts of the world. From the latter decades of the 20th century, controversies over issues such as the legalization of same-sex marriage, assisted dying, and freedom of speech, as well as clashes around reproductive rights and equality issues, have all featured highly on national political agendas. Set against a backdrop of the “return of religion” to public life, these debates and tensions have given rise to the notion that secularism might be in a state of crisis or moving toward some form of post-secular condition. The term “secularism” is itself also contested. The precise nature of the “secular” and the “religious” spheres of life is subject to interpretation, and secularism in practice can be manifest in a number of ways. This ranges from exclusivist forms of secularism in countries such as the United States and France to inclusive secularism in the case of India. Supporters of a role for religion in public life maintain that religion provides a range of valuable public goods and gives individuals a sense of meaning and identity. Secularists, on the other hand, claim that the separation of church and state provides the best framework for upholding the rights and freedoms of all citizens regardless of their religion or belief.

Article

In the previous centuries, religion had been losing its prominent role in society, but its relationship to the modern democratic state is still among the most fundamental questions of political philosophy. Secularism is commonly described with label of “the separation of Church and state,” but the idea of the state disconnectedness from religion is a much more complex a phenomenon than this term suggests. A secular state must “manage” the relationship between religion and state institutions in a way that makes religion both subject to specific disabilities and singling out for special treatment. Modern secularism has several different faces: Political secularism, economic secularism, educational secularism, ethical secularism, scientific secularism, and religious criticism are all different modes of secularism. Political secularism is the key mode among these, because it is a precondition of the pursuit of the other modes. Political secularism has three essential elements: politics, religion, and their separation. Consequently, different conceptions of secularism will provide different and rival versions of the core concept, political secularism, depending on how they define politics, religion, and separation. Secularism can refer to different levels of the state: to its ends (a theocracy is the exact opposite of a secular state in this regard); its institutions (the connectedness/disconnectedness of the state’s institutions with that of the Church); its laws/public policies (the state’s regulation of religion and religious activities); its source of legitimacy (what is the final source of the legitimacy of the state); the justification of its public policies/laws (what justification is given to state laws/public policies); the level of power and jurisdiction (whether the state is the only sovereign on its territory or sovereignty is shared with the Church); and its symbolic dimension (whether the state symbolically supports any religious groups). The function of political secularism is to prevent at least four different kinds of problems: It must protect the religious freedom of believers on its territory, and religion must be protected from politics, but the state must be also protected from religion. In addition, there is a possible problem on the symbolic level, with the state’s official endorsement of religion. Political secularism must also satisfy important normative principles. The most important of these are freedom of conscience and the principle of state neutrality. To satisfy these principles/normative requirements, the secular state must manage religion in a way that it keeps a principled distance on the aforementioned levels, but it must also protect and accommodate religion so it does not suffer unfair disadvantages. The upshot is that a secular state will be incompatible with either full religious establishment and the radical separation of Church and state—regimes that satisfy political secularism will take place somewhere between these two poles.

Article

Equal treatment for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community has improved at a rapid pace around the world since the gay rights movement first rose up to become a salient global force for change. With important regional exceptions, laws criminalizing same-sex sexual relations have not only come down in multiple countries, but same-sex couples can now also construct families in many advanced industrialized countries. Public acceptance of homosexuality, even in some non-Western countries, has increased dramatically. Yet, within those general trends hides the remarkable unevenness in the spread and adoption of policies fostering legal, social, and economic equality for LGBTQ communities around the world. Policy change toward more equal treatment for sexual minorities is concentrated in the developed world and within the cisgender gay and lesbian communities in particular. The existing literature in policy change shows the importance of transnational activists, changing international norms, and increasing levels of secularization have made this possible. But the effectiveness of these factors rests on an underlying foundation of socioeconomic factors based on economic and social development that characterizes advanced industrialized states. There is an uneven distribution of resources and interests among pro and anti-LGBT activist groups alike, and the differing levels of economic development in which they operate that explains the decidedly uneven nature of how LGBTQ human rights have advanced in the past 50 years. In addition, new political parties and activist organizations have emerged to lead the backlash against LGBTQ rights, showing progress is neither inevitable nor linear. In addition, serious gaps in what we know about LGBT politics remain because of the overwhelming scholarly focus on advanced industrialized states and policies that benefit the cisgender, gay and lesbian middle class in primarily Western societies. The study of LGBT politics in non-Western and developing countries is woefully neglected, for reasons attributed to the nature of the research community and the subject area. In the developed world, greater attention is needed to inequality within the LGBTQ community and issues beyond same-sex marriage. Finally, issues of intersectionality and how different groups within the LGBT community have enjoyed most of the benefits of the gay rights movement since its takeoff more than 50 years ago.

Article

In the second half of the 20th century, theories on secularization and secularism have been dominated by three approaches: secularization theory, individualization theory, and market theory. In the new millennium, approaches that both built on and revised these neoclassical approaches emerged: deprivation and insecurity theory, the theory of secular transition and intergenerational decline, theories of religious–secular competition, and theories focusing on the tipping point of the 1960s. These four new approaches have deepened our understanding of secularization, secularity, and secularism; however, they each have their own theoretical and empirical problems that need to be addressed by future research. It has become customary in sociology and the political sciences to distinguish three large types of macro-theory on secularization, secularity, and secularism, namely secularization theory, individualization theory, and market theory. Each of these types includes a large number of approaches, ideas, and research endeavors. These neoclassical theories were formulated in the last millennium and have been described, discussed, and criticized many times since. A brief overview of the three neoclassical theories is provided, but then four theoretical approaches are focused on that have been developed in the new millennium: deprivation and insecurity theory, the theory of secular transition and intergenerational decline, theories of religious–secular competition, and theories focusing on the tipping point of the 1960s. These approaches are in the process of being discussed and tested thoroughly.

Article

This essay explores the well-known tension between the commitment to a state religion and expressions of tolerance for other religions. The background question concerns the consequences of state religion, the more suspect of the two commitments, at least with respect to intergroup relations. A useful conception of state religion is as a central part of an identity regime, which can take several forms in national constitutions. It seems likely that state religion—and other exclusive elements of identity regimes—threaten the national attachment of ethnic minorities in ways that unwind many of the benefits of tolerance provisions. A simple typology helps to understand the variation in these provisions across jurisdictions and over time, and original historical cross-national data on national constitutions describes this variation in some detail. The evidence suggests that the world’s constitutions are moving in strikingly divergent directions with respect to their provisions on religion.

Article

The discussion on the relevance of the “inclusion-moderation” thesis to Islamist parties has always been very stimulating. The rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP, Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) in Turkey has so far attracted the attention of the international community in a period riven with the intensification of a civilizational discourse on a global scale since the early 2000s. The main premise of the study is that the “inclusion-moderation” thesis is not very relevant for the Islamists in Turkey. Rather, an “exclusion-moderation” thesis has been more relevant for Islamists’ experiences since the 1960s. AKP was established in 2001 as an offspring of traditional oppositional political Islam in Turkey, which is renowned as the “National Outlook” movement. The name of the party very successfully addressed the two missing elements of the Turkish state and society: “justice” and “development.” The party came to power in 2002 in the aftermath of the one of the most devastating economic crises to hit the country: that of 2001. Starting with a very democratic, inclusive, cohesive, liberal, universalist, and fair political discourse, the party gradually became more and more anti-democratic, authoritarian, populist, polarizing, neo-Ottomanist, and Islamist, at the expense of liberal, secular, non-Sunni, non-Muslim, and other oppositional social groups. Election declarations (seçim beyannameleri) as well as the speeches of the party leaders will be discursively analyzed to find out whether there has been any behavioral moderation in the AKP before or after they came to power. The same documents and speeches will be scrutinized to understand whether there is ideological moderation in the party. The focus will be on the latter to detect the ways in which the AKP leadership has so far deployed an Islamist ideology, which has lately become coupled with a populist political style.

Article

Jeremiah J. Castle and Patrick L. Schoettmer

An increasingly important area within the subfield of religion and politics is the study of secularism, an ideology that seeks to limit the influence of religion in public and private life. Secularism can refer to conditions at the societal level (public secularism) or at the individual level (private secularism). In addition, it can take the form of simply an absence of religion (passive secularism), or it can include an affirmative acceptance of secular ideals (active secularism). Comparative studies highlight the complex ways in which secularism both influences and is influenced by politics. In Western Europe, the long-standing practice of established and/or preferred religions has led to a lack of vitality in the religious marketplace, resulting in high levels of private secularism. In Russia and other Eastern European nations, the end of communism and political motivations are leading to both decreasing public and private secularism. In the Middle East, secularization throughout the 20th century seems to have led to a fundamentalist backlash. Similarly, in the United States, the increasing association between religion and political conservatism seems to be driving increasing levels of private secularism. Together, these lessons suggest that both political factors and local context are key to understanding the relationship between secularism and politics.

Article

Conventional views assume a systematic intertwining between the Orthodox Church and the state, which makes Orthodox countries culturally hostile to modernity. These views have been shaped by a long history of antagonistic relationships between Western and Eastern European states and fail to grasp important long-term trends within the Orthodox religious landscape. The political culture in Orthodox countries has undergone several changes across the centuries. Under the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire, complementarity provided the blueprint for church-state relations. In later centuries, this model was modified to suit the Ottoman and Russian empires. Modernization also prompted Orthodox states to create state churches. Church-state separation was further pursued by communist and colonial regimes and was sometimes accompanied by the active persecution of clergy and the faithful. The political culture of modern Orthodox countries was decisively shaped by the nationalization of the faith, spurred by various national revivals. In the 19th century, Orthodox Christianity became a nationalized religion, whereby strong associations were established between newly constructed churches in Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania and these countries’ respective nations. This version of Orthodoxy was exported into the New World through communities of East European immigrants. The communist takeover of Eastern Europe further strengthened administrative fragmentation. After 1989–1990, the fragmentation of the USSR allowed for a more open expression of the model of national religion. Orthodoxy was revitalized but also served as a cornerstone for Russian, Ukrainian, and Estonian national identities, leading to regional ecclesiastical disputes. Current institutional dilemmas have resulted from these long-term processes.

Article

Rina Verma Williams and Sayam Moktan

With over one billion adherents worldwide and 15% of the world’s population, Hinduism is the fourth largest, and among the oldest, of the major world religions, with important political aspects that reverberate well beyond South Asia. Yet it is perhaps the least studied of the major world religions. Hinduism is also one of the most geographically concentrated religions of the world. The majority of Hindus are concentrated in two South Asian countries, Nepal and India, where Hindus constitute 80% or more of the population. Small but politically influential diasporic communities of Hindus are found throughout Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, the United States, and Canada. Key characteristics of Hinduism that set it apart from Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), especially politically, include its polytheistic nature and lack of one single authoritative text; the tremendous variation in its practice across locality and caste; and its frequently informal practice beyond the confines of official institutions such as temples. Hinduism has been compatible with a range of regime types over time in India and Nepal, including empire, monarchy, and democracy. Both India and Nepal are officially secular countries, but the status of secularism in both countries is contested by the forces of Hindu nationalism, a movement that seeks to institutionalize the political, social, and cultural predominance of Hinduism. Religious conversion is expressly prohibited in Nepal; in India, it is increasingly under legislative attack. The politics of caste are an important political aspect of Hinduism in both India and Nepal. While politics in both countries remain dominated by upper castes, important lower-caste political mobilization has appeared in India, but has yet to take hold in Nepal. A better understanding of Hinduism’s political aspects has enormous potential to enhance knowledge of religion and politics more broadly.

Article

Sonia Sikka

There are many versions of liberalism, but it would be uncontroversial to say that they agree in placing a premium on individual liberty. As a political paradigm, liberalism is committed to protecting the freedom of persons to live and think as they choose without interference from the state, provided they do no harm to others. This fundamental commitment underlies the classical liberal arguments for religious liberty and toleration articulated by John Locke and J. S. Mill. It forms the basis for legal provisions guaranteeing freedom of religious belief, worship, and expression in liberal democratic nations, as well as the principle of non-establishment, which prohibits the state from favoring any religion or from favoring religion over nonbelief. The formulation of these two principles, religious freedom and nonestablishment, requires that the spheres of the secular and the sacred be distinguished in order to institute a particular relation between them. Questions have been raised about the validity and universality of this distinction, as well as its implications for the place of religion within political life. In contemporary political theory, the topic of public reason has been especially prominent, the point of contention being whether and how religious discourse may be allowed in political reasoning. Balancing religious freedom against other fundamental liberal rights poses another difficulty in cases where the beliefs and practices of religious individuals and communities come into conflict with general laws or compromise equality, another central liberal value. Sometimes social and political judgments about such cases seem to apply a double standard to the religious practices of certain minorities, moreover, and to reflect an element of cultural racism. This is arguably true of attitudes and decisions in Western countries regarding the hijab and other types of veils worn by Muslim women. Applying liberal principles for regulating religion in a fashion that is genuinely neutral and impartial remains a challenge. Indeed, some argue that there is no way of defining “religion” for the requisite purposes without privileging certain forms of it. If so, liberal efforts to protect religious freedom may end up enforcing varieties of religious establishment.

Article

Kristina M. Teater and Laura Dudley Jenkins

Freedom of religion is a constitutional right in India, but this religiously diverse democracy regulates religion in several ways, including enforcing religious personal laws, regulating religious minority educational institutions, monitoring conversions, limiting religious appeals during political campaigns, and outlawing acts that outrage religious feelings. The 42nd constitutional amendment in 1976 added the word “secular” to the Indian constitution, which provides a distinctive model of religion-state relations and regulation that is rooted in historical struggles with colonial rule and abundant religious diversity. The “personal law” system grants major religious communities distinct family laws. Religious minorities have regulated autonomy in the sphere of education based on constitutional commitments to minority colleges and educational institutions. The religious freedom clause in the Indian constitution is one of the most comprehensive in the world, yet several state-level “freedom of religion” acts prohibit “forcible” or “induced” conversions. Affirmative action or “reservation” policies also necessitate regulating conversions, as low castes lose their eligibility upon conversion to Islam or Christianity. Appealing for votes on the basis of religion or caste is a “corrupt practice.” A colonial-era statute continues to outlaw “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Constitutional and state regulations of cow slaughter also protect the religious beliefs of some Hindus. Whether defending “religious freedom” by limiting conversions, or criminalizing insults to religious beliefs, laws in India to “protect” religions and religious persons at times threaten the practice and expression of diverse religious perspectives.

Article

How Islam and politics get entangled with each other is a remarkable topic of interest. Islam’s relationship with politics is a highly remarkable topic of interest. Islam’s inception as a religion in the 7th century was a historical event that signified the emergence of a powerful, Arab-Muslim empire on the world scene. The trajectory of the relationship between Islam—as a normative ideal that is constantly interpreted by its followers—and politics—in the form of authority structures, public policies, international relations, or everyday political relations with the government, communities, or society—is complex. The convoluted relationship between Islam and politics can be studied on multiple layers. First, by looking at the normative sources, chiefly the verses in the Qur’an and the earliest narratives about the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions (Sahaba; i.e., the hadith) and major historical events that set precedents, such as the first caliphate controversy and the Karbala Massacre (680). Together, these sources form the foundation of Islamic political vocabulary and set the parameters of the ongoing discourse on legitimate Muslim modes of behavior in politics. Second, the historical trajectory of the relationship between religion and politics manifested itself in premodern Muslim-dominant contexts. These manifestations are sought within the complex web of relations among the followers of sects, schools of thought, and among different religious classes, nobility, and governments, who contested the religious and political space. When a sense of political, cultural, and intellectual siege by the people of European descent, dubbed collectively as the “West,” dominated Muslim-majority societies and cultures, earlier patterns and constellations underwent serious transformations. Revivalist and reformist trends are crucial elements of these changing patterns. Corollary to these trends are Muslims’ indigenization of European ideologies such as liberalism, socialism, and nationalism in addition to their own formulation of Islamism as a political ideology. Finally, the relationship between religion and politics as conceived in Muslim thought from the classical age onward is found in scholars’ and thinkers’ political articulations of Islam in the mirror of the princes literature, theological works, philosophical treatises, political jurisprudence literature, also known as fiqh al-siyasah or al-siyasah al-shar’iyyah, and ethical treatises. Apart from the foundational texts and interpretive communities of the past, whether motivated by Islam or not, social and political actors in Muslim-majority societies, whether democratic masses or political elite, have reconceived the relationship between Islam and politics and redefined what Islam means politically. Ultimately, this relationship is constantly renegotiated by all those involved within this nexus of theory and praxis.

Article

The Gülen movement is a transnational social movement with presence in more than 120 countries. The movement emerged out of Turkey’s informal Islamic sector in the 1960s and combined elements of Turkish patriotism, Islamic revivalism, Sufi mysticism, interfaith outreach, activist pietism, and conservative modernism. The initial focus on faith-based community-building gave way to a broader “presence movement” in the public sphere. The movement is organized around clusters of non-governmental institutions, including schools, tutoring centers, universities, business associations, community organizations, humanitarian aid, healthcare, and media outlets. Its organizational structure resembles concentric circles of volunteerism with varying degrees of commitment and contribution, with a core of dedicated full-time “elders” (abi/abla) and more specialized contributions in the periphery. Despite its transnational presence and growth, the structure of the movement retained its reliance on the charismatic authority of the movement’s founder, Fethullah Gülen, and a core group of the elders. The participants call the movement simply the hizmet (service), emphasizing its functions as opposed to its identity or leadership. As the community evolved from its early Muslim restorationist identity in the Turkish periphery, it has gradually widened its appeal, incorporated an increasingly universal-humanist language, and achieved a considerable global reach since the 1990s. The movement found a niche in interfaith/intercultural dialogue activism in the public sphere and allied itself with other civil society actors in various countries. The movement schools and services assumed bridge-building roles across ethnic and religious lines in divided and conflict-prone developing countries. These peace-building and civil society–organizing roles in turn helped the movement mobilize its members and promote its legitimacy in the public sphere, and offered layers of protection against its opponents. In Turkey, however, the movement became much more entangled in the state bureaucracy and politics, turning its civil society–based service profile into a controversial organization. Despite achieving a high-profile public presence, the movement’s politics remained informal, its positions on social and political issues vague, and its structure amorphous for much of its existence until the mid-2000s. The changing balance of power between Turkey’s Kemalist state establishment and the Islamists under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) offered a major opportunity for the Gülen movement to increase its access to power between 2007 and 2013. Many affiliates of the movement assumed key positions in the Turkish bureaucracy and the business world. During this period, the AKP gradually dismantled the Kemalist establishment. However, instead of a liberal democratic order, the “new” post-Kemalist Turkey witnessed a power struggle between the former allies. The mistrust between the Gülen movement and the AKP ultimately led to an all-out war, with battles around high-stakes corruption and graft investigations against the AKP government, followed by mass purges of Gülenists from the bureaucracy and crackdown on its economic and human resources, and finalized by criminalization of all movement activities after a coup attempt that implicated Gülenists in the military. The Turkish government extended its crackdown abroad and pressured other countries to declare the movement as a terrorist organization, shut down or transfer its schools, and extradite its leadership to Turkey, with mixed success. The movement is challenged by the conflicting imperatives of self-preservation under existential threats and the need for critical reflection on its relationship with power. It is likely to experience a period of soul searching while its center of gravity shifts away from Turkey. An integrated approach from social movement theory sheds light on how motives, means, and opportunities account for the rise and decline of the Gülen movement, with implications for Islam and modernity, religion and democratization, and state-society relations.