Religious nationalism, or the fusion of religious and national identities and goals, is an increasingly salient aspect of nationalism. Rather than secular nationalism simply replacing religious identities and allegiances, religious and national identities coexist and even reinforce each other. Such religious nationalism becomes a powerful force in buttressing popular religiosity and attitudes, empowers religious organizations in influencing policy across a wide range of domains, and shapes the patterns of inter- and intra-state violence. The two implications of these findings are that we should invest in better measures and operationalization of religious nationalism and reconsider the logics of state- and nation-building.
Recent scholarly attention to religious establishment can be understood as a response to the crisis of secularization theory and the apparent return of religion to global politics. As a category, religious establishment represents a concrete instance of the religious touching the political, which political scientists can systematically measure and analyze to qualify the nature of religion’s return to global politics. Theoretical advances in the conceptualization of religious establishment as a combination of various policies of government regulation and favoritism of religion, in addition to the creation of cross-national databases to measure these policies, has led scholars to rediscover and categorize a broad range of patterns of religious establishment across the globe. Furthermore, these advances in conceptualization and data collection have enabled scholars to produce new political science research on the relationship between religious establishment and patterns of national religious life; cross-national levels of democracy; and the probability of political violence. Several hidden threads bind much of this scholarship together, including implicit assumptions made about normative debates on the meaning of religious liberty, as well as historical patterns of state formation. By explicitly recognizing these assumptions and linking them to future research agendas, political science scholarship on religious establishment is well placed to advance debates on the contemporary role of religion in global politics.
Despite international guarantees to respect religious freedom, governments around the world often impose substantial restrictions on the abilities of some religious groups to openly practice their faith. These regulations on religious freedom are often justified to promote social stability. However, research has demonstrated a positive correlation between restrictions on religious freedom and religious violence. This violence is often thought to be a result of grievances arising from the denial of a religious group’s right to openly practice its faith. These grievances encourage violence by (a) encouraging a sense of common group identity, (b) encouraging feelings of hostility toward groups imposing those regulations, and (c) facilitating the mobilization of religious resources for political violence.
Islamist parties in Pakistan are theologically diverse but grouped as such because of their belief in the state enforcement of religious law (shariah). While they have only achieved modest levels of electoral success, the country’s Islamist parties are considered important due to their ability to mobilize street power, lobby the state and judiciary from outside of parliament, and serve as key electoral allies of mainstream parties. In addition, these Islamist electoral groups employ a range of violence strategies. Many of these parties maintain militant wings, possess linkages with extremist Islamist outfits, and/or engage in violent politics on university campuses through their affiliated student groups. Existing literature suggests that violence by political parties has certain electoral benefits. First, it serves a coercive function, by intimidating voters to stay home on election day or compelling them to vote a certain way. Second, it can serve to polarize the populace along identity-based lines. However, given the limited success of Islamist parties in elections, it seems unlikely that their involvement in violence serves only an electoral purpose. In particular, much of the parties’ violent activity seems, at least at first glance, unrelated to electoral activity. Why, then, do Islamist parties utilize violence? Violence wielded by Islamist parties in Pakistan serves three functions. First, Islamist electoral groups are able to leverage their unique position as a part of the system with close linkages to militant actors outside of it to effectively pressure the state on a range of policy matters. That is, violence works to advance the party’s strategic goal of lobbying the government from outside of the legislative system. Second, the use of violence serves an ideological function by, for example, targeting specific sects and minority groups, fighting Western influence, and supporting the liberation struggle in Kashmir. The use of violence also helps prove to ideologically aligned militant actors that the parties are on “their side.” Finally, the use of violence can also serve purely electoral purposes. Like other identity-based parties, making salient a particular schism at opportune times can work to increase one’s own vote bank at the expense of other secular parties.