Religion is as old as humanity: Bianchi

TEHRAN, Nov. 05 (MNA) – Robert R. Bianchi, a Professor at the University of Chicago, believes that “religion is as old as humanity. It predates the appearance of states and nations and has always influenced their ideals, behaviors, and self-images.”

Professor Bianchi, who also teaches at the Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), adds, “in every civilization, people have sought to define proper relations with one another and the natural environment in terms they saw as universal and eternal.”

Following is the complete text of the interview:

When have religious issues been important in theorizing about International Relations?

Religion is as old as humanity. It predates the appearance of states and nations and has always influenced their ideals, behaviors, and self-images. In every civilization, people have sought to define proper relations with one another and the natural environment in terms they saw as universal and eternal. These efforts have yielded a rich and constantly evolving global conversation about virtue, justice, fairness, balance, harmony, the worthy life, and the good society. Religion creates an unseen authority above human power that all leaders must respect if they hope to claim legitimacy in the judgment of society and history. Rulers and regimes flourish or perish depending on whether they uphold or violate the principles of the great religions no matter how modern or secular they wish to be.

Some argue that if a theory of International Relations means a constitutive and critical theory, then bringing religion into International Relations is possible. But if a theory of International Relations is an explanatory and empirical theory, then injecting religion into International Relations is not possible and, in fact, there is no theory of theological positivism in International Relations. What is your opinion?

These limits on human authority are as important in today’s world of nation-states as they were in previous eras dominated by tribes and cities or empires and confederations. The norms we now regard as international law and global ethics are the living legacy of religious traditions that are older than recorded history. Human rights, environmental preservation, social justice, peaceful development—all of the key forces propelling current global political movements and treaty agreements derive from and express the higher authority of sacred values.   

Some scholars such as “Michael Allen Gillespie” in the book “The Theological Origins of Modernity” believe that modernity was not initially against religion, and in later years, as a result of social, cultural and political conditions, it led to secularism. Based on this conception, religion is not conflict with modernity, so can it be said that religion does not conflict with the International Relations theory stemming from modernity?

Threats to religious principles arise not only from people who willfully violate them or dismiss them as superstition but from pious pretenders who try to manipulate them for selfish purposes. Leaders who rely on religion are constantly tempted to overplay their hand. Those who claim to rule in the name of religion lose legitimacy when they use power to suppress their opponents, to take advantage of the weak or to benefit the privileged. The political abuse of religion inspires a revival of popular determination to pursue the universal ideals of protecting all segments of society, including future generations. When a ruling elite or religious caste tries to monopolize religious authority, they destroy their own legitimacy and empower the defenders of tolerance who want to restore freedom of debate over the proper meaning and practice of religion. Using religion to bolster human authority is self-defeating precisely because sacred values stem from a higher power that demands everyone’s respect no matter how strong or wealthy they are. If rulers place themselves too far above other men and women, they risk acting like gods and inviting rebellion instead of obedience.

Some argue that current International Relations theory cannot explain some of the current phenomena of international relations and we need a religious theory of International Relations, especially with regard to religious issues. What is your opinion? In general, is theorizing about religion in International Relations feasible? If theorizing about religion in International Relations is possible, can a religious theory of International Relations explain all the unresolved issues and problems?

There is no correct religious perspective on world politics: all religions can claim a rightful role in shaping global ethics and international relations. Members of a particular faith or faction must avoid trying to impose their views on others. No Islamic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, Jewish, African or aboriginal theory can be taken seriously in a pluralistic and interconnected global community. Everyone can try to articulate universal principles, but no one has the right to declare the conversation closed.

Interviewed by Javad Heirannia

MNA/TT

News Code 139350

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