Theorizing about religion has been one of the core areas inquiry in IR: Peter Haas

TEHRAN, Apr. 30 (MNA) – Peter M. Haas, a professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst says that the crux of the argument about secular and religious states in IR is still seen as the conflict between animating pressures on people: religious, post religious, secular.

Karl Deutsch Visiting Professor at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin adds that “While there is no singular theory of religion, religion is meaningfully studied as a form of cultural analysis.”

He also adds “Theorizing about religion has always been one of the core areas inquiry in IR.”

Following is the full text of the interview:

When have been the religious issues a matter of great in Theorizing of International Relations?

Theorizing about religion has always been one of the core areas inquiry in IR.  Modern IR emerged out of the 1548 Treaty of Westphalia and the corresponding toppling of the authority of the Catholic Church over domestic politics in Western Europe. 

As the legacy of the Treaty of Westphalia, the secular state has always been a normative feature and aspiration of the international system, although the degree of conformity with the secular state has varied over time and extent.  For instance, currently religion seems to trump the secular state in Israel and Saudi Arabia; religion is in an ongoing contest with secular orientations in Turkey and Iran; different spaces are assigned to religious and secular rules in Japan, China and the USA; and secular beliefs prevail over religious ones in France, the UK, and Russia.

Theorists of authority in world politics continue to heed changes in religious beliefs, religious discourses and the politics of religion as they affect broader attitudes about political authority in the world. For instance, Ron Hassner examines the impact of religious ideas, symbols and practices on military decision making in 20th century wars. (Hassner 2016)

Some argue that if the theory of International Relations means a constitutive and critical theory, then bringing religion into International Relations is possible, but if the theory of International Relations is an explanatory-empirical theory, the theorizing religion in International Relations is not possible and, in fact, there is not theological positivism theory in International Relations. What is your opinion?

We can understand the question of whether religion matters in IR in more general constructivist terms about how and when different types of beliefs influence human action.  Constructivist literature focuses empirically on normative or principled ideas by the NGO and norm entrepreneur communities; and on causal ideas by the epistemic community’s community; and on broader cultural values, including religion. 

A wide and broadly applied set of questions and concepts look at differential national and global patterns of beliefs:  namely who believes what and how strongly, and what are the behavioral and identity implications of such beliefs. Despite Stalin’s perfunctory dismissal of the influence of religion

when he quipped “how many divisions does the Pope have,” Stalin and most other social analysts have not been blind to the role played by social beliefs in political organizing.  Religion, and other social dogma (environmentalism, sustainability, and nationalism, among others) have been analytically important for identify politics.  Consider the religious affiliations of European political parties and the willingness of their members to approve cooperation and partnerships with other groups.

Through the conceptual reconfiguration described above, religion is no different from other social beliefs that provide guidance to group members.  Indeed, the relative turn against religious authority in the West (and to some extent in China) was due to an intentional effort to subvert and counter the political authority and legitimacy of dynastic, religious and monarchic power from the 17th century on. 

But it cannot be emphasized strongly enough that not all religions are the same.  They vary in terms of their orthodoxy, discipline over members and their degree of presumed superiority over sects or other religions.  Thus the degree and nature of effects of religious beliefs varies by the beliefs themselves. For instance, Confucianism provides far less detailed guidance to its members than do varieties of Islam or Judaism, just as varieties of Islam and Judaism vary in their own degree of permissive doctrines for their members. 

Fruitful research might take the form of comparative panel studies of religions to capture variation between ideological perspectives, akin to the work which Ernst B Haas conducted on nationalist beliefs (Haas 1997; Haas 2000). In greater sync with contemporary sensibilities, researchers should look at the contestation and dialogues between religions and religious figures.  Work on norm entrepreneurs (Finnemore and Sikkink 1998) may be relevant for understanding the development and diffusion of doctrinal beliefs and their impacts.

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 has led to secularism. So Based on this conception, religion is not conflict with modernity, so can it be said that religion is not conflict with the International Relations theory stemming from modernity?

I do not regard religion nor modernity as singular entities, or even coherent discourses.  There are multiple types of religions, with different beliefs and different degrees of binding consequences of those beliefs on behavior, identity and with whom one may meaningfully cooperate.  Similarly modernity began as a set of Enlightenment beliefs intended to undermine the historical influence of religion (Weber 1958; Hirschman 1977; Toulmin 1990; Mann 1993)

A current macro-topic is how changes in religious belief and the resurgence of forms of fundamentalism worldwide influence modernity.  To what extent is climate denialism and the assault on the authority of scientific legitimacy possibly a consequence of changes in religious beliefs?

Some argue that the 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, theorizing Religion in International Relations is feasible?

The crux of the argument about secular and religious states in IR is still seen as the conflict between animating pressures on people:  religious, post religious, secular.  While there is no singular theory of religion, religion is meaningfully studied as a form of cultural analysis, such as Peter J. Katzenstein’s series of edited works on comparative civilizations. (Katzenstein 2010)

Finnemore, M. and K. Sikkink (1998). "International Norm Dynamics and Political Change." IO 52(4).

Haas, E. B. (1997). Nationalism, Liberalism, and Progress. Ithaca, NY, Cornell.

Haas, E. B. (2000). Nationalism, Liberalism and Progress. Ithaca, Cornell.

Hassner, R. (2016). Religion on the Battlefield. Ithaca, Cornell.

Hirschman, A. O. (1977). The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph. Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Katzenstein, P., Ed. (2010). Civilizations in World Politics. Ithaca, Cornell University.

Mann, M. E. (1993). The Sources of Social Power. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Toulmin, S. (1990). Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernization. New York, Free Press.

Weber, M. (1958). Bureaucracy. From Max Weber:  Essays in Sociology. H. H. Gerth and C. W. Mills. New York, Oxford University Press: 196-244.


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