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Overview

Conflicts involving religion have returned to the forefront of international relations. And yet political scientists and policymakers have continued to assume that religion has long been privatized in the West. This secularist assumption ignores the contestation surrounding the category of the "secular" in international politics. The Politics of Secularism in International Relations shows why this thinking is flawed, and provides a powerful alternative.

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd argues that secularist divisions between religion and politics are not fixed, as commonly assumed, but socially and historically constructed. Examining the philosophical and historical legacy of the secularist traditions that shape European and American approaches to global politics, she shows why this matters for contemporary international relations, and in particular for two critical relationships: the United States and Iran, and the European Union and Turkey.

The Politics of Secularism in International Relations develops a new approach to religion and international relations that challenges realist, liberal, and constructivist assumptions that religion has been excluded from politics in the West. The first book to consider secularism as a form of political authority in its own right, it describes two forms of secularism and their far-reaching global consequences.

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Editorial Reviews

International Affairs
[T]his is a useful and provocative work that should be read carefully. Its analysis should be applied to other contexts, because without an adequate understanding of religion—or even of our own misconceptions about religion—we will continue to mismanage our relations with states and communities shaped in part by faith identities.
— John Anderson
Journal of Politics and Religion
There is much to like about this exhaustively researched book. Its innovative argument calls on those who study the relationship of religion to international relations to rethink how they view their subject at the most fundamental level. I would recommend it to anyone doing research in this field, especially those working on the responses of the West to political Islam.
— Patrick Callahan
Turkish Journal of Islamic Studies
Elizabeth Hurd presents a valuable analysis that . . . contains a wide bibliography, makes use of interdisciplinary theoretical insights, and illuminates contemporary political events.
— Ali Yasar Sanbay
Journal of Peace Research - Ragnhild Nordas
This book is a timely and sobering discussion of important theoretical, as well as practical, issues of IR theorizing and how religion relates to politics in general. It is a first-rate read and can be recommended to all scholars interested in the interplay of religion and politics.
H-Net Reviews - Dianne Kirby
Hurd has produced a timely and compelling book that will be of interest to a wide range of scholars well beyond the discipline of international relations theory.
Political Studies Review - Hakki Tas
Hurd's study deserves praise for its original slant on the role of secularism in international relations. Its rich and well-written discussion in both case studies will also attract academics in related areas.
International Affairs - John Anderson
[T]his is a useful and provocative work that should be read carefully. Its analysis should be applied to other contexts, because without an adequate understanding of religion—or even of our own misconceptions about religion—we will continue to mismanage our relations with states and communities shaped in part by faith identities.
Journal of Politics and Religion - Patrick Callahan
There is much to like about this exhaustively researched book. Its innovative argument calls on those who study the relationship of religion to international relations to rethink how they view their subject at the most fundamental level. I would recommend it to anyone doing research in this field, especially those working on the responses of the West to political Islam.
Turkish Journal of Islamic Studies - Ali Yasar Sanbay
Elizabeth Hurd presents a valuable analysis that . . . contains a wide bibliography, makes use of interdisciplinary theoretical insights, and illuminates contemporary political events.
Journal of Peace Research - Ragnhild Nordås
This book is a timely and sobering discussion of important theoretical, as well as practical, issues of IR theorizing and how religion relates to politics in general. It is a first-rate read and can be recommended to all scholars interested in the interplay of religion and politics.
From the Publisher
Co-Winner of the 2011 Hubert Morken Award for the Best Publication in Religion and Politics, Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association

"This book is a timely and sobering discussion of important theoretical, as well as practical, issues of IR theorizing and how religion relates to politics in general. It is a first-rate read and can be recommended to all scholars interested in the interplay of religion and politics."—Ragnhild Nordås, Journal of Peace Research

"Hurd has produced a timely and compelling book that will be of interest to a wide range of scholars well beyond the discipline of international relations theory."—Dianne Kirby, H-Net Reviews

"Hurd's study deserves praise for its original slant on the role of secularism in international relations. Its rich and well-written discussion in both case studies will also attract academics in related areas."—Hakki Tas, Political Studies Review

"[T]his is a useful and provocative work that should be read carefully. Its analysis should be applied to other contexts, because without an adequate understanding of religion—or even of our own misconceptions about religion—we will continue to mismanage our relations with states and communities shaped in part by faith identities."—John Anderson, International Affairs

"There is much to like about this exhaustively researched book. Its innovative argument calls on those who study the relationship of religion to international relations to rethink how they view their subject at the most fundamental level. I would recommend it to anyone doing research in this field, especially those working on the responses of the West to political Islam."—Patrick Callahan, Journal of Politics and Religion

"Elizabeth Hurd presents a valuable analysis that . . . contains a wide bibliography, makes use of interdisciplinary theoretical insights, and illuminates contemporary political events."—Ali Yasar Sanbay, Turkish Journal of Islamic Studies

Journal of Peace Research
This book is a timely and sobering discussion of important theoretical, as well as practical, issues of IR theorizing and how religion relates to politics in general. It is a first-rate read and can be recommended to all scholars interested in the interplay of religion and politics.
— Ragnhild Nordås
H-Net Reviews
Hurd has produced a timely and compelling book that will be of interest to a wide range of scholars well beyond the discipline of international relations theory.
— Dianne Kirby
Political Studies Review
Hurd's study deserves praise for its original slant on the role of secularism in international relations. Its rich and well-written discussion in both case studies will also attract academics in related areas.
— Hakki Tas
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd is assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University.

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Read an Excerpt

The Politics of Secularism in International Relations
By Elizabeth Shakman Hurd Princeton University Press
Copyright © 2007
Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-13007-1


Chapter One RELIGION IS A PROBLEM in the field of international relations at two distinct levels. First, in recent years religious fundamentalism and religious difference have emerged as crucial factors in international conflict, national security, and foreign policy. This development has come as a surprise to many scholars and practitioners. Much contemporary foreign policy, especially in the United States, is being quickly rewritten to account for this change. Second, the power of this religious resurgence in world politics does not fit into existing categories of thought in academic international relations. Conventional understandings of international relations, focused on material capabilities and strategic interaction, exclude from the start the possibility that religion could be a fundamental organizing force in the international system.

This book argues that these two problems are facets of a single underlying phenomenon: the unquestioned acceptance of the secularist division between religion and politics. Standard privatization and differentiation accounts of religion and politics need to be reexamined. Secularism needs to be analyzed as a form of political authority in its own right, and its consequences evaluated for international relations. This is the objective of this book. My centralmotivating question is how, why, and in what ways does secular political authority form part of the foundation of contemporary international relations theory and practice, and what are the political consequences of this authority in international relations? I argue, first, that the secularist division between religion and politics is not fixed but rather socially and historically constructed; second, that the failure to recognize this explains why students of international relations have been unable to properly recognize the power of religion in world politics; and, finally, that overcoming this problem allows a better understanding of crucial empirical puzzles in international relations, including the conflict between the United States and Iran, controversy over the enlargement of the European Union to include Turkey, the rise of political Islam, and the broader religious resurgence both in the United States and elsewhere.

This argument makes four contributions to international relations theory. First, secularism is an example of what Barnett and Duvall describe as "productive power" in international relations, defined as "the socially diffuse production of subjectivity in systems of meaning and signification." Secularism is a form of productive power that "inheres in structures and discourses that are not possessed or controlled by any single actor." The issue, then, is not the attitude of individual social scientists toward religion and politics (though this is also an interesting subject) but the "ideological conditions that give point and force to the theoretical apparatuses employed to describe and objectify" the secular and the religious. These theoretical apparatuses are identified in this book as laicism and Judeo-Christian secularism. These traditions of secularism are collective dispositions that shape modern sensibilities, habits, and beliefs regarding the secular and the religious. Secular theory and practice are given equal footing here in accordance with MacIntyre's argument that "there ought not to be two histories, one of political and moral action and one of political and moral theorizing, because there were not two pasts, one populated only by actions, the other only by theories. Every action is the bearer and expression of more or less theory-laden beliefs and concepts; every piece of theorizing and every expression of belief is a political and moral action."

Second, this book examines the connections between secularist tradition and contemporary forms of nationalism. As Anthony Marx has argued, "despite denials and formal commitments to liberal secularism, the glue of religious exclusion as a basis for domestic national unity has still not been fully abandoned." Taking Marx's argument about religious exclusion and national unity as a starting point, I shift the focus from religion and toward the ways in which modern forms of secularism have been consolidated both through and against religion as bases of unity and identity in ways that are often exclusionary. Like Asad, I am interested in "how certain practices, concepts, and sensibilities have helped to organize, in different places and different times, political arrangements called secularism" and how these arrangements inflect modern forms of national identification.

Third, this book challenges the separation of the domestic and international spheres by illustrating how individual states and suprastate actors construct their interests and identities. As Wæver suggests, "it seems that constructivism has for contingent reasons started out working mostly at the systemic level," and there is a need to consider the "benefits of the opposite direction." In his critique of Wendt's exclusive focus on systemic-level factors, Ringmar argues that "a theory of the construction of identities and interests is radically incomplete as long as it views individuals and collective entities only from the perspective of the system." Referring to the work of Lynch and Barnett, Saideman describes "the power of constructivist theorizing when domestic politics is made a central part of the story." This focus on the domestic angle counters a tendency in international relations theory, identified by Hall in his study of the systemic consequences of national collective identity, to "relegate domestic-societal interaction, sources of conflict, or societal cohesiveness (such as ethnic, religious, or other domestic sources) to the status of epiphenomena." Situated at the interface of domestic and international politics, this book contributes to the attempt to redress this structural and systemic bias in international relations theory by demonstrating how shared interests, identities, and understandings involving religion and politics developed at the domestic and regional levels become influential at the systemic level. To paraphrase Hall, my objective is to "uncover the consequences of [secularist] collective identity ... in the modern era within a framework that results in a useful correction to an existing body of theoretical literature." In the process, I explore the cultural and normative foundations of modern international relations.

Fourth, this book presents an alternative to the assumption that religion is a private affair. This assumption is common in realist, liberal, and most constructivist international relations theory. Conventional wisdom has it that between 1517 and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 religion mattered in European politics. Since Westphalia, however, religion has been largely privatized. The idea behind this "Westphalian presumption" is that religion had to be marginalized, privatized, or overcome by a cosmopolitan ethic to secure international order. One result of this presumption is that in most accounts of international relations "religion is thus essentially peripheral, and reflection on international politics is pursued as if it concerned an autonomous space that is not fundamentally disturbed by its presence." I argue that authoritative forms of secularism that dominate modern politics are themselves contingent social constructions influenced by both so-called secular and religious assumptions about ethics, metaphysics, and politics. From this perspective, not only is religion on its way back into international relations-it never really departed. The conventional understanding that religion was fully privatized in 1648 appears as another dimension of what Teschke has described as the "myth of 1648." As Taylor argues, "the origin point of modern Western secularism was the Wars of Religion; or rather, the search in battle-fatigue and horror for a way out of them. The need was felt for a ground of coexistence for Christians of different confessional persuasions." If Westphalia signaled both a dramatic break from the past and "a consolidation and codification of a new conception of political authority" that was secular and also deeply Christian, then perhaps contemporary international relations is witnessing the gradual emergence of a series of post-Westphalian, postsecular conceptions of religiopolitical authority. These developments, combined with the Christian dimensions of the original Westphalian settlement, make it difficult to subsume international relations into realist and liberal frameworks that operate on the assumption that religion is irrelevant to state behavior. In some ways, we are back to Europe in 1517. In other ways, we never left.

STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK

The politics of secularism has gone virtually unacknowledged in political science. The consensus surrounding secularism in the social sciences has been "such that not only did the theory remain uncontested but apparently it was not even necessary to test it, since everybody took it for granted." As Keddie suggests, "questions of control and of power ... all too rarely enter the discussions of secularism." In international relations and foreign policy, the politics of secularism have been sidelined, as Brooks observes:

Our foreign policy elites...go for months ignoring the force of religion; then, when confronted with something inescapably religious, such as the Iranian revolution or the Taliban, they begin talking of religious zealotry and fanaticism, which suddenly explains everything. After a few days of shaking their heads over the fanatics, they revert to their usual secular analyses. We do not yet have, and sorely need, a mode of analysis that attempts to merge the spiritual and the material.

To approach secularism as a discursive tradition and form of political authority is neither to justify it nor to argue for what Mahmood describes as "some irreducible essentialism or cultural relativism." It is instead "to take a necessary step toward explaining the force that a discourse commands." As Chatterjee argues, "the task is to trace in their mutually conditioned historicities the specific forms that have appeared, on the one hand, in the domain defined by the hegemonic project of [secular] modernity, and on the other, in the numerous fragmented resistances to that normalizing project." This also involves an attempt to forge "the link between collective identities and the institutional forms of collective action derived from those identities."

This book is structured around three sets of arguments that develop and illustrate my overarching claim that the traditions of secularism described here are an important source of political authority in international relations. Chapters 2 and 3 discuss the constitution of these forms of secularist authority and their relationship to religion. While on the one hand secularism emerged out of and remains indebted to both the Enlightenment critique of religion and Judeo-Christian tradition (chapter 2), on the other hand it has been constituted and reproduced through opposition to particular representations of Islam (chapter 3). Chapter 4 introduces domestic Turkish and Iranian renegotiations of the secular. Chapters 5 and 6 demonstrate how secularism contributes to political outcomes in international relations between the West and the Middle East. Understanding relations between Europe, the United States, and the countries of the Middle East and North Africa requires accounting not only for the geopolitical and material circumstances of the states involved but also for the social and cultural context within which international politics unfolds. This context is shaped by the politics of secularism. Chapters 7 and 8 describe the implications of my argument for attempts to theorize political Islam and religious resurgence.

Chapters 2 and 3 introduce the history and politics of the secularist traditions described in this book, their relationship to religion, and their implications for international relations theory and practice. Chapter 2 describes the history of secularism and its relation to both the Enlightenment critique of religion and Judeo-Christian tradition. I argue that two trajectories of secularism, or two strategies for managing the relationship between religion and politics, are influential in international relations: laicism and Judeo-Christian secularism. The former refers to a separationist narrative in which religion is expelled from politics, and the latter to a more accommodationist narrative in which Judeo-Christian tradition is the unique basis of secular democracy.

These forms of secularism are discursive traditions. They each defend some form of the separation of church and state but in different ways and with different justifications and different political effects. Both aspire to what Casanova refers to as the "core and central thesis of the theory of secularization": the functional differentiation of the secular and the religious spheres. Laicism, however, also adopts two corollaries to this differentiation argument, advocating the privatization and, in some cases, the decline or elimination of religious belief and practice altogether. These two varieties of secularism take us some distance toward understanding the assumptions about religion and politics that underlie theory and practice in international relations. They help to explain the practices and lived traditions that are associated with contemporary forms of secularism. As LeVine and Salvatore argue, "the most dynamic core of a tradition resides ... not in codified procedures or established institutions, but rather in the anthropologically and sociologically more complex level of the 'living tradition,' which overlaps more institutionally grounded levels yet is nurtured by social practice."

With its origins in the French term laïcité, the objective of laicism is to create a neutral public space in which religious belief, practices, and institutions have lost their political significance, fallen below the threshold of political contestation, or been pushed into the private sphere. The mixing of religion and politics is regarded as irrational and dangerous. For modernization to take hold, religion must be separated from politics. In order to democratize, it is essential to secularize. Either a country is prodemocracy, pro-Western, and secular, or it is religious, tribal, and theocratic. Laicism adopts and expresses a pretense of neutrality regarding the assumption that a fixed and final separation between religion and politics is both possible and desirable. This makes it difficult for those who have been shaped by and draw upon this tradition to see the limitations of their own conceptions of religion and politics. In other words, laicism presents itself as having risen above the messy debate over religion and politics, standing over and outside the melee in a neutral space of its own creation. The politics of laicism is more complex than is suggested by this alleged resolution.

The second tradition of secularism that is influential in the international relations literature emphasizes the role of Christianity, and more recently Judeo-Christianity, as the foundation for secular public order and democratic political institutions. Unlike laicism, what I call Judeo-Christian secularism does not attempt to expel religion, or at least Judeo-Christianity, from public life. It does not present the religious-secular divide as a clean, essentialized, and bifurcated relationship, as in laicism. This form of secularism therefore seems counterintuitive, at least at first. It corresponds only in part with Berger's authoritative definition of secularization as "the process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols." For in this second trajectory of secularism, Euro-American secular public life is securely grounded in a larger Christian, and later Judeo-Christian, civilization. This is a Tocquevillian approach to secularism in which "Christianity does not need to be invoked that often because it is already inscribed in the prediscursive dispositions and cultural instincts of the civilization." Judeo-Christian dispositions and cultural instincts are perceived to have culminated in and contributed to the unique Western achievement of the separation of church and state. In this tradition, "separation of church and state functions to soften sectarian divisions between Christian sects while retaining the civilizational hegemony of Christianity in a larger sense." Although sectors of Western society and culture have been partially removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols à la Berger, political order in the West remains firmly grounded in a common set of core values with their roots in Latin Christendom.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Politics of Secularism in International Relations by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd
Copyright © 2007 by Princeton University Press . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
CHAPTER ONE: Introduction 1
CHAPTER TWO: Varieties of Secularism 23
CHAPTER THREE: Secularism and Islam 46
CHAPTER FOUR: Contested Secularisms in Turkey and Iran 65
CHAPTER FIVE: The European Union and Turkey 84
CHAPTER SIX: The United States and Iran 102
CHAPTER SEVEN: Political Islam 116
CHAPTER EIGHT: Religious Resurgence 134
CHAPTER NINE: Conclusion 147
Notes 155
Select Bibliography 213
Index 237

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