Situating the "Secular": Negotiating the Boundary between Religion and Politics
Political Science and International Affairs
In recent decades, scholars in the field of international relations (IR) have increasingly paid attention to issues of religion—often linked to "civilizational" and "cultural" identities. The IR field at large unconsciously assumes, however, that there is a "secular""norm" against which the "religious" dimensions of IR can be analyzed or compared. Western IR scholars often take the "secular" for granted, rarely considering how the boundaries of the "secular" are defined and deployed in scholarship and policy. Building on decades of debate over "secularization theory" by sociologists of religion (see Hadden 1987; Chaves 1994; Stark 1999; Cox 2000), William E Connolly's (1999) critique of "secularism," and Elizabeth Shakman Hurd's (2004, 2007) examination of secularist assumptions in IR theory, this article suggests that defining secularism as a political negotiation over the accepted role of religion in public life rather than as an a priori category (Hurd 2004; Goldstone 2007) has methodological and theoretical consequences to which IR scholars and policy makers, particularly those interested in issues of democratization and religious fundamentalism should pay attention. Using illustrations from the Middle East—a current focal point for debate on both democratization and religious fundamentalism—this article builds on the secularization debate to suggest that IR scholarship treating the "secular" and "religious" as opposing categories obscures more than it explains in terms of analyzing the role of religion in contemporary Middle Eastern politics.
International Political Sociology
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