Politics and Religion: An Overview
POLITICS AND RELIGION: AN OVERVIEW
In his autobiographical account, Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948) made the now famous observation that "those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is" (Gandhi, 1940, p. 371). The history of twentieth-century India—and, indeed, the entire modern world—would surely seem to have confirmed the mahatma's statement, as religion has clearly emerged as a powerful force inspiring nationalist identity, anti-colonial movements for independence, and revolutionary violence. While many sociologists had predicted that religion would gradually wane as a cultural force in the face of the increasing rationalization and "disenchantment" of the modern world, it would seem that quite the opposite has occurred. Since the mid-twentieth century, religion has re-emerged as a powerful, often violent and revolutionary force, with profound implications for global politics, social structure and transnational economics. The 1979 Shīʿī revolution in Iran, the rise of liberation theology in South America, the political success of Hindu fundamentalism in India, the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo, the ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine, the attacks on the World Trade Center Towers in 2001, and the rise of various forms of religious nationalism throughout the globe all offer ample evidence that religion has by no means become a minor force on the periphery of global political and economic issues. On the contrary, it is often at the heart of them.
One could, however, go a great deal further than Gandhi's assertion of the intimate relation between the religious and political realms. For the very idea of separating the terms politics and religion is itself a fairly recent invention, since these are both in a sense "imagined" categories that are largely the product of the European Enlightenment and the rise of modern Western nations. Just as European intellectuals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries began to "imagine religion" as a distinct and bounded category of human activity (Smith, 1982), so too, they began to imagine the separation between religious and political domains as a necessary condition for a rational, secular society. Rejecting the religious hegemony of the medieval Catholic Church, and recoiling from the wars of religion that tore Europe apart after the Protestant Reformation, many Enlightenment philosophers like John Locke insisted upon a separation of religious belief and political power as a necessary precondition for a rationally ordered civil society. Consequently, in the eyes of most European scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, cultures that had not yet risen to this level of rational society were typically regarded as either "primitive" (i.e., most non-industrial indigenous traditions) or rooted in a despotic confusion of religion and political power (e.g. Islam).
Yet such a separation often makes little sense when examining non-Western and non-industrialized cultures in which the political and religious spheres are not only closely entwined, but typically indistinguishable. In fact, it is perhaps more accurate to say that the very act of defining religion, by demarcating it as a separate category distinct from social structure, art, economics and other aspects of human activity, is itself an inherently political act. It necessarily entails the questions of what counts as legitimate religion, as opposed to heresy, blasphemy, idolatry, savagery or "primitive" beliefs and practices.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the expansion of European colonialism and the conquest of the Americas, India, Africa and other parts of the world. Just as Western nations were conquering new worlds, they were also categorizing and classifying newly discovered cultures in terms of their beliefs, superstitions and their distance from a rational, modern, "civilized" state. To cite just one of many examples, the rites of most Native American tribes were not initially recognized by U.S. government officials as legitimate religious forms on a par with Christianity or Judaism. Rather, their "primitive" and savage character was a symptom of the Native Americans' need to be governed, converted or simply removed. Many rites, such as the Sun Dance and Ghost Dance were banned altogether. Others, such as the use of peyote as a sacrament, had to be contested legally throughout the twentieth century, facing state prohibitions and congressional bills banning its use, before finally being recognized as a religious rite. Ironically, the use of peyote was only recognized as a legitimate form of religious expression once it was institutionalized in 1918 as the "Native American Church," dedicated "to teach the Christian religion with morality, sobriety, industry, kindly charity and right living"—in other words, with the appearance of something more recognizably "Church-like" in the eyes of the government.
Similar examples can be found throughout the history of the colonization of Africa, South America, and India, where the act of defining "religion" was often intimately bound to political conquest, colonial knowledge and control over indigenous populations. Increasingly since the nineteenth century, moreover, the act of defining religion has also become tied to explicitly political movements, such as religious nationalism (e.g. India, Sri Lanka) and revolutionary extremism (e.g. Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan).
It is therefore perhaps more helpful to use a term like "religio-political power " to refer to the complex ways in which this-worldly relations of power, domination and social control are inevitably intertwined with appeals to otherworldly, transcendent or supra-human sources of authority (Chidester, 1988, p. 2). Even in the contemporary United States—ostensibly founded on a "clear wall of separation between Church and State," and yet still committed to the ideals of "in God we trust" and "one nation under God"—it is not difficult to see complex intersections between the secular and the spiritual in the construction of a collective national identity.
This article will first suggest some basic ways of distinguishing between religious and political power in a practical or provisional way, and then examine seven modern theoretical approaches. Finally, it will outline eight basic modes of interaction between religion and politics, and conclude with some remarks on the role of religio-political power in the context of globalization and transnationalism.
Human and Supra-Human Sources of Authority
Despite the fact that the very idea of separating religion and politics is a relatively recent product of post-Enlightenment European discourse, it is arguably still useful to distinguish between them as a heuristic device or practical tool in order to understand how power works in particular cultures. Various authors have suggested ways of defining and distinguishing the two terms. Perhaps the most common way has been to identify religion and politics, respectively, with the sacred and profane aspects of human experience. Thus, according to historian George Armstrong Kelly, "politics is the ultimate control system of the profane, and religion is the ultimate control system of the sacred" (Douglas and Tipton, 1983, p. 208).
However, perhaps a more nuanced way to understand the distinction between religious and political phenomena lies in the sorts of authority to which they appeal in order to justify their power. In broadest terms, politics could be said to refer to the "network of power relations in society"; it consists of the "lines of authority, instruments of control, strategies of domination, and the enforcement of order that all contribute to a certain distribution of power within a set of social relations" (Chidester, 1988, p. 5). And a key part of political power is the right to exercise violence. Indeed, as Max Weber (1864–1920) observed, the State is simply a community that "claims the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force" and the "'right' to use violence" within a given territory (1946: 78).
What most distinguishes specifically religious forms of discourse from political and other sorts of discourse, however, is their appeal to a particular kind of authority—namely, to a transcendent, supra-human or eternal source of authority believed to lie beyond the temporal, fallible, human realm. "Religion," Bruce Lincoln observes, "…is that discourse whose defining characteristic is its desire to speak of things eternal and transcendent with an authority equally transcendent and eternal" (Lincoln, 1996, p. 225). And this discursive appeal to a supra-human authority is in turn tied to a set of practices, to a community, and to an institution, all of which serve to reproduce and reaffirm this claim to transcendent authority (Lincoln, 2003, p. 6–7). Politics, history, economics, art, and other forms of cultural discourse, conversely, tend to speak in a fallible human voice about this-worldly, temporal and finite affairs; to the degree that they begin to speak with a more than human voice, we could say, they begin to move into the realm of religion.
In most cultures, the religious and political domains are bound in an intimate, symbiotic, but also tense and conflicted relationship. Religious discourse might be said to represent the ultimate motivator, that is, the most persuasive force used to mobilize individual and collective action. With its appeal to supra-human and transcendent authority, religious discourse can lend the ultimate legitimation to temporal political power. Indeed, even Niccolò Machiavelli, in his classic work on political pragmatism, recognized this legitimizing power. Thus he advised that the prince should "appear a man of compassion, a man of good faith, a man of integrity, a kind and a religious man," adding that the last quality is the most important (Machiavelli, 1999, p. 58). In turn, religious institutions typically rely upon the patronage, financial support and physical protection of political powers. Yet at the same time, the supra-human authority of religious discourse can also be invoked to critique, challenge, or subvert the dominant political order; and conversely, the "legitimate violence" of political power can be used to silence, suppress or crush dissident religious voices.
Modern Western Theories of Religion and Politics
Sophisticated reflection on the nature of spiritual and political power is not, of course, a modern phenomenon. Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics in classical Greece, Kauṭilya's's Arthaśāstra in ancient India, the works of Arab theologians in early Islam, the works of medieval theologians like Augustine, Aquinas, Maimonides, etc., all represent serious analyses of the ideal polity and its relation to the divine. Yet the idea of clearly defining religion and politics as two distinct spheres of human activity—spheres that should ideally have as little to with one another as possible—is a relatively modern idea with a history that is itself not free of political implications. Indeed, it was not until the Enlightenment that religion itself emerges as a distinct category in Western discourse and politics emerges as a category against which it is contrasted. The relationship between these two categories has, moreover, been theorized in many different ways over the last 300 years. For the sake of simplicity, six major models will be discussed that have emerged in Western discourse since the Enlightenment.
The European Enlightenment, from Locke to Kant
The European Enlightenment can be read as, among other things, a critique of the powerful religious hegemony held by the medieval Catholic Church, which had asserted the spiritual and temporal supremacy of the Papacy over all human domains, often including that of kings and emperors. By the end of the Middle Ages, and particularly after the Protestant Reformation and the ensuing violence of Europe's wars of religion, that religio-political hegemony had been seriously called into question and attacked on many sides.
Arguably the most influential modern author to argue for a clear separation of religious and political affairs was the English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704). In his "Letter Concerning Tolerance" (1667), Locke distinguishes religion and politics as two separate and legitimate spheres of human endeavor; the former primarily concerns individual belief and personal conviction, and the latter civil law and public action. As such, religious belief should not be restricted by political control, and conversely, political discourse should not be affected by religious conviction. Religion is for Locke an inward and private affair—indeed, "all the life and power of true religion consist in the inward and full persuasion of the mind"—which means that it cannot be governed by external political power: "the whole jurisdiction of the magistrate reaches only to these civil concernments…. [I]t neither can nor ought in any manner to be extended to the salvation of souls" (Cahn, p. 508). In the process, however, Locke also effectively reduced religion to a kind of disembodied, internal affair between the individual and God, something fundamentally removed from the political domain and thus of no practical importance for civil society.
By the late eighteenth century, philosophers like Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) would render judgment on the legitimate place of religion "within the limits of reason alone" (Kant, 1793). For Kant, religion was acknowledged to have a privileged place, engaged as it is in lofty metaphysical issues such as the existence of God or the immortality of the soul; but it was deemed inappropriate for all other more practical affairs, including polity and governance.
This intellectual definition of—and clear demarcation between—the appropriate domains of religion and politics set out by Locke, Kant and other Enlightenment philosophers would provide the theoretical basis for many modern Western nations, such as the early United States. Yet, as various scholars have observed, this definition of religion and politics as two separate domains of activity in rational, civilized society was itself part of a larger political agenda; it provided the basis for a hierarchical ranking of cultures from "primitive" to "modern," as well as the legitimation for ruling those who were incapable of distinguishing between proper rational governance and oppression of religious despotism.
Karl Marx and Neo-Marxism
If Locke and other Enlightenment intellectuals critiqued the dangerous mixture of religion and politics, many nineteenth century authors critiqued the very nature of religion itself as a mask or mystification of underlying economic and political interests. For Karl Marx, the criticism of religion is in fact the "prerequisite of all criticism"; for religion represents the most extreme form of ideology and "alienation." It involves the human being's own self-deception and mystification, which is the basis of all other sorts of alienation, including the more developed forms of modern capitalism. For Marx, God does not make human beings; rather, human beings make gods and then deny that they have done so, alienating themselves from the fruits of their own labor. This alienation is the spiritual analogue of the alienation suffered by the laborer in a capitalist economy, separated from the fruits of his own labor which becomes the profit of the boss or factory owner. As such, religion is itself the by-product of the social and political order; it is the "spiritual aroma" of the state, masking the domination of the powerful and the wealthy over the weak and the poor, and making oppressive social conditions appear at once agreeable and divinely ordained. Thus, "the criticism of heaven turns into the criticism of earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics" (Raines, pp. 171–172).
Yet contrary to many popular interpretations, Marx is not entirely negative or dismissive in his evaluation of religion. Religion reflects a genuine need for meaning and consolation in the face of oppression, offering at once "the expression of real suffering and protest against suffering." Yet it is a protest that is misdirected, seeking imaginary ideals rather than real material happiness. In sum, the "abolition of religion as illusory happiness is necessary for real happiness" (Raines, p. 171).
Toward the end of his life, Marx would return to the question of religion as not simply a source of oppression, but also as a potential source of a kind of apocalyptic hope for radical transformation. The religious cry of protest could also perhaps articulate the voice of the oppressed seeking exodus toward a totally new world, as a kind of early, undeveloped prefiguration of genuine political revolution. This revolutionary potential of myth and religious ideology would later be taken up and developed by various later Marxists, from revolutionary nationalists in India to Liberation theologians in South America. As more recent authors like Bruce Lincoln have shown, religious discourse can indeed be used to buttress the existing political order and status quo. However, it can also be used to challenge, subvert and overthrow that same order by appealing to a transcendent source of authority that contests the status quo and provides the inspiration for rebellion or revolution.
If Marx sees the criticism of religion as necessary for a criticism of politics, he does not, however, hope for a simple replacement of religious authority by state power. On the contrary, the ultimate goal would be the "withering away of the state" altogether. In a truly egalitarian community, the specialized functions once held by political offices would be gradually turned over to the self-management of the proletariat, and finally class society itself would be transformed into a classless society in which hierarchical distinctions collapse altogether. In this sense, one might say that the criticism of religion and the abolition of its illusory promise are only the first steps toward the larger criticism of politics and the abolition of the illusory promises of the State. The great irony in the later history of Communist thought, of course, is that Marxism would itself be reinterpreted, transformed and used to create some of the most powerful state apparatuses, political ideologies, and some would say quasi-religious systems ever known, such as the former Soviet Union and Communist China.
Religion, society and politics: Émile Durkheim and Max Weber
While Marx saw religion primarily as a negative social force, imposing political conformity and resignation to suffering, other modern theorists like Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) had a more positive regard for religion's role in society. Durkheim's classic Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912) defines religion primarily as a system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things which "unite into one single moral community … all those who adhere to them" (Durkheim, p. 62). Religion is primarily a source of social cohesion, binding individuals into a whole that seems to them larger than the sum of its parts—indeed, sacred. The sacred is, in sum, society writ large. Using as his primary example the system of "totemism" among Australian aboriginal communities, Durkheim suggests that the totem symbol is nothing less than the "flag" of the clan (Durkheim, p. 236). For the intense emotions generated by religious rites are attached to the totem, which then becomes a sacred object embodying the cohesion of individuals with the larger whole of the social group.
It is not difficult to see the relevance of Durkheim's analysis of religious totemism for modern politics and the "flag-totem" of the modern state. Indeed, Durkheim was concerned that the social cohesion once provided by traditional religious institutions like the Church were waning in the face of an increasingly complex and scientific modern world. The result of this loss of social unity was the growing sense of anomie, the isolation, fragmentation and suicidal despair felt by the modern individual. The decline of traditional religious institutions, did not, however, necessarily signal the dissolution of society altogether. Rather, Durkheim was hopeful that even as the "old gods are growing old or already dead," new kinds of rituals would emerge to affirm society's basic values, "keeping alive their memory by means of celebrations which regularly reproduce their fruits" (Durkheim, 1961, p. 475).
But clearly, religion is not only and always a source of social unity, cohesion and stability; rather, as Max Weber observed, religious ideas could act as forces of both the legitimation of established political structures and as forces of change and transformation. Religion was for Weber a separate institution inevitably involved in an ongoing process of interaction with other social institutions, assuming different meanings in specific social, economic and political contexts. Rejecting the historical materialism of orthodox Marxism, Weber saw religion not simply as a mask for underlying economic and political forces; rather, religious ideas could also transform the economic and political domains. In his best-known example of Protestant Christianity, the Calvinist ethics of hard work, thrift, and inner-worldly asceticism had a kind of elective affinity with the rise of modern capitalism and with the politics of modern European states. Other religious systems, such as Hinduism and Confucianism, instead impeded the growth of capitalist accumulation and supported very different political and economic systems.
In contrast to Durkheim, Weber was more interested in the role of individual agents, particularly extraordinary, charismatic agents such as prophets, reformers and founders who provide alternative sources of authority that shatter established patterns of traditional and legal authority. Indeed, charismatic religious power can erupt into a force of intense change, reform, even revolution against the established political order.
However, as he observed in his classic lecture on "Politics as a Vocation," the political realm also involves inherent ethical paradoxes that pose special problems for all religious traditions. Above all, politics demands the necessary use of force—indeed, "the decisive means for politics is violence"—which means that politics can never be the place for those who seek the salvation of souls or an "acosmic ethic of love" (1918, pp. 119, 121). The moral paradox of politics and violence is one with which every religion must struggle, yet always with limited success.
Mircea Eliade and the history of religions
In the middle of the twentieth century, a number of European and American scholars began to react against what they saw as the reduction of religion to various other, non-religious sorts of explanations, such as materialist critiques, social functionalism and Freudian psychoanalysis. Instead, they sought to reaffirm the independent, autonomous nature of religious experience prior to and beyond any other social, psychological or political phenomena.
The most influential figure in this regard—and indeed arguably the most influential historian of religions in the twentieth century—was the Romanian born émigré to the United States, Mircea Eliade (1907–1986). For Eliade, religious phenomena are fundamentally sui generis or "of their own origin"; in other words, they are irreducible to anything else. A religious phenomenon must be taken seriously "on its plane of reference," and not reduced to one of its "secondary aspects or its contexts," such as economic, social structure, psychology or politics. Even seemingly highly politicized phenomena such as the so-called cargo cults that emerged in Melanesia in the wake of western contact and colonization cannot be explained by their sociopolitical circumstances; rather they must be treated as genuine "spiritual creations" (Eliade, 1969, pp. 98–99). This respect for the autonomous value of religious phenomena, Eliade believed, could provide the basis for a kind of "new humanism" on a global scale. Unlike the social and political visions of Marx or Durkheim, Eliade's new humanism would demand an appreciation for the religious worldviews of all cultures, as legitimate encounters with the sacred that cannot be explained away as masks for political interests or mere products of social structure.
Although Eliade would become arguably the single most influential voice in the comparative study of religion in the latter twentieth century, he would also come under severe criticism—in part for his attempt to define religion as an autonomous sui generis phenomena distinct from history, society and politics. Thus he has been charged as the "leading anti-historian of religion" (Dudley, 1977:148) whose universalist approach does not so much interpret as it "manufactures" religion (McCutcheon, 1997). While many of these criticisms may be unfair, Eliade's attempt to avoid the pitfalls of reductionism did lead him to de-emphasize the political contexts, consequences and complications of religious phenomena in favor of their a-political or trans-political themes (see Wasserstom, 1998; Strenski, 1977).
If Marx made the criticism of religion the foundation for the criticism of all other forms of material oppression, many feminist theorists would also make the criticism of religion the foundation for a critique of gender politics and asymmetries of power between the sexes. The more extreme version of the feminist critique emerged out of the second wave and radical feminist movements of the 1960s, with theorists like Mary Daly. In Daly's view, the entire imagery of God the Father as divine judge and patriarch has served as the justification for a male-dominated hierarchy of power on the religious, social and political levels alike. For the past 2000 years mainstream western religious institutions have supported a fundamentally patriarchal social and political structure, built upon the oppression of female power. What is now needed, Daly suggests, is a kind of divine rage in order to deconstruct and move beyond the "biblical and popular image of God as a great patriarch in heaven;" indeed, they need to "castrate God," in order to free themselves from an icon that has for millennia justified a patriarchal political system, and to realize instead the inherent divinity of the female body (Daly, 1973, pp. 13–32).
Most later feminist theorists of religion distanced themselves considerably from the extreme rhetoric and essentialist gender politics of radical feminists like Daly. More moderate theorists have tried to find ways to apply a serious feminist critique of particular religious institutions, while still salvaging the meaningful dimensions of religious experience itself. Rita Gross, for example, suggests that it is possible to re-read religious history from a feminist perspective, critiquing oppressive gender relations, and so recovering women's religious voices and a feminine dimensions of the sacred. This requires a fundamental paradigm shift away form the current androcentric model of humanity to an androgynous or bisexual model of humanity (Gross, p. 20). As Wendy Doniger suggests, the frank recognition that religion is intimately tied to both political power and sexual oppression does not mean that one need jettison the spiritual baby with the patriarchal bathwater. That is, one can still recover the meaningfulness and value of religious narratives, while seriously critiquing their political and sexual implications (1998: 109–35).
Finally, in the wake of post-structuralism and French feminist thought, more nuanced critiques have been made by authors like Grace Jantzen in her work on medieval Christian mysticism. As Jantzen argues, the ways in which legitimate religious experience is defined—and also contrasted with heresy, delusion or demonic inspiration—is inherently tied to political interests and relations of power between the sexes. For it is inevitably bound to questions such as who has the authority to speak with divine sanction? Who has the legitimation to support or challenge existing religious and political institutions? Who, and which sex, is considered more naturally open to mystical experience, yet also more susceptible to delusion? In sum, mysticism—like the category of religion itself—is a constructed category that is inevitably tied to both gender and politics.
The micropolitics of power: post-structuralist approaches
It is perhaps worth noting at least one of the alternative approaches to the analysis of religion, politics and power that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century, particularly in the wake of movements like postmodernism and post-structuralism. Arguably the most influential figure for the theorizing of power in the latter twentieth century is the French historian, Michel Foucault (1926–1984). Contrary to most earlier analyses of power, which begin from the top down, viewing power primarily as an oppressive and dominating force wielded by the few, Foucault views power from the bottom up. Rather than viewing power on the "macro-political level" of nations and states, Foucault turns instead to the micro-politics or "capillary circuits" of power—the ways in which power operates in the lives of all individual members of a given social order, in the most mundane details of daily life such as dress, bodily comportment, physical practices, and diet (Foucault, 1978). Thus Foucault was particularly interested in a specifically embodied kind of power—bio-power or bio-politics—through which power is exercised upon individual human bodies and thereby human subjects. One of the most crucial fields for the operation of bio-power, for example, is sexuality; for sexuality lies at the pivot of two key axes: power over individual bodies and power over social bodies or the body politic (Gutting, 1994, p. 144). Control of individual sexual activity and reproduction, in other words, is the key to the larger control of populations and governance of society as a whole.
Religions, too, employ a variety of bodily and sexual techniques—such as chastity, penance, fasting, confession—in order to discipline the body and create certain kinds of subjects. The role of confession in the medieval Catholic church, for example, was a particularly effective form of "pastoral power," which gave the church intimate knowledge and individualized control over its subjects, while at the same time interiorizing a sense of sin, guilt and moral conscience within the individual believer.
However, Foucault sees an important shift in the operations of power in modern Western societies, particularly since the Enlightenment. Whereas the medieval Church exercised a kind of pastoral power, by monitoring and disciplining individuals through techniques like confession, modern European states developed ever more effective means of governing large populations through new sciences of the body, medicine and sexuality. Ultimately, Foucault sees modern forms of power as a fusion of the individualizing pastoral power once exercised by the Church and the modern totalizing power of the state: "This is government with the motto ones et singulatum —of all and of each. It represents the modern, biopolitical, and daemonic fusion of pastoral and polis. … It is a power that both individualizes and totalizes" (Fabion, 2001, p. xxviii).
Some have argued that Foucault's work offers an extremely useful new way to think about religion as a whole. Religion in this sense would be seen less as a matter of otherworldly faith than as a fundamentally embodied, corporal phenomenon concerned with physical practice and the disciplining of the self through bodily action. Finally, Foucault's model of power also forces us to view religion as an inherently political phenomenon, "taken out of its privileged realm and brought into the body politic and the heart of culture" (Carrette, 2000, p. xi). As Foucault put it in his comments on the Iranian revolution, this is a view of "religion which speaks less of a Beyond than of the transformations in this world" (Foucault, 1994, p. 716).
This brief overview of various theoretical approaches is surely not meant to be exhaustive. Yet it can be seen from these six models that the relationship between religion and politics can be construed in a variety of different, often contradictory ways, each of which is useful in understanding particular historical cases, but none of which is by itself complete. In the end, the attempt to construct a single grand theory that explains religion and politics on some universal scale is not a very fruitful endeavor. Rather, it is perhaps more useful to think of religious discourse, with its appeal to a transcendent source of authority, as a unique and powerful kind of cultural resource. This is a resource that can be deployed strategically for a wide range of political interests, at once to reinforce a given political formation and to contest it, to forge powerful nationalist bonds and to tear those bonds apart through revolutionary violence.
Strategic Relations between Religious and Political Power: Eight Patterns
As the sub-entries that follow this essay clearly demonstrate, the relations between religious and political power are remarkably varied, not simply between different traditions but even within the same tradition in different historical periods. These range from the complete fusion of religio-political power, to the suppression of religion by political power, to the violent revolt of the former against the latter.
Various authors have tried to make broad generalizations about the relations between religion and politics in particular traditions or families of traditions. Some, for example, have tried to contrast the "monotheistic" or Abrahamic religions with the "ontocratic" or "Oriental" and "primal religions." According to Max Stackhouse, the monotheistic traditions "distinguish between God and the world and reject political orders that are not in accord with God's will," while in the "ontocratic" religions of Asia, "the harmonious state is the supreme earthly embodiment of cosmic totality" (Stackhouse, 1986, p. 415). Others like William Scott Green have tried to distinguish and compare six major traditions, based on the core theological doctrines, which, he suggests, naturally lead to distinct relations between religion and politics in each case (Neusner, p. 5).
Yet all of these attempts to make sweeping comparisons based on Abrahamic vs. Oriental or core theological doctrines ultimately seem superficial. One need not look far into the history of any tradition to see that the relations between religious and political authority shift dramatically in different historical contexts. Buddhism, for example, begins with Siddhārtha Gautama's renunciation of his own royal status and a general withdrawal from the political realm. Yet from the time of Emperor Aśoka (r. c. 270–230 bce) onward, Buddhism as an institution gained the patronage of kings throughout Asia, from China and Japan to Tibet and modern Thailand. Usually portrayed as a religion stressing peace, non-violence and compassion, Buddhism has also become a powerful force in modern nationalist movements and even religious violence in areas like Vietnam and Sri Lanka. Conversely, Islam begins with more or less complete fusion of religious and political power in the person of the Prophet and the early Caliphs. Yet in modern times, many Muslims have largely accepted a form of church-state separation in secular nations (e.g. Turkey, Bangladesh), while others have turned to extremist fervor and a revolutionary return to the ideal polity of early Islam.
There are no easy generalizations regarding the balance of religious and political power in different traditions. It may be true that one can identify certain kinds of elective affinities, to use Weber's phrase, between particular religious beliefs and particular socio-economic or political formations—such as the Protestant ethic and early modern capitalism, or certain forms of New Age spirituality and late capitalism. Yet even these examples show that every religious tradition has undergone radical change in different social and historical contexts, in some cases wedding religious and political authority, in other cases, turning religious appeals for transformation into a radical challenge to the existing political order.
In broadest terms, however, there are at least eight primary strategic relations between political and religious power. None of these is intended to represent a fixed or universal category, but simply a comparative pattern that recurs in various cultures and historical periods.
Religo-political synthesis: the religious as the political
One of the primary reasons modern Western scholars have had such difficulty understanding (and tolerating) Islam is its fusion of political and religious authority. For scholars raised in a post-Enlightenment separation of Church and State, the Prophet's skillful combination of military prowess, political leadership and spiritual authority has long been dismissed as a vulgar manipulation of religion for political ends. Yet this really misses the very point of Islam as a total worldview that does not separate the "religious" from other spheres of life, but rather embraces the social, political, economic and military realms in one total attitude of submission to God. The Islamic system of holy law and jurisprudence (sharīʿah ) provides rules for the conduct of all aspects of life, including not only spiritual practice, but also family life, commerce, social activities, governance, and war. As John Esposito suggests, traditional Islam might be better described not as a theocracy but rather as a kind of nomocracy, that is, a community governed by divine law as the sovereign authority and embodiment of the Word of God.
Such fusion of religious and political power is by no means unique to Islam. Another particularly clear example is the rise of the Dalai Lama in Vajrayāna Buddhism, who served as the combined religious and political leader of Tibet from the fifteenth to the twentieth century. Embodying both the highest Buddhist ideals of infinite compassion and the center of the socio-political maṇḍala, the Dalai Lama survived as a powerful religio-political institution for 500 years until the Communist invasion of Tibet. Even into the twenty-first century, as a winner of the Noble Peace Prize and an outspoken commentator on global issues, the exiled Dalai Lama remains a potent religio-political symbol. He represents the spread of the once esoteric system of Tibetan Buddhism to all points of the globe and the hope of freedom for the Tibetan people.
Religious authority above political power
At least in its ideal form, the classical Hindu varṇa system provides one of the clearest examples of a hierarchical ordering of society in which the religious or priestly (brahmana ) class is at once spiritually and metaphysically superior to the royal or warrior (kṣatriya ) class. While the king is recognized for his physical power and political authority, the brahmana is recognized for his purity, which marks him as spiritually superior to all other classes. Since the time of the earliest Indian scriptures, the Vedas, this hierarchical model has been given both a mythological and a cosmological justification. According to the creation myth found in Ṛgveda X.90, the universe was born from the primal sacrifice of the first Person, puruṣa, whose body was dismembered and divided to create both the hierarchy of the universe (heaven, atmosphere, earth) and the hierarchy of the four social classes. Here the priest emerges from the head of the cosmic man, while the kṣatriya emerges from his torso. Although the king may be greater in terms of power and material capital, the brahmana is always superior in sacredness and spiritual capital. The two are bound in an intimate relationship of reciprocity. Thus the Vedic sacrificial ritual was, in many ways, an elaborate exchange between religious and political power, in which the brahmana received gifts and fees while the kṣatriya received status and legitimacy.
Of course, this superiority of the brahmana over the kṣatriya was probably always more an ideal than a practical reality. There would remain throughout Indian history a recurring tension between the religious and spiritual domains, with the constant threat that the superior strength of the king might break its bounds and reassert itself.
Religious and political power as separate (but interdependent or rival) forces
Medieval Christian Europe provides some instructive examples of the political and religious spheres in an ongoing relationship that was at once one of tension, rivalry, competition and symbiosis. Like the authors of the Vedas, medieval authors commonly imagined the social order as a hierarchical organism, usually a tripartite body comprised of clerics, nobles and serfs. Yet there was some disagreement as to which of the first two classes, priests or nobility, Pope or Holy Roman Emperor, was the true head of the social body. As Jacques Le Goff observes, "Christianity was bicephalous: its two heads were the pope and the emperor… [T]he relations between the two heads of Christianity displayed the competition at the top: the two dominant but rival orders, the clergy and the lay hierarchy—priests and warriors, magical power and military might" (Le Goff, pp. 264-265).
Since the time of Pope Gregory I (c. 540–604), the Papacy had proclaimed itself the supreme leader of both secular and religious domains; yet throughout the history the medieval Church, bishops and kings, Popes and Emperors existed in competitive and at times violent rivalry. Thus Pope Gregory VII would challenge the power of Emperor Henry IV in German lands, finally excommunicating him; in England, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas à Becket defended the authority of the Church against King Henry II, leading to his own death in 1170. Perhaps the most remarkable conflict between religious and political authority was that between Pope Boniface VIII and Philip IV of France, which led to the Pope's arrest and death in prison in 1313, the "Babylonian exile" of the Church from Rome to Avignon (1378–1417), and finally the schism of the Church into a puppet Papacy in France and a series of rival Popes in Rome.
In modern times, one of the most striking examples of the interdependence of religious and political authority is the rise of the Wahhābī reformist movement in Saudi Arabia since the eighteenth century. The result of an alliance between the reformist theologian Muḥammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1702–1792) and a tribal chief, Muḥammad ibn Saud (d. 1765), the Wahhābī movement sought to unite the tribes of Arabia under the religious banner of Islam. Combining strict religious purification with military action to enforce religious precepts, the Wahhābīs used religious ideology to inform and guide political activity. This powerful alliance of religion and politics remains largely intact today in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, while also powerfully influencing recent regimes such as the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Political power over religious authority
With its appeal to a transcendent supra-human and otherworldly source of authority, religious discourse always poses a potential threat to political power; as such, it is often tightly controlled, restricted, at times entirely suppressed by political regimes. Various Chinese emperors, for example, perceived Buddhism to be a subversive force within their domain; thus during the Huichang suppression under the Tang Emperor Wuzong (r. 840–846) purged monasteries, banned pilgrimages, and finally seized Buddhist property for the state.
Perhaps the most extreme example of the exertion of secular political power over religious institutions occurred in modern communist countries, such as China after the rise of the Communist Party and particularly during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). Targeting Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism as part of the "four olds" (old ideas, old culture, old customs, old habits), the Communist Party put an end to all public displays of religion, damaging temples and purging churches of religious symbols. Even more extreme state repressions of religion took place under other Marxist-inspired regimes, such as Albania under Enver Hoxha (1908–1985). Between 1947 and 1990, religion was not only stifled but simply abolished.
It is by no means only communist regimes that have been known to suppress religious movements. Already noted is the U.S. government's suppression of various Native American rituals such as the Sun Dance and Peyote religion. A more recent example is the assault on the Branch Davidian compound at Waco Texas by the BATF and FBI from February to April of 1993. In this case government agencies not only secretly infiltrated and monitored the movement, but mounted a large scale siege of the compound using heavily armed officers and tanks, resulting in the death of seventy-five people, including twenty-one children. If post-Enlightenment nations like the U.S. are founded on a separation of church and state, then cases like the Waco disaster make it clear that religious power is still, in the end, subordinate to the political power and military strength of the state.
Religious withdrawal from the political sphere
Particularly during periods of oppressive rule, many religious groups choose the option of general disengagement or withdrawal from the political realm. Turning to a supra-human, eternal source of authority, religious leaders can always claim to transcend any merely human government, and so ignore or treat as secondary the demands of worldly politics. The sayings of Jesus Christ and the life of the early church under Roman rule provide some of the clearest examples of this withdrawal from politics. Christ's assertion that his "kingdom is not of this world," while advising his disciples to "render unto Ceasar" what is owed to the Empire at once acknowledges the reality of alien political power and yet also denies it any ultimate significance. As an eschatological religion, early Christianity on the whole focused on the divine kingdom to come, not the world as it was; thus it delegitimized the latter with the promise of a more perfect rule in the heavenly kingdom.
A more recent and more disturbing example of this religious withdrawal from the political is the case of the Peoples Temple led by Jim Jones (1931–1978) in the 1970s. With a utopian vision of racial harmony between African Americans and whites, Jones preached a socialist brand of Christianity that fiercely attacked the United States government as the "antichrist" and American capitalism as the "antichrist system." After facing intense attacks from government agencies, the media, and white supremacist groups, Jones and his followers withdrew from the U.S. to Guyana in 1977. When the anti-cult group, Concerned Relatives, and Congressman Leo Ryan continued to pressure the movement, Jones decided it was time to withdraw from the world altogether. Over nine hundred of his followers drank or were forced to drink Kool-aid laced with cyanide, while Jones himself died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. As Jones put it in his farewell audio tape, "we didn't commit suicide, we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world" (Wessinger, 2000, p. 51).
Religion in the service of political power: Religious nationalism in the modern state
Among the most striking features of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is the rise of a new form of religious nationalism in more or less all parts of the colonial and post-colonial world. As new national "imagined communities" emerged out of the demise of European colonization (Anderson, 1983), a redefined and nationalized religious identity has often provided the foundation for this re-imagining of political communities. Indeed, it would seem that much of the world simply does not share the western ideal of a secular modern nation based on a clear separation of church and state. Instead, many national identities have been born out of deep religious roots, shaped by ritual performance and mythic narratives. A reformed religious and national identity has been an integral part of the rise of modern India, Sri Lanka, Israel, various parts of the Muslim world, Kosovo, Bosnia, and even the United States, as the rise of the new Christian right suggests. The modern state of Israel provides perhaps the clearest example of a new political entity emerging out of the collapse of European colonial power, and founded on a uniquely religious identity; thus the Balfour Declaration of 1917 promised European Zionists "a national home for Jewish people" (Farsoun and Zacharia, 1997). In the process of nationalization, however, these religious traditions have often been purged of their heterogeneous or divisive elements, re-packaged in a more homogenous form to attract the broadest number of devotees, and so used to define religious practice as a kind of patriotic duty.
The case of modern Hinduism is a particularly instructive example of the complex nature of religious nationalism. Indeed, the modern imagining of Hinduism itself—which is not an indigenous term but a construction of nineteenth century Indian elites and European scholars—went hand in hand with the rise of the Indian nation as an imagined community. For early religious nationalists like Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902), the young Aurobindo Ghose and many others, the revival of a strong and vigorous form of Hinduism was a crucial part of creating an autonomous Indian nation, free of the shackles of British rule. Thus Vivekananda called not just for the revival of his country but for the "conquest of the whole world by the Hindu race"; indeed, "we must conquer the world through our spirituality … The only condition of … awakened and vigorous national life is the conquest of the world by Indian thought" (Vivekananda, 1984: 276, 277).
This kind of Hindu nationalism is by no means a quaint relic of colonial India; rather, it has continued as a powerful force driving much of modern Indian politics. Thus, India's first nuclear missiles have been named after Agni, the Hindu god of fire, while Bharat Mata or "mother India" has emerged as a powerful civil religious deity, usually portrayed as a Goddess much like Durgā, riding a lion, circled with a halo of flames and superimposed on a map of India. At the same time, religious nationalism has also fueled a number of extremist groups such as the Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—a movement dedicated to the creation of a purely Hindu nation, with an open admiration for Nazi Germany. The RSS became the ideological backbone for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rose to power in the 1980s in large part due to its ideal of Hindutva and the goal of building a temple to the god Rāma in the holy city of Ayodhya. One of the most striking examples of religio-political nationalist fervor exploded in Ayodhya on December 16, 1992, when mobs of Hindu extremists destroyed the Babri Masjid, a mosque that had allegedly been built on the site of Rama's birthplace. The destruction of the Babri Masjid in turn unleashed tremendous bloodshed between Hindus and Muslims throughout South Asia, and has since become a symbol of both Hindu nationalism and the alienation of non-Hindu communities in modern India. As seen in the ongoing violence in Kashmir and the slaughter of 2000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, the often horrific consequences of religious nationalism in India have by no means lessened in the years since Independence, but arguably grown more intense in a new age of nationalism and terror.
The political as the religious: civil religion
One of the more interesting and ironic consequences of the rise of modern secular nation states is the emergence of powerful new forms of civil symbolism, mythology and ritual practice. In a sense, the space opened up by the separation of religion and politics seems to have been filled in many cases by a modern state that now assumes a kind of quasi-religious power, invested with autonomy, disciplinary control and potential violence, for which citizens are called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. In contrast to a form of religious nationalism, however, a civil religion does not support any one particular tradition, but instead advocates a sufficiently ambiguous sort of divine authority (such as God) and a sufficiently generic set of beliefs (a rational order to the universe, the immortality of the soul and judgment for good and evil actions) that can encompass many different faiths without alienating too many minority groups.
The idea of a civil faith was first suggested by Jean Jacques Rousseau in the second half of the eighteenth century. Rejecting traditional religious institutions like Christianity as divisive and in fact corrosive of social unity, Rousseau called instead for "a purely civil profession of faith whose articles the sovereign is competent to determine, not precisely as religious dogmas but as sentiments of sociability, without which it is impossible to be a good citizen or a faithful subject" (1762: Chidester, 1988, p. 82). The basis of Rousseau's civil faith was fairly minimal, asking only belief in an all-powerful deity, the survival of the soul after death, the reward of the good and punishment of wicked, and above all a commitment to the sanctity of the social contract.
Arguably one of the most powerful examples of civil religion in the modern era has emerged within the United States. As G. K. Chesterton observed, "America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed" (Chidester, 1988, p. 87). Despite its ostensible separation of the religious and political spheres, the U.S. has also developed its own set of creation myths (Exodus from British tyranny, the first Thanksgiving, etc.), its founding fathers, and a system of symbols and rituals. From the Annuit Coeptis ("God has smiled on our beginnings") and Novus Ordo Seclorum ("New Order for the Ages") on the dollar bill, the United States has been imagined in mythic terms as a nation formed under divine providence and guided toward a sacred destiny.
The United States also gave birth to an array of civil religious holy days, such as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving (both ritual reenactments of national creation myths), Presidents' Day, Veterans Day, Flag Day, Memorial Day, among others. The celebration of Memorial Day in particular constitutes a kind of "cult of the dead which organizes and integrates the various faiths, ethnic and class groups into a sacred unity" (Warner, 1959, p. 249). This deeply ingrained civil religious faith only became more intense during the decades of the cold war, when the United States sought to distinguish itself as clearly as possible from the "godless communism" of the Soviet Union. Thus in the 1950s, the phrase "In God we Trust" was added to the dollar bill, while "One Nation under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, a vow of faith mandatory in every public school. This American-style civil religion would find new, even more complicated expressions after the destruction of the World Trade Towers in 2001, as religious rhetoric was marshaled in a variety of ways to insure that God would "continue to bless America" against a new "axis of evil" (Lincoln, 2003, pp. 19–32).
Religion in conflict with political power: Resistance, rebellion, revolution and terrorism
Finally, as a form of discourse that makes an appeal to an ultimate, supra-human, transcendent or eternal source of authority, religious discourse can also be used to mount a profound challenge to political power. As the ultimate motivator, it can serve as the most powerful source of resistance, rebellion, and revolution against the dominant order.
This may take the form of a non-violent resistance against the dominant order, using religious authority as a means of rejecting the legitimacy of existing political power, yet without engaging in physical confrontation. Thus, even in the face of suppression by the U.S. government, Native American communities began to revive traditional rites like the Sun Dance during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In spite of—or perhaps in part because of—its suppression by the government, the Sun Dance would become one of the most powerful symbols of Native American identity, communal solidarity and personal power in the face of an alienating and oppressive political system. Religious resistance can have profound political consequences, such as Gandhi's satyagraha (cleaving to the truth) and ahiṃsā (non-harming) as non-violent struggle against the British Raj, or Martin Luther King's (1929–1968) use of Christian rhetoric and disobedience during the Civil Rights movement. Yet religious resistance may also take the form of more spectacular self-sacrifice like that of the Vietnamese monk, Thich Quang-Duc, who burned himself to death in 1963 in order to bring global attention to the suffering of the Vietnamese people.
When nonviolence and self-sacrifice appear futile, however, religious movements may turn to more aggressive forms of rebellion. Chinese history, for example, witnessed a number of religious rebellions against imperial power: the Daoist Yellow Turban rebellion at the end of the Han dynasty (206 bce–220 ce), which was inspired by an apocalyptic vision of a Daoist utopia (second century); the White Lotus Societies at the end of the Yuan dynasty (1206–1368), which looked to the messianic prophecy of the coming of the future Buddha, Maitreya; and the Taiping rebellion (1851–1864), which used Christian messianic imagery and the hope for a Heavenly Kingdom to replace the Manchu regime.
In modern India, one of the most extreme examples of religious rebellion against the secular state is the rise of Sikh separatism in the Punjab region. In 1984, when militants under the lead of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale took refuge in the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered a massive military assault (Operation Blue Star) that destroyed a large portion of the Temple and unleashed intense violence across the nation. Shortly after the operation, Gandhi was assassinated by her own Sikh body guards—clear evidence that, in some cases, the higher authority of religious conviction can indeed supercede secular political loyalty, even to the Prime Minister one has sworn to protect.
Ultimately, under the right conditions, religious rebellion and the appeal to a transcendent source of power can also lead to successful political revolution. The Iranian revolution led by Shīʿī Muslims against the Shah in 1979 was in many ways a surprise to the international community and to historians of religions alike. It offered perhaps the clearest evidence that religion had by no means waned in importance in the face of globalization and transnational capitalism, but had re-emerged as a powerful ideological alternative. Yet religious revolution is not limited to the Muslim world. Even the American Revolution, for example, was not without powerful elements of religious rhetoric. The Declaration of Independence itself could be said to express certain creedal statements of "sacred and undeniable" truths and divine rights, such as equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the social contract, and even the legitimacy of revolution against oppression. As Jefferson famously put it, "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God" (Chidester, 1988, p. 61). Many revolutionaries would also describe their cause in almost millennial terms, with the vision of a new heaven and new earth created in America. As Thomas Paine wrote in 1776, "We have it in our power to begin the world over again … A situation similar to the present has not happened since the days of Noah until now" (Chidester, 1988, p. 61).
Terrorism has no doubt always been a tactic used in movements of resistance, rebellion, and revolution. Yet the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have witnessed arguably the most intense forms of religious terrorism ever known—indeed a global rise of religious violence. This in part due to the rise of religious extremism and nationalism, often setting themselves violently at odds with the forces of secularism and capitalism, and in part due to the widespread availability of inexpensive weapons, bombs, chemicals and other means of terror. More or less anyone can now concoct a fertilizer-bomb, as Timothy McVeigh did in the Oklahoma City bombing, or disseminate sarin gas, as the Aum Shinrikyō movement did in Tokyo subways. Perhaps the most disturbing form of terrorism in the modern era has come from extremist Palestinian groups such as Hamas, which have emerged since the first intifada against the Israeli occupation in 1987. Unable to contain their anger or find any other solution to an increasingly miserable situation, young Palestinian men and women have turned themselves into human bombs, killing thousands of ordinary people and injecting terror into daily life. Indeed, the charter document of Hamas is an overtly militant ideology, calling for violent self-sacrifice: "We will be its soldiers and the firewood of its fire, which will burn the enemies" (Farsoun and Zacharia, 1997, p. 339).
Similar kinds of revolutionary terrorist movements have emerged throughout the Middle East and now globally, inspired by radical leaders like Sayyid Quṭb (1906–1966) and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. With an explicitly political agenda, Quṭb called for a violent revolution with the goal of overthrowing the Egyptian state. In Quṭb's view, the world is essentially divided into a party of God and a party of Satan, or those committed to God's rule and those opposed to it. As such, Quṭb was attacking both the secular modern West and those parts of the Arab world that did not support his vision of Islamic society. In Quṭb's interpretation, jihād is a call for immediate revolutionary struggle as the only way to implement a true Islamic order.
Although he was executed by the Egyptian government in 1966, Quṭb's radical vision and his revolutionary interpretation of jihād had a profound impact on many later Muslim extremists. Among others, he helped inspire the activities of Usāmah bin Lādin and the al-Qāʿidah network, who have similarly turned to extreme acts of violence as the means to restore a truly Islamic society in the face of Western imperialism. Indeed, al-Qāʿidah 's attacks on the World Trade Towers—the supreme symbols and perhaps cathedrals of global capitalism—might be viewed as the ultimate use of religious authority as a revolutionary force of struggle against a secular economic and political power. As Lincoln suggests (2003, p. 18), their aim was to drop a kind of divine Hiroshima bomb upon what they regarded as a godless, materialist and inherently anti-Islamic power.
Although early sociologists and proponents of modernization theory had predicted a gradual waning of religious power amidst an increasingly rationalized, disenchanted modern world, it would seem that since the mid -twentieth century quite the opposite has happened. If anything, religious power and appeals to supra-human authority have been reasserted in emotionally intense, globally influential and spectacularly violent new ways. A striking number of political conflicts of the late twentieth century have involved religious identity as a central component: the nuclear standoff between India and Pakistan, the violence between Russia and Chechnya, Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, bloody clashes between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia and Nigeria, and civil war in Sudan, Uganda and Sri Lanka. Indeed, some authors have expressed almost a nostalgia for the days of the Cold War, as we appear to be reverting to seventeenth century style wars of religion, but now fought with twenty-first century weapons.
Ironically, the relationship between religion and politics has not become clearer or simpler in the context of modernization and the emergence of a global economy. On the contrary, it has become infinitely more complex, as a wide array of religious movements adapt, transform or reject altogether the model of the modern secular nation and instead reassert the power of religion in the political sphere. Some authors have tried to analyze the post-Cold War global situation as a confrontation between major ideological forces—for example, Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations (1996), or Benjamin Barber's Jihad vs. McWorld (1995), which describes a fundamental conflict between the forces of global capitalism and the reactionary "tribal" and religious forces who reject global monoculture and reassert local culture and identity.
Yet the post-Cold War situation would seem far more complex and multi-faceted than these simplistic ideological clashes or binary oppositions between secular political forces and religious extremism. One need only look to the case of the United States—with its powerful political forces on the religious right and its unique brand of civil religion—to see that religious authority can go hand in hand with political power, economic influence and military might. Even the most extreme "maximalist" religious movements such as al-Qāʿidah have no qualms about making sophisticated use of the networks of the global system, such as computers, telecommunications and international finance. Since the mid-twentieth century, moreover, a wide range of new international movements have emerged—such as Sōka Gakai Buddhism, the followings of gurus like Sathya Sai Baba, and various forms of transnational Islam—that are quite at home amidst the rapid flows of human beings and resources in a global era. Far from waning in significance, religions continue to provide a sense of meaning, value and collective identity that perhaps neither secular nations nor private corporations can offer. Calling as they do upon a transcendent source of authority, religious movements can also make demands upon their believers that supercede those of the nation or any other institution of merely human authority.
In sum, attempts to separate the imagined categories of religion and politics have not often resulted in the creation of rationally ordered secular nations, as imagined by Locke or America's founding fathers. On the contrary, they have given birth to even more complex kinds of religio-political power, in the form of civil religion, religious nationalism, extremism and terror. Gandhi himself could not have foreseen the role of religion in the post-colonial world, where it has had an even more dramatic impact on politics and national identity than he dared imagine.
For good discussions of religion as a modern category and the problem of distinguishing it from politics, see Bruce Lincoln's, Holy Terrors: Thinking about Religion after September 11 (Chicago, 2003), and "Theses on Method," Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 8, no.3 (1996): 225–28; Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore, Md., 1993); Jonathan Z. Smith, Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown (Chicago, 1982); Russell McCutcheon, Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia (New York, 1997); Steven M. Wasserstrom, Religion after Religion (Princeton, N.J., 1999); David Chidester, Patterns of Power: Religion and Politics in American Culture (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1988); Derek R. Peterson and Darren R. Walhof, eds. The Invention of Religion: Rethinking Belief in Politics and History (New Brunswick, N.J., 2002); Richard King, Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and the Mystic East (London, 1999).
More general works on religion and politics include Gustavo Benavides and M.W. Daly, eds. Religion and Political Power (Albany, N.Y., 1989); Jacob Neusner, ed. God's Rule: The Politics of World Religions (Washington, D.C., 2003); John L. Esposito and Michael Watson, eds. Religion and Global Order (Cardiff, 2000); Steven M. Cahn, ed., Classics of Political and Moral Philosophy (New York, 2002); Jeff Haynes, Religion in Global Politics (London, 1998); Max Stackhouse, "Politics and Religion," in Encyclopedia of Religion, Mircea Eliade, ed. (New York, 1987), v.11, pp. 408–422.
For modern approaches to religion and politics, see Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, George Bull, trans. (1513. Reprint, New York, 1999); Maurice Cranston, ed., John Locke on Politics, Religion and Education (New York, 1965); Mark Goldie, ed., Locke: Politics Essays (Cambridge, U.K., 1997); Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (New York, 1960); Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (New York, 1997); Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1847. Reprint, New York, 1980); "Die Revolution" (1852) in Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: Werke (Berlin, 1960), vol. 8; John Raines, ed., Marx on Religion (Philadelphia, 2002); Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912. Reprint, New York, 1961); and Moral Education (New York, 1961); Max Weber, Economy and Society, 3 vols. (Berkeley, Calif., 1978), The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905. Reprint New York, 2002); and "Politics as a Vocation" (1918) in H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, trans., From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York, 1946), pp. 296–450.
On Eliade's view of religion and his critics, see especially The Quest: History and Meaning in Religion (Chicago, 1969); John David Cave, Mircea Eliade's Vision for a New Humanism (New York, 1993); Bryan S. Rennie, Reconstructing Eliade: Making Sense of Religion (Albany, N.Y., 1996); Guilford Dudley III, Religion on Trial: Mircea Eliade and His Critics (Philadelphia, 1977); Ivan Strenski, Four Theories of Myth in the Twentieth Century: Cassirer, Eliade, Lévi-Strauss and Malinowski (Iowa City, 1977).
For feminist critiques, see Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation (Boston, 1973) and Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston, 1978); Rita M. Gross, Feminism and Religion: An Introduction (Boston, 1996); Carol P. Christ and Judith Plashow, eds., Womanspirit Rising (New York, 1979); Grace M. Jantzen, Power, Gender and Christian Mysticism (Cambridge, U.K., 1995); Wendy Doniger, The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth (New York, 1998).
On Foucault's work, see The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction (New York, 1978), and "Le chef mythique de la revolte de l'Iran," in Dits et ecrits 1948–1988, vol. 3, edited by Daniel Defert and François Ewald (Paris, 1994); Jeremy R. Carrette, ed., Religion and Culture (New York, 1999) and Foucault and Religion: Spiritual Corporality and Political Spirituality (New York, 2000); Gary Gutting, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Foucault (Cambridge, U.K., 1994); James. D. Fabion, ed. Power: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984, volume 3 (New York, 2001).
Good studies of nationalism and religious nationalism include Peter van der Veer, Religious Nationalism: Hindus and Muslims in India (Berkeley, Calif., 1994); Mark Juergensmeyer, The New Cold War (Berkeley, Calif., 1993); Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments (Princeton, N.J., 1993); Carlton Hayes, Nationalism: A Religion (New York, 1960); Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London, 1983).
For studies of civil religion, see Robert Bellah, The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial (Chicago, 1992); Marcela Cristi, From Civil to Political Religion: The Intersection of Culture, Religion and Politics (Waterloo, Canada, 2001); Christel Lane, The Rise of Rulers: Ritual in Industrial Society—-The Soviet Case (Cambridge, U.K., 1981).
On the complex question of secularism and civil religion in the United States, see Carolyn Marvin and David W. Ingle, Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag (New York, 1999); Mary Douglas and Steven M. Tipton, eds., Religion in America: Spirituality in a Secular Age (Boston, 1983); Ernest Tuveson, Redeemer Nation: The Idea of America's Millennial Role (Chicago, 1968); W. Lloyd Warner, The Living and the Dead: A Study of the Symbolic Life of Americans (New Haven, Conn., 1959).
On the role of religion in movements of resistance and revolution see Bruce Lincoln, ed., Religion, Rebellion, Revolution (New York, 1985); Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Berkeley, Calif., 2003); Stanley J. Tambiah, Leveling Crowds: Ethno-National Conflict and Collective Violence in South Asia (Berkeley, Calif., 1997); Vittorio Lanternari, The Religions of the Oppressed (New York, 1963); Guenter Lewy, Religion and Revolution (New York, 1974); Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (New York, 1996); Benjamin Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism are Reshaping the World (New York, 1995).
For religion and politics in specific religious traditions, refer to the sub-articles below. Works cited in this article include, on Hinduism: Mohandas Gandhi, Autobiography or the Story of My Experiments with Truth (1927. Reprint, Ahmedabad, India, 1940); Romila Thapar, "Sacrifice, Surplus and the Soul," History of Religions 33 (1994): 305–324; Brian K. Smith, Classifying the Universe: The Ancient Indian Varna System and the Origin of Caste (New York, 1994); Lise Mc-Kean, Divine Enterprise: Gurus and the Hindu Nationalist Movement (Chicago, 1996); The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Calcutta, 1984), vol. 3.
On Buddhism: Stanley J. Tambiah, Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics and Violence in Sri Lanka (Chicago, 1992); John S. Strong, The Legend of King Ashoka (Princeton, N.J., 1983); Ian Harris, Buddhism and Politics in Twentieth Century Asia (London, 1999); Geoffrey Samuel, Civilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Society (Washington, D.C., 1993).
On Islam: John Esposito, Islam and Politics (Syracuse, N.Y., 1991) and Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York, 2002); Peter G. Mandaville, Transnational Muslim Politics: Re-imagining the Umma (New York, 2001); Samih K. Farsoun and Christina E. Zacharia, Palestine and the Palestinians (Boulder, Colo., 1997).
On Christianity and Judaism: Jacques le Goff, Medieval Civilization, 400–1500 (New York, 2000); Ernst Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies (Princeton, N.J., 1957); Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches (Chicago, 1981); Alain Dieckhoff, The Invention of a Nation: Zionist Thought and the Making of Modern Israel (New York, 2002).
On Native American, African and other indigenous traditions: Joseph G. Jorgensen, Sun Dance Religion: Power for the Powerless (Chicago, 1986); James Mooney, The Ghost Dance Religion and the Outbreak at Wounded Knee (New York, 1973); Huston Smith and Reuben Snake, One Nation under God (Santa Fe, 1996); Omer C. Stewart, The Peyote Religion: A History (Lincoln, Neb., 1987); David Chidester, Savage Systems: Colonialism and Comparative Religion in Southern Africa (Charlottesville, Va., 1996).
On new religious movements: Catherine Wessinger, How the Millennium Comes Violently: From Jonestown to Heaven's Gate (New York, 2000); James Tabor and Eugene Gallagher, Why Waco? Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America (Berkeley, Calif., 1997); and Hugh B. Urban, Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics and Power in the Study of Religion (Berkeley, Calif., 2003).
Hugh B. Urban (2005)
"Politics and Religion: An Overview." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 4, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/politics-and-religion-overview
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