The last week of 2016 was littered with talk of how difficult 2016 had been and how it couldn’t end soon enough. I, however, was not really complaining because I needed the last week of the year to catch up on some readings. I came across a book, titled, Religion in International Relations: the Return From Exile. Although it is directly related to my field of interest and to my PhD dissertation, to my surprise I hadn’t come across this book before. The book talks about the importance of religion in IR, constructivism, and even securitization. I will not write a book review here—although I wish I did—but this book inspired this piece, and I want to refer to it in several occasions.
Although the book was written in 2003 it is very relevant today, firstly because we never brought religion back from exile to begin with, and secondly the need to bring it back is crucial now more than ever.
Religion in IR went into exile basically with the Treaty of Westphalia when the nation state became the standard, and this was understood, or constructed, as a secular nation state. Basically, religion did not play a role anymore, and in some cases religion was the persona-non-grata. While we can continue to argue about the affect of religion in IR and politics, these debates show us that we cannot omit religion from the equation and we need to take it seriously. Most importantly we need to take religious pluralism seriously and build on those values. By turning a blind eye to religion, the problem has grown. And today Vendulka Kubalkova rightly argues that a need of an “International Political Theology” has emerged just as we have the discipline of International Political Economy, or International Security.
Religion is now being discussed in most of the political platforms: from national security, to international economy, public policy, elections, and social life. Sacred objects have been securitized mostly in the 21st century, and more people have been turning to religious teachings for solutions of their everyday problems.
The recent US elections have been controversial in how they tackled religion. Both presidential candidates have asked Muslims to be “ears and eyes in the frontline”, and Muslim immigrants and travelers face a threat to be banned from the US by the new administration, endorsed by many evangelical groups and leaders endorsed President Trump. The Native American protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline has also attracted some religious groups in solidarity. The post-election environment has brought Jewish and Muslim groups together to overcome the discourse targeted against them, and the news of a joint conference of Jewish and Muslim women called Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, has made it in every major newspaper headline in the country this year, although this is the third year they are doing it.
In America, as everywhere else, religion cannot be ignored anymore. And it shouldn’t be ignored. Although politicians argue that religion needs to be out of politics, and many religious clergy argue that they don’t have to do anything with politics, this is incorrect. Even the daily debates inside religious communities are very political and power prone.
In the last few weeks there were several Muslim conventions that brought attention to power struggle and opinion differences among the Muslim preachers. Inclusion of many political figures in these conventions has sparked debate of who is endorsing whom, and some statements have enraged the masses. At least in the American Muslim community we understand that there is a much needed dialogue among Muslims of different communities, as they don’t understand each other. But one thing was understood from all these debates: when the religious preachers make a statement or an act, it effects more people in the community than even the political leaders’ statements and acts. It’s not that simple anymore to say, “this is my opinion and I might be wrong”. Their acts, endorsements, and statements do things. Just like in Jane Austin’s How to Do Things With Words, they can reconcile or break communities, or more important, break the hearts of the people. Even more than politicians, their statements influence people and actions, although this might not be their intention or will.
Religion has become significant even in social activity matters, such as #BlackLivesMatter, and it cannot be overseen anymore. We have to discuss social activism, politics, race, environment, dialogue, and other matters of importance from religious perspective and the preachers need to address them openly. Especially in Islam, when the religion is being associated mostly with matters of security and terror, there is a need to bring to the table religious literature on issues of social importance. Dr. Esposito and Dr. Voll have given examples of Muslim leaders who have preached dialogue, pluralism, and activism, in the book that I mentioned at the beginning, and as they put it these leaders are not the only ones.
All religions and faiths are there to help shape peoples’ lives, morality, ethics, and worldviews. It is unproductive to turn a blind eye on them in public life. Religions, faiths, and beliefs should be a part of everyday life, just as politics, economics, finances, and traveling is. There is a need to bring religion out of the security discourse and back to the social discourse. In other words, a need to normalize it. But first, we need to bring religion back from exile.