Rethinking religion in a political scientific wilderness


Ruth Marshall in The Immanent Frame:

Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religionmakes an extremely important and timely contribution to a conversation that the discipline of political science should be but still isn’t really having. The continued lack of serious, analytically sophisticated attention to religion and religious phenomena by scholars of international relations and comparative politics is all the more baffling given the place of religion in political life around the world today. Religious affiliation has become thecentral category for a geo-political remapping of the world since 9/11. The results have been depressingly vapid analyses that underscore, once again, the ideological force of Samuel Huntington’s self-fulfilling prophecy, and the bankruptcy of dominant approaches in our discipline that continue to treat religion in the most reductionist, identarian, instrumentalist, and frankly, unthinking fashion. In this regard, Shakman Hurd’s book constitutes a truly novel and vital contribution and I cannot recommend this book highly enough to my co-disciplinarians, whether interested in religion or not. I underscore this point, since many scholars who frequent The Immanent Frame are not mainstream political scientists and are thus unaware of the bleak nature of the wilderness into which rare and prophetic voices like Shakman Hurd’s are crying.

In her approach to the intellectual and political stakes of the current global doxa on religious freedom, her central focus and angle of attack is a deconstruction of the problematic ways in which the category “religion” is deployed in academic, governmental and policy discourses and practices, and the ways these should prompt us to think more critically about the contradictions of liberalism, in particular, the ambivalence of liberalism’s understanding of religion and the connection between its discourses of tolerance, pluralism, rights, freedom and new forms of global governance. This choice of focus is crucial, since political scientists, (unlike scholars of religion or anthropologists) appear completely unaware of the problematic ways in which the category of “religion” is used in the literature. The unreflective use of a highly Christian, indeed Protestant, understanding of religion as belief, inner conviction, and a matter of personal choice which can be entered into and exited freely, has come to dominate the academic and policy field, enabling “scholars, practitioners and pundits to leap straight into the business of quantifying religion’s effects, adapting religion’s insights to international problem-solving efforts, and incorporating religion’s official representatives into international political decision making, public policy, and institutions.”

More here.