This series aims to publish high quality works on the topic of religion and international relations. The subject has attracted growing interest in the post-cold war era (that is, since the late 1980s). It involves all the ‘world religions’ (including, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism) in most parts of the world (such as, the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa) in relation to a growing number of issues, most of them political.
The series welcomes proposals that use a variety of approaches to the subject, drawing on scholarship from international relations, religious studies, political science, security studies, and contemporary history.
Books in the series will examine various topics, including, inter alia, the late Samuel Huntington’s controversial – yet influential – ‘clash of civilisations’ paradigm, the international effects of migration, religion’s impact on the climate emergency, the influence of religious non-state actors on international outcomes, and how religion can affect political extremism and terrorism. In short, the overall purpose of the book series is to provide a comprehensive survey of what is currently happening in relation to the interaction of religion and international relations, in relation to. a variety of issues. The series welcomes empirical, comparative and theoretical approaches to the subject, using various methodologies.
- Jeffrey Haynes, Emeritus Professor of Politics, London Metropolitan University, United Kingdom
- A. Erdi Öztürk, London Metropolitan University, United Kingdom
- Eric M. Trinka, James Madison University, United States
Thinking about the association of religion and international relations, what do we know and how do we know it? In recent decades, much attention has been paid to how religion impacts upon international relations; not all of it has come from International Relations (IR) scholars. This may be because, as a discipline, IR was initially slow to take religion seriously, with many IR scholars apparently reluctant to accept religion’s significance in IR and factor into their analyses. Reus-Smit notes that both religion and culture  were ‘largely neglected’ in IR until the al Qaeda attacks on the Pentagon and New York’s Twin Towers on 9/11. Prior to 9/11, however, two developments also caught the attention of analysts: Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 and Huntington’s (1993, 1996) ‘clash of civilisations’ paradigm. 9/11 significantly added to these, and together they have helped to sustain a focus on religion in IR.
The relationship of religion to international relations first appeared of significance because Iran’s Islamic Revolution led to widespread apprehension that the new revolutionary government would seek to spread its radical agenda to the Muslim ummah via Iran’s foreign policy, much as the post-revolutionary government in the Soviet Union had sought to spread its revolution six decades earlier to those it believed would respond favourably to its appeals.
A consequence of 9/11 and its aftermath – especially, the US-led ‘war on terror’ and increasing securitisation of Islam (Haynes, 2018, 2019) – was an increased focus on religious ideas, especially Islamist extremism and terrorism. It also led to a renewed focus on Huntington’s ‘clash of civilisations paradigm, which focused on ‘The West’ and ‘Islam’ as radically different concepts, informed by dissimilar ideas and values. Each was constituted, according to Huntington, in relation to state power and ‘mobilized to sustain system-transforming political projects, either on the part of liberal democracies, seeking to redefine the norms of sovereignty and global governance, or terrorist organisations seeking an end to the liberal capitalist world order’ (Rues-Smit, 2005: 211).
In addition, the last few decades saw a pronounced trend to proclaim a global religious resurgence and ‘post-secular’ international relations (Thomas, 2005; Toft, Philpott, Shah, 2011). The claim is not that in IR important actors have fundamentally changed in recent years: powerful states still dominate, although in certain contexts and in relation to some issues, the importance of various religious non-state actors, including Islamic State, al Qaeda, and the Holy See, is also noted. On the one hand, states (or governments, the two terms are used synonymously in the IR literature) in various ways, contexts and with various outcomes, may connect their policies to religious concerns, typically in order to justify or legitimate specific foreign policies, such as the sustained US support for international religious freedom since the Clinton presidency in the 1990s. On the other hand, there are also significant non-state actors in international relations encouraging international relations to be more in line with their religious principles, as already noted.
Building on Huntington’s (1993, 1996) analysis, Thomas (2005) argues that religion, in the form of non-state ‘religious traditions or movements’, can affect international relations in three main ways: promote or help resolve international conflicts; affect international society’s norms, values, and institutions; and influence a country’s foreign policy. On the first point, the nature of international conflict changed since the end of the Cold War, characterised by a relative scarcity of interstate wars and more intrastate conflicts. For example, in the 1990s there were more than 100 major conflicts involving more than 1,000 fatalities each; but only a handful were interstate wars. Most were intrastate conflicts, and about 7 per cent were classified as ‘communal’ wars, that is, characterised by religious, ‘cultural’ or ethnic division and strife. To some extent, such communal issues replaced extant secular ideologies – including, communism and socialism – as key sources of identity, competition and conflict in international relations. The widespread eruption of communal conflicts cast serious doubt on the potential to move from the bipolar Cold War order – rooted in secular ideological division – to a new configuration characterised by (the pursuit of) peace, prosperity and cooperation. These concerns were highlighted in the brief focus on a ‘new world order’ highlighted by US President George H. W. Bush in the early 1990s. The focus was however short-lived as the inter-communal wars in former Yugoslavia of that decade, as well as Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the West’s punitive response, highlighted the return of communal strife and made achievement of a new world order hard to envisage.
Religious differences were key to the Yugoslavia conflict, just as they had been to the earlier conflict between Iran and Iraq (1980-88), the most destructive (of life) conflict since World War II. In both wars, religious differences were central to engendering and influencing individual and group values, factors that can affect formulation and execution of states’ foreign policies, as the Iran-Iraq war demonstrated. This is because religion is an important source of basic value orientations both for individuals – including political leaders – and for communities in countries around the world. This can clearly have major social and political connotations, enabling religion to be ‘a mobiliser of masses, a controller of mass action … an excuse for repression [or] an ideological basis for dissent’ (Calvert and Calvert, 2001: 140).
Second, Thomas notes that the relationship between ‘international society’ – that is, the association of sovereign states based on their common interests, values, and norms – and internationally-significant non-state religious actors was also a significant issue after the Cold War. Finally, several states, including Turkey and the USA, are noted for the overt intrusion of religion into their foreign policies in recent decades (Öztürk, 2021; Haynes 2021).
We can draw several conclusions from Thomas’s comments. First, in recent years, the association of religion to both state and non-state actors’ policies and actions have become important for understanding international outcomes in many parts of world. This is a novelty, because International Relations has long seen the international system as a demonstrably secular one. The fundamental secular norms of international relations were enshrined in the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) – particularly the notion of state restraint in religious matters, and the gradual privatisation of the latter implying political marginalisation. This encouraged a strong belief among most IR scholars that international relations discourse is predominantly secular. Second, religion influences international outcomes involving international society. Finally, all religious actors’ influence in international relations is linked to their ability to exercise ideational power. Both states and non-state actors can be influential in this regard. Toft, Philpott and Shah (2011) share these concerns, assessing whether religion is a force for good or evil in world politics. Their conclusion, although not very surprising, is that it can be both, depending on the actor, the circumstances and the context.
The overall aim of the proposed book series – Religion and International Relations – is to further our knowledge on these and other topics.
 Reus-Smit (2005: 211) defines culture as a broad ‘framework on inter-subjective meanings and practices that give a society a distinctive character …’.
Calvert, Peter, and Susan Calvert. 2001. Politics and Society in the Third World: An Introduction. London: Longman.
Haynes, Jeffrey. 2018. The United Nations Alliance of Civilisations and the Pursuit of Global Justice: Overcoming Western versus Muslim Conflict and the Creation of a Just World Order. New York and Lampeter, Edwin Mellen Press.
Haynes, Jeffrey. 2019. From Huntington to Trump: Thirty Years of the Clash of Civilizations. New York, Lexington Books,
Haynes, Jeffrey. 2021. Trump and the Politics of Neo-Nationalism. The Christian Right and secular Nationalism in America. London and New York: Routledge.
Öztürk, Ahmet Erdi. 2021. Religion, Identity and Power: Turkey and the Balkans in the Twenty-First Century. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Reus-Smit, Christian. 2005. ‘Constructivism’, in Scott Burchill, Andrew Linklater, Richard Devetak, Jack Donnelly, Mark Paterson, Christian Reus-Smit and Jaqui True, Theories of International Relations, 3rd ed. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan: 161-87.
Thomas, Scott, M. 2005. The Global Transformation of Religion and the Transformation of International Relations. The Struggle for the Soul of the Twenty-First Century. New York/Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Toft, Monica Duffy, Daniel Philpott and Timothy Samuel Shah. 2011. God’s Century. Resurgent Religion and Global Politics. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company.