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How Important Is Religion in the International System of World Politics?

Essay by   •  August 25, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  2,678 Words (11 Pages)  •  1,733 Views

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For centuries religion has played a fundamental role in all aspects of society. It is a difficult term to define, but simply is composed of beliefs and traditions that offer broad perspectives and moral points of reference to its believers . Its primary role is to guide the follower through life by influencing (and often determining) their worldviews and giving substance to their sense of identity within their society. The western enlightenment period of the 1700's was the first time in history when the authority of religion and therefore the domination of God was questioned with a new air of freedom that was previously unknown within the Christian community. From that time on religion became conceptualized as a set of privately held beliefs or doctrines that were only a side actor that aided in shaping the paradigms of modernization, secularization and therefore the world system of politics. This essay will thus examine why religion was secularized and ignored leading up to and during the 20th century and show how modernization has in fact caused it to resurge as an important and influential player in the international system of world politics. The primary world religions of today make up seventy-seven per cent of the world's population and the main leaders are Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism and Buddhism. This shows there is a growing need to firstly, recognize the importance of these ideologies and secondly, incorporate them into the 21st century international relations theories or paradigms.

Ignoring religion is a trend that has been found in all of western social sciences during the 20th century , noting the secularization of it within society, as religion became a secondary element that was subordinate to other structures and ideologies. The framework of international relations was therefore 'western-centric' in that all the major paradigms were based on the assumption that religion was not an important factor, being inferior to the central factors of material power, the economy and the state . This was primarily a direct result of the Western Enlightenment period and the growth of the west as a hegemonic power . This aroused the rational and scientific foundations of western thought and caused a 'new' modernity that questioned and challenged all religious faiths . Modernity and a new freer way of thinking were linked to the demise of religion as social scientists broke out of the constraints imposed by the church and predicted that with this new freedom of interpretation and thought religion would cease to be a relevant factor in society and politics . Science and reason were expected to replace religion's role within society and this theory of secularization was the only one that was able to link religion to any of the paradigms within the social science realm.

Within this realm, Modernity was seen as the key cause of this change. There is common belief among many that sees religion and nationalism as twin ideologies , with both working together to create a complete identity for the individual. However, this is not always the case. For many advanced societies, the nation-state can serve the same societal roles as religion and consequently put the two in contention with each other, rather then in harmony. As mentioned in the definition of religion, a sense of identity is formed within the community, however nations- particularly ethnic nations- can provide a similar identity via heritage, communal belonging and common origins . These are functions that man had previously aligned with the worship of god, however the nation-state that offers such solaces, frees this man from having to turn to him (god). As the West sought to share its modernity of our world through the liberal ideals of human rights and democracy, it claimed social, cultural and racial superiority over all states that were not European or American . Within these 'lesser' states, the westernized view that the world is controlled through reason, science and technology and bureaucratic rationality left little consideration for the traditional religious, spiritual or sacred beliefs of that state .

This westernized view did not aim to remove religion from the lives of its citizens; rather secularism makes the point of state neutrality towards matters of religion. A secular state is not a religion-less one, rather it allows freedom of religion among its citizens but the governmental policies do not identify with any one of them in particular. This is a form of 'religion-less liberalism' , where the secular state has not emerged to repress religion and deny its importance within society, but to avoid the identification of the state with one particular belief to ensure the neutrality of politics and the rights to freedom of multiple religions within said state. Again, this shows how western thinkers believed that religion has no role within the political structures of the world. This is clearly evident in the International Relations theories of Realism, Liberalism, Marxism and Constructivism. Firstly, Realism focuses on material power and leaves little room for explaining what has motivated the state to employ such behavior. Secondly, Liberalism and Marxism focus on rationalistic and economic factors to control their nation and thirdly, Constructivists believe that all structure is man-made and therefore ignore the transcended characteristics of religion . It would therefore appear that International Relations scholars were blinded by their paradigms during the 20th century, an age that was ruled by secular ideologies (such as Communism, Fascism and Capitalism) that all have religious connotations but are not driven by religious tradition.

However, Religion is seen to be at the core of a societies value system in many parts of the world and therefore its importance as a sacral or primary element within the political structures of international relations must be taken into account. The desire to worship with others is central to a religious community, but it has an ambition to be free from the domination of the west and this has turned many religions and their associates into political communities. As shown above, the common view in Westernized society was, until recently, that religion has rapidly lost the importance it once had, that the traditional influence of the church has declined and that religion plays no role in public life anymore . In the later part of the 20th century to today, religion has reappeared within political life causing many international relations scholars to re-examine the amount of importance that they previously had placed on it. The resurgence of religion is particularly evident in third world nations as a revolt against the west and modernized society, where nationalism and Marxism have failed to produce the promised economic developments

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