Routledge Handbook of Religion and Politics, second edition (Routledge, 2016)

[1] This is the second edition of Rutledge’s excellent Handbook on Politics and Religion by Jeffery Haynes. Haynes is Director of Research at London Metropolitan University in the U.K. The first volume was published after the events of September 11, 2011, looking at the implications of “religious terrorism” and “extremism.” Haynes asked some of the original contributors to update their previous contributions. What results is a very current and insightful picture of religious political engagement around the world.

[2] Hayne’s writes, “Today, religion’s social and political significance and influence is universal.” (p. xv) There still is enthusiasm particularly in North America and Europe for dialogue and collaboration among various faith groups. This is a hopeful development. However, it is easy to be somewhat idealistic and captive to the theological discussion in the world of multifaith relationships. This volume provides helpful analysis about the internal dynamics and tensions shaping religious political engagement. It also offers a helpful glimpse of the issues in the background that can influence their interfaith conversations. It could serve as a useful tool for greater multifaith political engagement with public institutions and leaders.

[3] Haynes organizes the contributions around four general themes; “World religion and politics,” “Religion and governance,” “Religion and international relations,” and “Religion, security, and development.” Haynes makes it clear that the “starting point” for the analysis by many of the contributors is “that globalisation both highlights and boosts religious pluralism; while also encouraging intra-faith and inter-religious hostility and conflict.” (p. xxii) Hayne’s objective is that understanding these dynamics might help enable more collaboration in the pursuit of peace. As globalization seems to be called into question in Europe and Northern America, such an analysis might also help to diagnose globalization’s failings and shortcomings. Nevertheless, such an assertion also requires some nuance about the places where this is not the case and where faith groups have taken the initiative for peace.

[4] I offer a brief overview with apologies since is hard to really do justice to the well-articulated arguments of each of the contributors. In the “World religion and politics” section some very noteworthy scholars offer a fascinating tour through some of the particular beliefs, of Buddhism, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Shia, and Sunni Islam and Judaism. These all offer some surprising insights such as Peter Friedlander’s assessment of the tension between “engaged” Buddhism’s “peace activism” versus a more “anti-Muslim Buddhist nationalism.” (p.13). Paul Freston’s helpful survey of Protestantism is useful in understanding the rising role of “evangelicals” and the challenge reconciling its’ “institutional plurality” in a way to have a political impact. (p.32) The chapters on Sunni Islam, Shiism and Judaism are particularly prescient in the light of events in the Middle East. Often the media reports of the events but these three chapters are helpful in understanding the deeper currents the moving beyond view.

[5] Part II addresses “Religion and Governance.” Luca Ozzano’s helpful overview of “religious fundamentalism” notes that fundamentalism “is not ‘simply’ a religious phenomenon: on the contrary, it is linked to politics and to the search for control and hegemony over society.” Such fundamentalism will “usually select, reinterpret, and sometimes rewrite their own religious traditions” to accomplish their goals (p.150). David Herbert provides an interesting analysis of the relationship between religion and civil society. There has been some debate as to whether religious organizations are part of or separate from “civil society.” Herbert illustrates some of the “distrust” as well as “potential for new forms of political mobilization and confrontation.” (p. 227) Jocelyne Cesari’s article offers a useful perspective, particularly in the light of efforts in some jurisdictions to develop laws and charters securing secularism (e.g. Quebec’s Charter of Values debate) and banning particular religious lifestyle practices (e.g. Burqini). For her, “Securitization and secularization sheds light on the rise of values centred liberalism which pitches itself against the recognition of religious and cultural diversity” mainly as it relates to Muslims. (p. 242.)

[6] In the “Religion and international relations” section, Luca Mavelli and Erin K. Wilson introduced the idea of “postsecularism” in their contribution that does not just recognize the “return of religion” to public life but its transformational implications for a new paradigm. Jonathan Fox and Nukhet A Sandal look at how to integrate religion into international relations. Christian realism has made an important contribution to ethics. Fox and Sandal revisit classical realism and how religion has been one of the “blind spots” for theories international relations. Nukhet in a subsequent chapter offers an explanation for this, “The Westphalian system has been primarily secular, so religion has not attracted much attention.” (p.292) David Wessels in “Religions in a Globalizing World,” makes the point that the “intersection of religion and politics in a globalizing world is the core of much human activity and a key to understanding global dynamics.” (p.314)

[7] In the final and shortest section, “Religion, security and development,” Kristin Aune and Line Nyhagen in their contribution, “Religion, Politics, and Gender” point out that “Gender is at the heart of religion and politics” yet at the same time marginalized. (p.335) They make the important feminist point that “politics is not simply about states, governance, and the electorate, but also about communities, civil society groups, families and intimate aspects of individuals’ ‘lived citizenship.'”(p. 335) Jeffery Haynes looks at “Faith-Based Organizations and Development” (FBOs) Martin Juergensmeyer discusses “Religious terrorism in global politics” and Paul Ilo explores “The rise of religious peacebuilding.”

[8] Jeffrey Haynes has pulled together a remarkable group of scholars to introduce the reader to the how religious communities actually have been involved in the political life of their parts of the world. It is a very rich and fulsome treatment of a crucial area of statecraft and massive body experience. To tackle, any one of these areas could involve volumes. I applaud their accomplishment. It is a highly informative and useful primer for anyone interested or working in multifaith relations or public policy. Likewise, it provides cautionary tales for those who “don’t know what they don’t know,” to paraphrase former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

[9] In the light of my overall favorable view, I think one has to read this volume recognizing some of the limitations. First, I was intrigued but not surprised that a 2016 second edition was needed so soon after the first from 2009. Ironically the third edition may be needed even sooner after the events of 2016. Trumpism, Brexit and the growing resistance to globalization in the Global North will have an impact on the analysis. Globalization in the Global South has always received more critical popular reviews. The authours do identify many of the seeds of these changes. Nevertheless, no longer can we assume globalization as an inevitable, desirable or even the same in various parts of the world. This doesn’t detract from what is included in this volume. It may in fact be even more relevant to determining the role of faith-based communities and organizations. But it does qualify some of the observations by the authours.

[10] Second, the focus of this Handbook is to “religion” not necessarily theology. There are references to the systems of beliefs and ethics that are useful. However, religion as a field seeks to describe the reality from a particular perspective whereas theology asks what does this mean and theological ethics asks what should we do? Readers will be disappointed if they are looking for a theological treatment here. This volume does provide important insights that can inform theology and theological ethics.

[11] Third, the authours do a commendable job in grounding their work in the various contexts they address. This is not an easy task. However, having worked in multifaith and social justice faith-based organizations, this academic treatment misses some an “activist” perspective. I am not suggesting that scholars have to be activists, but there is a limitation to their work. I attended a conference on religion and peacemaking not long ago. There was a lovely panel of excellent scholars. They had interesting presentations about what faith groups could do but they failed to mention what churches and faith groups had actually been doing for some time.

[12] This volume has the same limitation. Churches in particular established some of the earliest non-governmental organizations and social service agencies. Churches have been well known for their work with refugees. Churches were the earliest critics and have challenged globalization policies effectively for thirty years. The Churches’ Jubilee Campaign for example, made international debt a priority issue for the G-8, according to former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. I could offer more examples. Brian Stewart, former Canadian Broadcast Corporation’s Senior Correspondent and now a Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Foreign Affairs in Toronto, has said that as one of the first to arrive in some very conflicted places to cover a story, he often found the churches were already there before anyone else. I think the same might be also true for other faith traditions as well. One should read this volume recognizing there is more to this story.

[13] Haynes has made a very important contribution to the question of faith in public life. This has been a “blind spot” and probably remains so for many people today particularly in the academy, public life, business and the media. José Casanova pointed out in 1994 “Religion in the 1980s ‘went public’ in a dual sense. It entered the ‘public sphere’ and gained, thereby, ‘publicity.” (Public Religions in the Modern World, 3). Many in the “chattering class” in the Global North missed or chose to overlook the role of faith and religious communities in public life and international affairs. Haynes offers a useful way back to exploring both the positive as well as the concerns for the impact of faith in public life.

David Pfrimmer

David Pfrimmer is Professor of Public Ethics and Co-director of the Centre for Public Ethics at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary on the campus of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario and an International Fellow at the Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life at the University of Alberta.