Politicizing Secularism.

Author:Berg-Sorensen, Anders
Position:The Politics of Secularism in International Relations - Book review

The Politics of Secularism in International Relations Elizabeth Shakman Hurd (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), 247 pages.

National and international politics have recently undergone a religious revival of sorts and while the effects of this transformation have been far reaching, the implications have yet to be fully explored. One is left wondering how the rebirth of religion within the political realm challenges our understanding of the relationship between religion and politics in a democratic regime. In The Politics of Secularism in International Relations, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd investigates how religion and politics are dealt with in foreign policies in the United States and Europe as well as in the disciplines of political science and international relations. In doing so, she isolates and questions the assumptions surrounding secularism that are traditionally taken for granted in political contexts and analyses. According to Hurd, conceiving religion and politics as fixed and separate categories is problematic. Secularism's role within politics, as well as the assumptions and vocabulary involved therein, should form the focal point in inquiry into the relationship between religion and politics. Hurd's method of inquiry constitutes a departure from her predecessors in that the three dominant international relations theories namely realism, liberalism and constructivism all are based upon unquestioned assumptions. In doing so, Hurd sets herself the ambitious task of uncovering the roots of the ongoing political interaction between secularism and religion.

Hurd claims that the relationship between religion and politics is unstable and essentially contestable where the conceptions and settlements of this relationship are themselves part of continuous political negotiations. Doctrines of secularism determine the nature of the perceived relationship between religion and politics in so far as such theories serve to differentiate between religion and politics. Such differentiation is in itself a political act. Hurd writes, "secularism produces authoritative settlements of religion and politics, while simultaneously claiming to be exempt from this process of production. This is a formidable exercise of power." (1) Following Hurd's argument, secularism can constitute an epistemic space that defines the boundaries between religion and politics, as taken for granted by the dominant theoretical perspectives in international relations...

To continue reading