The Politics of Secularism in International Relations.

Author:Egger, Vernon O.
Position:Book review

The Polities of Secularism in International Relations. By Elizabeth Shakman Hurd. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008. 247 pp. $22.95 paper.

The global religious resurgence that began in the 1960s and swelled in the 1970s caught social scientists off guard. They failed to anticipate it, failed to notice its emergence, and have still largely failed to assess it adequately. As a rule, they have either ignored major religious developments in Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim societies, or dismissed them as epiphenomena or atavisms that mask underlying anxieties. In general, the academic and policy-making elites of this country have been so conditioned by a secular world-view that they have been incapable of responding effectively to instances of religious resurgence within their own society and abroad.

The Politics of Secularism in International Relations is an analysis of the nature of secularist assumptions in the United States and Europe and of how those assumptions-have affected relations between the West and the Muslim world. The book's major contribution is the distinction that it draws between two dominant forms of secularist assumptions in this country. One is a version of the laicism that France developed, and the other is what the author calls Judeo-Christian secularism. The author argues that, whereas laicism demands the exclusion of religious practice and institutions from the public sphere, Judeo-Christian secularism assumes that religious issues and political institutions will occasionally overlap, and its primary focus is to prevent any one church from dominating the public sphere. The key difference between the two versions, however, is that laicists assume that any society can (and should) become secular, whereas Judeo-Christian secularists assume that secularism is the unique outgrowth of Judeo-Christian civilization, and therefore not replicable. Thus, whereas laicists urge Muslim societies to become secular, Judeo-Christian secularists assume that it is impossible for Muslim societies to do so and consider them to be forever alien and potentially hostile to liberal, democratic societies.

The characteristics of, and contrasts between, these two varieties of secularism are discussed in some detail in the book, and the analysis yields several valuable insights into why particular scholars and policy makers adopt particular attitudes and policies toward other parts of the world...

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