Notes on the Sociology of Religion: Religious Conflict and Society (27)

John C. Rankin

  1. Cultural Wars and Religious Violence.
  2. Overwrought comparison to the so-called “culture wars” in the United States; deep social issues of dispute, but civil order maintains itself well, even if with a few violent flares.
  3. “I define true ‘culture war’ as a national conflict that involves widespread polarization and concerted violence over government legitimacy and control in the pursuit of noneconomic interests” (pp. 164-165).
  4. “Not to mince words, applying the phrase ‘culture war’ to the United States makes a mockery of nations elsewhere around the world that fulfill its criteria all to well” (p. 166).
  5. Review of examples already itemized: struggle of Liberation Theology from Catholic Church/landowners/government collusions in Brazil; violence and deaths in Guatemala; stakes by Roman Church, Opus Dei, evangelical and Mayan religion; Poland’s devastation under Nazis, victory of Solidarity and Pope John Paul II; Northern Ireland’s minority Catholics and majority Protestants exploited by political leaders in religious dress, resulting in deadly conflicts; Turkey, while muted, boils underneath even since Ataturk, with flash points of Armenians and Kurds; Egypt’s elite “secular” elite who use Islam as religious dress, versus the Muslim Brotherhood; Indonesia with moderate Islam, but battles raging in annexed Christian East, Chinese merchant class n Molucca and Islamists in Aceh; Pakistani secular elite using Islamization as convenient, but always holding it at bay, city versus rural realities; Israel’s realities of Jewish homeland versus Arab and Muslim opposition, Palestinian suffering as a ping pong ball; India’s great diversity, yet warring realities in Hindu v. Muslim (e.g. Ayodyah) v. Sikh/ v. Christian realities, and political interface from Gandhi to Singh; Communist China and uneasy forced control of religion.
  6. Realities of religious violence; temptations to underestimate or overestimate it; signal year of 1979 w/Moral Majority, Jonestown, Solidarity, Pope and Liberation Theology, Camp David Accords, Iranian Revolution.
  7. Yet, episodic realities in its manifestations: “Religion provides an unmatched window into the exotica and erotica of society – a running, microcosmic illustration of life in both the mainstream and on the edge” (p. 172).
  8. “Religion as trigger” – many examples already itemized, where power and economics in the “moth and flame syndrome” are common.
  9. “Religion as cause” – examples already cited where root religious realities drive consequences from the grass roots.
  10. “Religion as surrogate and construct” – examples already cited where political power uses religious dress for its own purposes.
  11. “The analysis of religion is too important to be left solely in the hands of either the true believer or the iconoclast. If the former tends to find religion everywhere, the latter tends to find religion nowhere” (p. 180).
  12. “Violence as self-perpetuating” – examples already cited where, regardless of origin, violence can take son a life of its own, and increasing apart from original cause(s).
  13. Religious Politics Without a Religious State? “Establishment” versus “Free Exercise.” Debate over the language from the First Amendment + Jefferson’s use of “wall of separation” between church and state; ‘Uneasy relation between the establishment and free-exercise clauses.”
  14. Cultural versus structural separation – the former in terms of civil religion along lines of a generic “Judeo-Christian” heritage such as coin inscriptions of “In God We Trust”; but not in terms of influencing laws (e.g. old blue laws), thus equaling the latter; accommodation to that which does not upset the vague status quo of the acceptable.
  15. Move from First Amendment’s focus on churches and denominations to that “involving religion and then to involving the broadly but vaguely sacred.”
  16. “Separation from Politics versus the State.” Infeasibility of keeping strict separation between religion and political power; religion as part of state hegemony versus free expression in political life.
  17. “As the founders understood, because both religion and politics involve competing moral guidelines and ethical priorities, it is only natural that the two should inform – and occasionally inflame – each other” (p. 192).
  18. “As many Americans fail to realize, the most pressing clause of the amendment concerns establishment rather than free exercise” (ibid).
  19. “Global Variations in the Relations between Religion and Power.”
  20. “Where the freedom of religion is concerned, the United States is not distinctive at all. More than 90 percent of countries around the world have some constitutional equivalent of the U.S. free-exercise clause” (pp. 192-193).
  21. Four models worldwide: 1) religious states with religious politics – examples already given of attempt at some form of “theocracy,” volatile in nature, exception rather than the rule; 2) secular states with secular politics – examples already given of attempt at some form of freedom from religion mixing with state power, with a range of weaknesses and quasi-strengths; 3) religious states with secular politics – examples already given of attempt to avoid theocratic impulse while highlighting religious identity, some quasi-successes,       others with deep problems; 4) secular states with religious politics – examples already given of attempt at religious liberty within a non-theocratic state, both successes and stresses.
  22. Deeper cultural realities that affect the balance of religions and political “power” (often asymmetrical in nature): “… it is common for political figures to don at least a light religious cloak while on the stump but to doff it when enmeshed in the chores of state administration” (p. 202); having it “both ways” (p. 203).
  23. State religions where the government controls religion; not vice versa.
  24. Limits on religion exercising positive power in politics – 1) inability to rise above negative or veto power to oppose the undesirable; 2) limited to secondary levels of influence by state power; 3) aiming for “public power” but limited to “private power.”
  25. Issues of religious diversity, ideology and authority; “ethical prophets.”
  26. “… those religious groups with the greatest organizational resources to place at the disposal of a political perspective rarely fulfill their political potential. If they retain their independence outside the government, they are likely to do so by whispering rather than shouting, for fear of being overheard” (p. 210).
  27. Secularization and secularism: “Far from eradicating religion, the oscillation of secularization and sacralization tends to irrigate, prune, and cross-fertilize religion in a way that produces not only new varieties but new vigor” (p. 211).
  28. Conclusion: “In the final analysis, a religion’s capital is often best optimized when it is not a capital religion. That is, while religion has a rightful and undeniable place in politics, religious functions bets outside of the state nexus rather than within it” (p. 213).
  1. Globalization and religious restructuring in face of technological change.
  2. China and its fight to marginalize the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism.
  3. From the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 to the 2000 forum at the United Nations to John Paul II’s 2001 hospitality to world religious leaders at Assisi.
  4. Hans Küng” …there would never be peace among nations without peace among religions, and there would be no peace among religions without dialogue” (p. 306).
  5. Global Religious Dialogue and Political-Religious Alliances.
  6. Political EMC systems and two crucial international relationships: 1) Europe with the United States and 2) the West with the non-West.
  7. “The fully expanded West would have to be built ideologically on the common view of the religions of the book within liberal democracy and a mixed economy” (p. 308).
  8. Pivotal roles for Islam and Christianity: “”it is unlikely that any Muslim state will establish other than regional hegemony over fellow Islamic states” and “any state that does will have to solve the conundrum of how to embrace Islam and modernity simultaneously” (p. 309); reality of Islam as a communication system.
  9. Christianity in mainline history versus modern growth of evangelical and Pentecostal especially in Latin America and Africa.
  10. Seemingly natural grounds for dialogue between Judaism and Islam due to kosher & halal, halakhah and shari’a; not so facile, deeper realities at play.
  11. Various places for interreligious dialogue – religions of the book; multireligious in China and Indian subcontinent; and multireligious North American and European interface.
  12. Muslim-Christian dialogue central: social theory to global ethic to global community…
  13. “During the next fifty years, then, relations between Christians and Muslims offer to global politics both a promising upside and horrible downside” (p. 314).
  14. Is Religion Good or Bad for Politics? Both unites and divides.
  15. Positive elements – effects on individual dignity, inspiration for a better social and political life, continuity of identity in an ever-changing world, and preventative powers.
  16. Negative elements – demonizing of the other, lunatic fringe realities.
  17. Hope to heal politics with positive elements of religion, but not an easy task.
  18. Hanson’s answer in model of Thomas Merton in the relationship between “personal religious experience” and “international significance of religion in global politics.” Thus, central question: “What kind of religion would lead to s better political world?” (p. 319).
  19. “Nine Global Religious-Political Rules”: 1) no religious violence; 2) religious freedom and cognate rational discussion; 3) interfaith and ecumenical dialogue; 4) senior religious clerics given priority in political crises; 5) religious primary ethical brokers in political and social crises; 6) integrated whole for religious and political callings; 7) international religious/moral       brokers; 8) recognize threat of unchecked political EMC systems; 9) keep politics out of personal spirituality.