Rethinking Religion and World Affairs edited by Timothy Samuel Shah, Alfred Stepan, and Monica Duffy Toft

41YET5z0qsL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Nonfiction — print. Oxford University Press, 2012. 319 pgs. Purchased.

The essays in this volume question the decision by those who study international relations to ignore religion as a factor in the behavior and actions of states (and some non-states). The book begins by revisiting “secularization theory”, which proclaims religion becomes less and less of a public factor as a result modernization, before delving into the connection (or lack thereof) between religion, democracy, and human rights and the role of religion before, during, and after violent conflict.

This book is far and away my favorite for my class on religion and international relations and might very well be my favorite book read in college. Each essay had something interesting to say and added immensely to those conversations I have had in class and outside of class about the role of religion in society.

My favorite article would have to be “The Politics of Secularism” by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, which examines two different types of secularism — laicism practiced in France and Judeo-Christian secularism practiced by the United States. Laicism sets the terms for what constitutes “legitimate” politics and “legitimate” religion by instilling a particular understanding of religion and banning it from politics. Judeo-Christian secularism defines religion as a source of unity and identity within societies and seeks not to ban it from politics but incorporate particular values from these religious traditions into a particular brand of law and governance.

A close second would be “Religious Freedom, Democracy, and International Human Rights” by John Witte Jr. and M. Christian Green simply because it fueled the most passionate debate in my class. The idea that a person’s religion is a manifestation of their identity is unchallenged by most of my classmates, but several baulked at the idea that religious freedom should be classified as a human right. The question became what would happen to those without a religious tradition and whether international religious freedom provisions would protect people rather than ideas, ideologies, or simply just a religious body.

When it comes to textbooks, I mark my enjoyment of them in terms of how happy I will see them leave my possession and how strongly I hope to sell them back. In this case, I will be sad to return the book, which I rented for a free, to the campus bookstore.


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