Leiden Law Blog

The Resurgence of Political Religion

The Resurgence of Political Religion

“Military fervor on behalf of faith has disappeared. Its only souvenirs are the marble effigies of crusading knights, reposing in the silent crypts of churches on their tombs”, John William Draper (1811-1882) writes in his History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874). Writing on the pernicious influence that religion had exerted on scientific progress, Draper thought this belonged to the past. Draper would have looked with astonishment at book titles we are so familiar with nowadays: God’s Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics (2011), Is Religion Killing Us? Violence in the Bible and the Quran (2003), Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (2003), Making War in the Name of God (2007) and God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007).

“Military fervor on behalf of faith” has not disappeared, as Draper thought at the end of the nineteenth century. It is back on the agenda. And the experience of the past two decades has taught us that liberal democracies cannot come to a resolution of this matter by ignoring the issue or giving evasive answers. The question of how to deal with this problem, the most pervasive of our time, remains on the agenda.

Gradually it dawns upon us that the Arab Spring seems to have changed. It may be the case that the Arab Spring does not bring us democracy but its traditional antithesis: theocracy. Everywhere in the Middle East the constitutions that are being drafted contain references to holy law, especially sharia law. The new religious resurgence seems to mark a crisis of secularism as well. Then there is the growing loyalty that people feel to their religion and not to the nation state where they are living. So the new religious resurgence is also a renewed challenge of the nation state and national sovereignty.

For more on this subject, see Paul Cliteur's article at Ancilla Iuris.

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