In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Religion and International Relations

  • Introduction

International Relations Religion and International Relations
Gregorio Bettiza
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 June 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0172


As progress unfolded, religion was supposed to be consigned to the dustbin of history. So argued many of the 19th-century founding fathers of the modern social sciences such as Max Weber, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. This insight became conventional wisdom as modernization and secularization theorists sought to systematize and theorize more explicitly God’s demise during much of the 20th century. This understanding of an ever more disenchanted world was increasingly challenged from the 1970s onward by a series of events and process that modernization and secularization theories could hardly explain let alone predict. These events included the Iranian Revolution of 1979; the rise of the Christian Right in the United States since the late 1970s; the progressive emergence of religious fundamentalisms across most world religions; the role played by a Catholic pope in Europe and the Mujahidin in Afghanistan in the fall of Soviet Communism; a new post–Cold War security environment with its emphasis on the politics of identity, the so-called New Wars, the clash of civilization scenarios, and religious terrorism, all epitomized by the 11 September 2001 attacks; and not least, the contemporary growing mobilization of religious identities and values by nationalists and populists around the globe. These developments have led scholars to reconsider the role of religion in the modern world, reexamine the Eurocentric and universalist premises on which much secularization theory and the very same concept of religion had been based, and reflexively assess the secularist biases through which social scientists generally understand and explain world politics. The study of religion and its twin concept of the secular are thus currently going through a period of great vitality across the social sciences. This article focuses on debates and scholarship within the field of international relations (IR). As the study of religion is by its very nature an interdisciplinary affair, a number of studies from cognate fields that make a direct and important contribution to ongoing debates in IR are also included. The bibliography is organized along six main sections. The first section is a general overview of key books and articles, journals, and online resources in the field. The second section, titled Understanding Religion in IR, explores why the sacred had long been overlooked in IR and a range of ongoing definitional debates in the discipline. The third section, titled Religion and IR Theory, presents three broad perspectives—non-paradigmatic, paradigmatic, and theological—seeking to integrate religion with IR theorizing. The fourth section briefly presents major studies and debates on the Secular and Postsecular in IR. In the fifth section, titled Religion and International Issues, readers are acquainted with work exploring the complex interaction between religion and a range of issues central to the field of IR, such as the sovereign state, war, peace, and the liberal order. The sixth section dives into the scholarship examining the role of Religion in Foreign and International Policy.

General Overviews

Interest and research on religion in international relations (IR) is a relatively new and bustling field. In this section, the reader is introduced to a range of landmark Non-IR Books and Articles that have profoundly shaped the field of religion in IR. These are followed by seminal IR Books and Articles, a survey of the key IR academic Journals publishing the most influential and innovative research on the topic, and a range of valuable Online Resources on religion and world politics.

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