Religion and International Relations

My primary research program looks at how religion influences international relations. My current project examines the connections between religion and power. This includes a book project on the use of religion in power politics by states. I am also exploring the nature of “religious soft power,” and studying religious influence through social network analysis. More information on my current project is available here.

Most of my work so far has focused on the effects of religion-state connections on international relations. By this I mean the numerous institutions, policies and political relationships that connect or separate religious groups from the state. When religion and state are closely intertwined, religious contention becomes more powerful, religious symbols and debates are more salient, and regimes find it harder to ignore the demands of religious groups. This can have dramatic effects on a variety of aspects of state behavior. In this way, religion plays an important role in international relations, but it does through by being channeled through political institutions and the dynamics of regime survival.

One major element of this research project is the development of this theory and application to international security issues. In The Two Swords: Religion-State Connections and Interstate Disputes, published in the Journal of Peace Research, I developed my theory on how religion-state connections affect international relations, and tested it using a large-n analysis of international conflict data. Additionally, in Islamic Politics, Muslim States and Counterterrorismpublished by Cambridge University Press, I elaborated on this theory and applied it to the specific area of counterterrorism cooperation. I discuss my book further here.

I am extending this research on the nature and effects of religion-state connections through two new research projects. These projects apply the theory I presented in my book to different empirical areas, strengthening the validity of my argument.

One looks into how religion-state connections relate to political violence. I argue that religious contention can produce a distinct form of political violence, including extreme violence and a focus on global and divine issues. Yet, religion itself does not produce this violence. Instead, it is the manner in which religion and state are connected that matters. I have presented this work through articles in the Journal of Conflict Resolution and Terrorism and Political Violence. More information on this research is available here.

The other looks into the nature of religious repression. I follow recent advances on this topic, arguing religious repression is primarily political; states use it to neutralize threats to their rule. Because of religion’s powerful influence on politics, however, this leads to some distinct dynamics. I have discussed this in the context of religious issues in the United Nations in articles in the Journal of Church and State and Politics and Religion. I have also applied it to forced migration in Politics and Religion and religious conflict in the Journal of Conflict Resolution. More information on this research is available here.

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