nl en

Religion in World Politics




Admissions requirements

Introduction to Globalization and Transnational Politics, and any 200 level course in the Transnational Politics track. It is strongly recommended that you take Political Islam in the Middle East as a preparation for this course.


Religion has become an increasingly important and controversial issue in world politics over the past forty years. Against the expectations of secularization theorists, religion has not only remained socially strong in many parts of the world, but has become increasingly politically visible. But what is religion, and how does it intersect with political life? How are the symbols and themes of religious traditions invoked by political actors to legitimize or contest the organization of public life? Who are these people, what do they want? Is contemporary religious politics merely a proxy for more basic political and economic interests, a reaction against modernization and progress, or perhaps a rational pursuit of perceived spiritual benefits? Are some religions essentially more violent or undemocratic than others? Has religion returned to politics, or did it never go away? Is there something in the human or social condition that makes religion an irreducible element of politics within and between states and civilizations? Do we need more religious freedom?

These questions have been at the centre of what are often passionate public and academic debates. This course will not provide decisive answers; it aims instead to deepen students’ understanding of the events and ideas that inform these debates; to encourage students to think critically about the most influential answers that have been offered; and to provide students with resources for developing their own answers in more nuanced and sophisticated ways.

The course begins by examining a number of key analytical frameworks that have been especially in influential in debates about religion in political life. Each of these approaches offers a different account of how religion is related to political action, drawing our attention to particular aspects of religious politics and suggesting certain questions we might ask to understand its particular forms. We’ll use them as a starting point for analyzing some of the most contested issues associated with the new political visibility of religion, asking what they illuminate and what they obscure. Issues covered vary from year to year, but include topics such as fundamentalism, communalism, religious freedom, as well as the relationship between religious politics and violence, democracy, national and regional identity, and globalization. Throughout the course, we will draw on examples and cases that illustrate more general themes or have intrinsic interest in the context of contemporary concerns.

This course builds on themes introduced in the 200-level course Political Islam in the Middle East; you will find this course easier if you have already taken Political Islam.

Course objectives


  • Identify the strengths and weaknesses of competing analytical approaches to the study of religion in world politics.

  • Describe the major positions in key debates about religion and contemporary political life.

  • Understand the most important issues raised by the case studies covered.

  • Demonstrate understanding of the complexity and diversity of religious politics around the world.


  • Apply conceptual and theoretical tools to analyse the role religion plays in world politics.

  • Relate empirical cases to broader conceptual and theoretical debates about religion in world politics.

  • Think critically about existing theories and narratives of religion in political life.

  • Communicate arguments effectively, orally and in writing.

  • Develop the capacity to learn independently.


Once available, timetables will be published in the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The course is taught through two-hour seminars. Students will be expected to participate in both large and small group discussions; present and defend their ideas within an academic setting; and take part in group projects. The instructor will facilitate and ensure the efficient running of the discussion, but students are responsible for shaping its direction. Each seminar has a ‘required reading’ list that must be read in advance of each seminar. Students are also recommended to read some of the items listed under ‘suggested reading’ prior to each seminar and use the extended list as a starting point in their preparation for essay writing.


  • Seminar participation: 15%

  • Group presentations: 15%

  • Book review: 30%

  • Individual research essay: 40%


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

There is no core text. Recommended texts indicative of the course content include:

  • Ted G. Jelen and Clyde Wilcox (eds.), Religion and Politics in Comparative Perspective- (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002).

  • Timothy Samuel Shah, Alfred Stepan and Monica Duffy Toft (eds.), ¬Rethinking Religion and World Affairs (Oxford: OUP, 2012).

  • Monica Toft, Daniel Philpott, and Timothy Shah, God's Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics (New York: Norton, 2011).

  • Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, The Politics of Secularism in International Relations (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2007).


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact


Dr Edmund Frettingham