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Value Politics. The role of religion in international relations

Value Politics is an interdisciplinary research group studying the various ways that religion features in day to day international politics. The team has co-written a book on religion in international politics (Religion, State and the United Nations, Routledge 2017).

Whereas religious violence and terrorism have attracted much scholarly interest, religious actors involved in ordinary political processes have largely gone unnoticed. Similarly, the impact of religious values and ideas in ordinary political processes is a much neglected topic in the study of religion as well as political science.

Photo: Cecilie Endresen

Focusing on international politics and the United Nations the Value Politics Group explores the impact of religion in political decision making processes centered on the Human Rights. Where and when does religious concerns become relevant? What are the different roles played by religious values and religious actors in controversies such as blasphemy or gender equality? How are religious hierarchies legitimized, and what motivates cooperation across religious boundaries?  These and related questions are treated in the Group’s current research project, Holy alliances and sacred conflicts - Value Politics at the United Nations.

About the Project

Holy Alliances and sacred conflicts. Religion at the United Nations

The political impact of religion at the UN may come as a surprise to those who think of international politics as a secular affair.  Approaching the UN as a microcosm and a laboratory of religio-political relations, Holy Alliances studies religio-political rethoric and  clashes of values between conservative-religious and secular world views as they unfold in the UN context.

Since the mid-1990s religious actors have significantly increased their impact in international relations. At the United Nations evidence of this can be seen in increasing opposition to liberal-democratic and science based value politics, notably concerning equal rights for women. As one diplomat put it, the conventions against discrimination of women (CEDAW 1979) could never have been passed today. Conservative, anti-modern forces have already changed the political landscape and placed the Human Rights under pressure. Conservative religious actors from different traditions are effective lobbyists and influence governments and thereby also UN policy (e.g. Norwegian religious organisations, see Endresen and Vik in Religion and state and the United Nations 2017). Their main concerns are religious values and what they regard as moral questions, like abortion and sexuality,  but which Western countries define as women’s right, and others frame  as health issues. Where does the battle over stand today? Is the conservative religious influence still on the rise or are we witnessing a halt to religion’s political power?

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 18) religion is construed as an individual right. In practice, however, religion is generally dealt with as a collective entity and religious leaders are treated as representatives of (large) grass root constituencies. Similarly governments may refer to their country’s religious tradition (e.g. Russia in their Traditional Values campaign, see Horsfjord in Religion and state and the United Nations 2017) and thereby conjure up ‘the silent majority’ giving their view points considerable clout. Conservative cross-religious networks in alliance with friendly governments frequently attack what they see as “Western” and “secular” values (e.g. the OIC’s Defamation of Religion campaign, see Skorini and Petersen in Religion and state and the United Nations 2017) that stress individual human rights such as LGBT rights, feminism and freedom of expression, as well as freedom from traditional religious values.

A dominant trend in current research is the so-called “resurgence” of religion, and the presumed failure of the secularization thesis. Holy Alliances, in comparison, sees the increased visibility of religion in recent years as a sign of religion adapting to a secular context. Apart from substantial scientific interest in fundamentalism, religion in international politics remains a little developed field. Holy Alliances aims to rectify this by applying a more nuanced  understanding of religion on a broadly conceived interdisciplinary case study of religious values and religious actors at the UN. Important topics in this study are “Freedom and rights”, “Climate and religious world views”, “Family, sex and gender”, “Health and rights”.

The team analyses how religion makes its presence felt, and asks:

  • How does religion operate at the United Nations?
  • What motivates cross-religious collaboration?
  • How, when and why do religious and secular value politics clash?

Read the project description (pdf)

Objectives and Cooperation

The Group has completed a study of Religion, state and the United Nations (published by Routledge 2017), and is now engaged in a Research Project Holy Alliances and Sacred Conflicts. Religion at the United Nations (applying for Norwegian Research Council grant 2017-2020).

We work closely with several international scholars: Jeffrey Haynes (London Met) participates both in developing the research project and contributes to the above mentioned book; as does the Danish expert on the UN, Marie Juul Petersen (Danish Human Rights Institute). Olivier Roy (European University Institute, Florence) is attached to the Value Politics Group as professor II, and Carool Kersten (King's College, London) also participates in the Group’s research projects.

Tags: religion, international relations, United Nations
Published Nov. 2, 2012 9:24 AM - Last modified Feb. 22, 2017 1:59 PM