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Religion, Law, and Politics

Religion is an essential aspect of human life across the globe, contributing to all domains of society, culture, law, and politics. Religions contribute to the formation and contestation of gender, sexual, racial, national, and ethnic identities. Religions inform and intersect with issues of sovereignty, security, environmental sustainability, political economy and development, education, family and sexuality, violence and peace, global health, race and colonialism, human rights, and much more. The “Religion, Law and Politics” subfield operates as an umbrella that incorporates the critical study of religion in all of these manifold dimensions, with a particular focus on religion’s imbrication with the “legal” and the “political,” broadly construed. The subfield approaches religion, law and politics as discourses of normativity, power and social control that intersect in both complementary and contradictory ways. In the United States, law—local, state, and federal—is invested in its hermetic separation from religion and politics, but attentive study of U.S. jurisprudence reminds us of the need to acknowledge law’s enmeshment with both the religious and the political. Globally, relations between religion, law, and politics are equally though differently complex. 

This subfield interrogates the basis of the conceptual and disciplinary separation of religion, law, and politics. Unpacking the sense of inevitability and neutrality of received understandings of secularism, disestablishment, law, toleration, religious freedom, minority rights, pluralism and other familiar templates of late modern governance allows us to ask new questions about the study of religion, both past and present. 

Guiding questions include: 1) What conceptual vocabularies allow us to access the interstices of global religious, legal, governmental, and economic practices at a historical moment in which constructs such as secularism, modernity, and religious freedom appear to have exhausted themselves, and now confuse more than they clarify? 2) What does an integrative approach to the study of religion and other facets of law, history, governance, foreign policy, and public life look like? 3) How do we open lines of sight beyond the alternation between a naïve celebration of religion as the source of morality, community, and freedom, and its denigration as the root of all global instability? 4) What new possibilities for co-existence and community emerge from this work? 

Students in this subfield are encouraged to participate in the activities of the Global Religion & Politics Research Group hosted by the Weinberg College Center for International and Area Studies.  There is also a graduate certificate program in Global Politics and Religion which offers a coordinated program of study for graduate students interested in the interrelations between religion, politics, culture, law, and governance in different parts of the world, and in global and transnational perspective.

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