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Why Politics Can't Be Freed From Religion

ISBN: 978-1-4051-7649-1
216 pages
March 2010, Wiley-Blackwell
Why Politics Can
Why Politics Can't be Freed From Religion is an original, erudite, and timely new book from Ivan Strenski. Itinterrogates the central ideas and contexts behind religion, politics, and power, proposing an alternative way in which we should think about these issues in the twenty-first century.
  • A timely and highly original contribution to debates about religion, politics and power – and how historic and social influences have prejudiced our understanding of these concepts
  • Proposes a new theoretical framework to think about what these ideas and institutions mean in today&'s society
  • Applies this new perspective to a variety of real-world issues, including insights into suicide bombers in the Middle East
  • Includes radical critiques of the religious and political perspectives of thinkers such as Talal Asad and Michel Foucault
  • Dislodges our conventional thinking about politics and religion, and in doing so, helps make sense of the complexities of our twenty-first century world
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Acknowledgments xi

1 When God Plays Politics: Radical Interrogations of Religion, Power, and Politics 1

2 Interrogating ‘Religion’ 8

1. Religion Trouble 8

2. ‘Seeing’ Religion: Six Common Clichés 11

3. Gagging at the Feast of Two Unexamined Assumptions: Religion, All Good or All Bad 14

4. The Religion-Is-No-Good Cliché 21

5. The Second Set of Two Clichés: Religion Is Belief and Belief in God 24

6. ‘Religion’s’ Private Parts 33

7. Powerless in Paradise 35

8. Two Ways to Eliminate ‘Religion’ 36

9. Is Religion Our Phlogiston? An Historical Test Case 39

10. Talal Asad’s ‘Religion’ Trouble 42

11. The Trick of Defining ‘Religion’ 46

12. Owning ‘Religion’ 50

13. How Durkheim Took ‘Ownership’ of ‘Religion’ 55

14. Religion and Its Despisers 59

3 Interrogating ‘Power’ 62

1. Confronting the Paradox of ‘Power’ 62

2. How ‘Power’ Plays Havoc with Thinking about “Institutional Violence” 66

3. Whom Should We Blame? ‘History’ on Trial 70

4. History’s Helper: We Should Also Blame Foucault 81

5. Problematizing Power in South Africa 84

6. Foucault versus Foucault 88

7. Thinking about Power as Auctoritas and Hierarchy 90

8. What More Is to Be Done? Thinking about Power as Auctoritas and Social Force 97

4 Interrogating ‘Politics’ 100

1. Defining ‘Politics’ 100

2. Where There Is No Politics: Despotism and Totalitarianism 102

3. Autonomous Politics 105

4. Where Our ‘Politics’ Makes No Sense 107

5. Politics, the Construct 109

6. Two Pernicious Views of ‘Politics’ 112

7. History Lessons for Professor Morgenthau 116

8. What Constitutionalism Owes the Council of Constance 119

9. The Emergence of the Political . . . from the Religious 123

10. Machiavelli and Luther: Critical Contributions to the Autonomy of Politics 125

11. Foucault’s Fault II: ‘Everything Is Political’ 130

12. The Hidden Fascism of Thinking that Everything Is Political 133

13. Public and Private: No Absolute Line of Demarcation 135

14. Resisting the Panopticon 136

15. Afterword: The Autonomy of ‘Politics’ and the Nation-State 140

5 Testing Interrogations of ‘Religion,’ ‘Power,’ and ‘Politics’: Human Bombers and the Authority of Sacrifice in the Middle East 142

1. Is ‘Suicide’ Bombing Religious? 142

2. Making Too Much of Religion in ‘Suicide’ Bombing: ‘Islamofascism’ 144

3. Dying to Make Too Little of Religion in ‘Suicide’ Bombing: Robert A. Pape 147

4. No Religion in ‘Suicide’ Bombing: Talal Asad 150

5. How Religion Helps Explain Human Bombing 153

6. Human Bombing Is “Catastrophe,” but also a “Triumph” of “Secular Immortality” 155

7. Human Bombing = Jihad + Sacrifice 160

8. Sacrifice or Suicide? 164

9. But Do Any Muslims Really Think Human Bombers Are ‘Sacrifices’? 168

10. Sacrifice Makes Authority 175

11. How and Why Sacrifice Works: The Authority of Sacralization 176

12. How and Why Sacrifice Works: No Free Gifts 180

13. Concluding Remarks 182

References 187

Index 196

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Ivan Strenski is Holstein Family and Community Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, Riverside. He is the author of numerous books, including: Contesting Sacrifice: Religion, Nationalism and Social Thought (2002); Theology and the First Theory of Sacrifice (2003); The New Durkheim: Essays on Philosophy, Religious Identity and the Politics of Knowledge (2006); Thinking About Religion: An Historical Introduction to Theories of Religion and Thinking About Religion: A Reader (both Wiley-Blackwell, 2006).
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  • A timely and highly original contribution to debates about religion, politics and power – and how historic and social influences have prejudiced our understanding of what these mean
  • Proposes a new theoretical framework to think about what these ideas and institutions mean in today’s society
  • Applies this new perspective to a variety of real-world issues, including insights into suicide bombers in the Middle East
  • Includes radical critiques of the religious and political perspectives of thinkers such as Talal Asad and Michel Foucault
  • Dislodges our conventional thinking about politics and religion, and in doing so, helps make sense of the complexities of our twenty-first century world
See More

“Overall the book is an excellent contribution.”  (Political Studies Review, 1 January 2013)

“But as a powerful myth-buster of some of the great fallacies about religion and politics, or even as a primer in the study of religion for undergraduates, it works very well and would serve to provoke lively debate.”  (Modern Believing, 1 April 2012)

"The book is written in an accessible and engaging style, and readers who are new to the field of religion and politics will find it readable and helpful". (Religion, September 2010)

"Going beyond the religion-is-good and the religion-is-bad clichés, while also distancing himself from fashionable academic eliminationists, Ivan Strenski examines the connections among religion, power and politics. Is religion merely ‘used’ by fanatics, as if it were an inert hammer that can be picked up or dropped at will? Is it to be equated with belief? Or with power, à la Foucault? Or is it, rather, inseparable from authority? Most readers are likely to have their presuppositions shaken by Strenski’s Manifesto."
Gustavo Benavides, Villanova University

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