Security and the Construction of 'Religion' in International Politics

  • Edmund John Frettingham

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The thesis begins from the observation that religion has become an object of considerable public and IR-disciplinary debate, centred on the increasing political assertiveness of many religious groups and movements and the apparent complicity of religion in violent conflict around the world. It is proposed that this ‘politics about religion’ should be understood as fought out within and through discourses that construct the meaning of religion, that shape ideas about its proper character and purpose, and that influence the form it can take in society. Within this general objective, the thesis has three interrelated aims. It seeks to denaturalise the concept of religion as it is conventionally used in international politics, politicise its construction, and examine the contribution of thinking about security in the liberal tradition to the production of specific contemporary discourses of religion.
The thesis identifies and denaturalises two prominent assumptions about religion, namely, that it is a separate domain of human activity and a genus. The partial and contested character of these ways of imagining religion often goes unrecognised, but they derive from particular liberal security strategies for ending the Wars of Religion. That such traditions of thought underpin much scholarship on religion in international politics and continue to inform security responses to religious violence is argued to be problematic; this is because they rely on empirically questionable assumptions, are contested politically, displace conflict rather than resolving it, and are bound up with the legitimation of a liberal political order, its imagination of security, and the forms of religion compatible with it. The argument that these particular discourses of religion are being articulated as part of contemporary liberal responses to religious violence is illustrated by Tony Blair’s representation of Islam when he was Prime Minister of the UK. The thesis concludes that because the meaning of religion is likely to remain a divisive question at the centre of international politics in the coming decades, those who study and practice it must be cognisant of the politics involved in all statements about religion – including their own
Date of Award20 Jan 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorKenneth Booth (Supervisor) & Ayla Gol (Supervisor)

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