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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: September 2014

2 - The Religio-political Nexus: Historical and Comparative Reflections


Introduction: Willfried Spohn on religion and politics

It is a commonplace that the question of interaction between religion and politics has come back to haunt both academic and broader public debates. Less frequently noted is the inherent ambiguity of the trends and events in question: what some observers see as a return of religion to the political arena is portrayed by others as a stepped-up politicisation of religion. Samuel Huntington's work on the clash of civilisations (Huntington 1996) has become a standard illustration of the former view. For Huntington, religion is the most important objective determinant of civilisational identity, and as such, it is the main driving force behind the shift from national and ideological to civilisational politics. Huntington's critics, as well as many other authors with different concerns, have argued that the invocations of traditionalist or fundamentalist principles are better understood as new ways of drawing religious resources into power struggles that have not undergone any basic change. Disagreement on this point does not, however, preclude a common emphasis in another regard: the regained importance of religion is believed to undermine some well-established assumptions about the modern world. On this view, the idea of a fundamental tension between religion and modernity – or, in other words, a secularising dynamic as a defining feature of modernisation – is no longer tenable. The apparent historical evidence for that claim can then be explained away in various terms.