Religion and Nationalism in Global Perspective

March 30, 2022

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The interface between religion and the nation-state is complex and influences a wide range of critical issues, from national governance to international relations. While scholarship on state-religion interactions is well established, the relationship between religion and nationalism is much less explored. Recent events highlight the ways in which religion and nationalism can meet—citizenship policy in India, COVID-19 response in Russia, and ongoing conflict in Syria serve as just a few examples across different faith traditions and country contexts. At home, the United States has also seen the relationship between religion and nationalism play out on the public stage, including recent displays of both white Christian nationalism and civil religion surrounding the 2020 presidential election. These and other developments call for closer scrutiny of the interplay between religion and nationalism in historical and contemporary perspective.

In her new book, We God’s People: Christianity, Islam and Hinduism in the World of Nations (Cambridge University Press, December 2021), Berkley Center Senior Fellow Jocelyne Cesari combines historical genealogy and big data analysis to explore the relationship between religion and nationalism in global perspective. Cesari identifies major patterns in the politicization of religion based on five country case studies—China, India, Russia, Syria, and Turkey—and presents a framework for researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to anticipate future conflicts at the intersection of religion and politics. To complement the book launch, the Berkley Forum invites an interdisciplinary host of experts who specialize in different national and religious contexts to reflect on religion and nationalism worldwide.

This week the Berkley Forum asks: What historical, sociological, or theological factors help to explain the contemporary relationship between religion and politics in various national contexts? How does religion and nation-state formation impact critical issues, from national governance to international relations? How does the interface between religion and nationalism affect religious or ethnic minorities in different countries? If the relationship between religion and nation-state is often seen as a source of conflict, is there a way to foster a more inclusive vision of religion in the public square? Where might there be connections between different religious nationalist movements around the world? 

Book Excerpt | Read the Introduction in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin

Editor's Note: This series is ongoing and will be updated as additional submissions are received.

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