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Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds The need to reduce ambiguity, uncertainty, and insecurity is a key factor in understanding how religion has apparently become prominent in contemporary global politics. The Cold War had provided seemingly clear guidelines for how global politics worked and what the important factors were. The Cold War was primarily about an ideological conflict between Western liberal capitalism and Soviet communism. Scholars and policymakers based much of their research and decision making on assumptions about these two political positions and the conflict between the two superpowers that embodied these political ideologies, the United States and the Soviet Union. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, these clear, secular ideological structures that had for so long guided international politics disappeared.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 seconds And scholars and policymakers were scrambling to find other factors and other frameworks to make sense of the post-Cold War world. It is in this context that theories such as Francis Fukuyama’s at The End of History and Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations gained prominence. Indeed, Huntington’s thesis explicitly refers to religion as a key factor causing conflict in its predictions regarding the fate of global politics in the post-Cold War era. Related to the collapse of the ideological conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, political regimes that had been propped up with support from either superpower began to fail, leaving behind a power vacuum and a significant disillusionment with secular models of politics.

Skip to 1 minute and 41 seconds In 1993, Mark Juergensmeyer published a book speculating whether opposition between religious nationalism and secular statehood there was emerging in regions such as the Middle East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe would now become the foundations for a new Cold War based not on secular political ideologies but between religion and secularism. At least in the Middle East, however, this disillusionment with secular political ideologies began earlier than the end of the Cold War. The 1979 Iranian Revolution and the overthrow of the shah was a signal that secular politics had not taken hold in the region, as many political analysts in the West had hoped.

Skip to 2 minutes and 23 seconds For many populations in the Middle East, secularism became associated with authoritarianism, such as that experienced under the shah of Iran and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, for example. Under these regimes, people were exposed to extreme poverty, deprivation of rights, limited access to food, education, health care, sanitation, electricity, and employment. For many people, this represented a failure of the project of secular nationalism, particularly in a cultural context influenced by Islam, in which the state is supposed to support and protect its citizens. As Sadiki notes, “Islamists from al-Turabi to al-Farhan consider the state’s providential role towards its poor citizens both a civil and religious duty.”

Skip to 3 minutes and 9 seconds The failure of several Middle Eastern states, such as Sudan and Egypt, for example, to protect their citizens’ rights has been a primary catalyst for numerous forms of open resistance throughout the region, many of which have been religiously inspired. Indeed, the so-called Arab Spring represents but the latest and most powerful of such events. In the countries where the Arab Spring occurred, primarily Egypt but also Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, and many others in the Middle East and North Africa region, secular political ideologies became discredited. And people looked to religion, which had long been excluded from the political process, as an alternative to rebuild their nations and address social and economic problems that had been in part exacerbated by processes of globalisation.

Failure of grand secular narratives

Continuing from the topic of state failure, this video addresses the topic of the failure of grand secular narratives. Covering a wide array of topics from the vacuum that resulted from the end of the cold war, religion’s role in the aftermath and political shifts in particularly the Middle East.

This video addresses the failure of the secularisation discourse in certain areas of the world, while addressing the development of frameworks of international relations post-cold war.

Up for debate

While watching this video you may like to consider the following questions:

  • Do you see logical links between current world situations, and conflicts that have been influenced by themes addressed in this video?
  • Based on your thoughts why do you think these current examples have arisen and can you make logical links to themes of this section?

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Religion and Conflict

University of Groningen

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