chapter  12
19 Pages

Governance and inequality: reflections on faith dimensions


In discussions about global governance, contemporary observers have tended to overlook the roles played by a group of institutions which, historically, were globalization’s forerunners: those with a faith or religious mission. A long era of mainstream thought and policy action (some date it from the Enlightenment, others the Treaty of Westphalia) was heavily colored by what many term “secularism.” Put simply, international relations disciplines and practice took largely for granted that the nation state model which dominated geopolitical life was grounded in the separation of church and state, with faith ideas and institutions largely relegated to the private sphere. A further assumption, sometimes explicit, more often implicit, held that the role of faith, and particularly of religious institutions and leaders, in shaping attitudes and behavior would decline steadily with modernization. The upshot was a general neglect of religious dimensions in scholarship (especially those disciplines that formed the backbone of international relations) and operational fields (expertise in staffing foreign services, for example). The rising activism of religious actors in many parts of the world

and their pro-active engagement on many international topics is shaking assumptions that undergirded the “secular era” at their foundation (see Berger et al., 2009; Casanova, 1994). A slew of books, studies, and task forces have in recent years addressed the “resurgence” of religion in the public square. These are epitomized in the title of Douglas Johnston and Cynthia Sampson’s (1995) book: Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft. Another set of questions has arisen as to whether the assumption of state neutrality or separation from religion is a Western-biased construction, a lingering form of colonialism that needs to be revised. Such challenges to accepted “wisdom” about state faith boundaries arise particularly where debates concern the large Muslim world (some 1.2 billion people), where acceptance of the

desirability of separating faith and governance is by no means universally acclaimed. Madeleine Albright’s recent book setting forth her post-secretary of state reflections (Albright, 2007), speeches by William J. Clinton (2006) expressing his view that he had missed important faith dimensions during his presidency, and Tony Blair’s sharp focus, after he left office as British prime minister, on faith as a force in international relations, all attest to mounting interest in the role of religion in international affairs. Awareness of, and thoughtful analysis about, religion’s role in the global picture and particularly among institutions is, however, still distinctly patchy, and in practice the traditional “secular based” analytic models still predominate, from schools of international relations through diplomatic services. Debates about how, and how far, contemporary international rela-

tions should take religion into account touch on virtually all dimensions of global governance. They are picking up steam among United Nations agencies, where “civilizational dialogue” and interfaith work are increasingly seen as antidotes to a “clash” of civilizations and as an integral part of peacemaking and peacekeeping work. Developments in Iran, Sri Lanka, and the challenges in many often quite different regions presented by militant groups with an explicitly Islamic ethos, have prompted much soul-searching about the role of religion and particularly its politicized and fundamentalist strands. The events of 11 September 2001 gave an important jolt in consciousness about the potential for religiously inspired violence with global impact. Though the revisionist international relations debates about the contemporary role of religion have tended to focus on its roles in violence and security, religious action on the global scene has also taken significant positive forms, for example the mobilization around the Jubilee 2000 movement to address poor country debt and campaigns against land mines and human trafficking. All have involved alliances prominently featuring religious voices. And a long series of polling results attest to the continuing importance of religion in people’s lives. The international development agenda, including approaches to

poverty and to inequalities among nations and communities, as well as humanitarian aid, has prompted significant new thinking and action about how faith and development relate to each other. Here too, neglected terrain is being explored and engagement is multiplying, at global, regional, national and community levels. To date, the development dimensions of faith and development interactions have had a less prominent focus in international affairs discussions than topics more obviously linked to perceived security threats. But the topic is attracting increasing interest.