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The importance of religion 4: Religion and politics

Professor Gavin Flood
Monday, 10 November 2008 - 11:00am

Religion has always been deeply implicated with politics. While the claim of these lectures is that the religious imperative cannot be reduced to power, the formation of religions as institutions has always been closely implicated in the formation of states and the legitimising of particular social and political structures. Many contemporary thinkers, deriving inspiration from genealogical thinkers such as Foucault, claim that religion can be understood in terms of power relationships and that the discourse of religion hides a will to power. By contrast many religious communities claim that religion is the well spring of their life’s energy and that tradition cannot be explained only in terms of a politics of representation.

In this lecture we presented a particular view of the religious imperative as being expressed in a community’s reception of its revelation and the internalisation of the revelation. The lecture will develop the political implications of the religious imperative. We will discuss the externalisation of religious subjectivity through institutions and examine the interface between secular institutions and religious tradition. This is especially pertinent where there is a conflict between religious law and secular law. While the issue of this relation will be examined at a fairly abstract level, engaging with relevant philosophical literature such as Batnitzky’s work on Strauss and Levinas (Leo Strauss and Emmanuel Levinas CUP 2006), the lecture also needs to discuss contemporary examples of the relation of the religious imperative to politics and the conflict of religious and secular law. For religions, adherence to revelation and the law that expresses it is primary, for secular modernity, adherence to secular law is primary. This might also be configured as a conflict between revelation and philosophy. The contemporary religious subject in the global context of late modernity needs to negotiate these complex identities and the success to which that occurs is the degree to which the religious imperative can locate itself within the modern context.