Religion , Nationalism and Violenceby CHBTsa | 8 Religion, Nationalism and Violence Philip S. Gorski Department of Sociology, Yale University Email: [email protected] “Religious nationalism”? Until fairly recently, most social scientists and historians would have regarded this conceptual construct as a contradiction-in-terms. Nationalism could replace religion – could be an ersatz religion – but it could not co-exist with religion. No longer. A small trickle of works on religious nationalism during the 1990s has given way to a veritable flood during the last decade, not just in sociology but also in neighboring fields such as anthropology, history, political science and even English. Abstract This paper provides a selective survey of important trends within this quickly expanding literature, focusing especially on three themes: 1) Historical dis/continuities between religious traditions and national identities. Scholars once drew a sharp line between religion and nationalism, by invoking distinctions between the religious and the secular and tradition and modernity. Today, critics have not only blurred these distinctions but sometimes erased them altogether, by suggesting that even modern and secular nationalisms are built on traditional and religious foundations. In particular, they have identified
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Biblical notions of chosenness and covenant, with their emphasis on cultural uniqueness, political autonomy, popular sovereignty and sacred homelands, as crystallizing, or at least prefiguring, “modern” nationalisms. 2) Western vs. non-Western forms of religious nationalism. Revisionist accounts of Western 9 nationalism suggest a certain genealogy: on this account, Western nationalism: a) has its roots in the Judeo-Christian strand of Middle Eastern monotheism; b) assumes a (putatively) secular form in Europe sometime between the late 18th and early 19th centuries; and then c) diffuses to non-Western countries via European colonialism. Recent work on religious nationalism suggests that this genealogy is too simple. In Eastern Europe, for example, religious nationalism seems to have crystallized around other tropes: martyrdom rather than chosenness, Christ rather than Moses. Furthermore, recent work on non-Western nationalisms suggests that the Mosaic discourse had “functional analogues.” For instance, Roger Friedland has compellingly argued the national identities of Iran, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Israel and Palestine are all “suffused with religious narrative and myth, symbolism and ritual” (Friedland 2001: 129). 3) Religious nationalism, social integration, liberal secularism and collective violence. There are political reasons for the increased scholarly attention to religious nationalism in recent years. As Jonathan Fox has repeatedly demonstrated, there is a religious dimension to much collective violence, indeed, by his reckoning, to most collective violence (riots, pogroms, civil wars, ethnic conflicts and genocide). This has led some public commentators to argue that there is an inherent and inevitable connection between violence and religion,
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