IR 599  Transnational Religion:

Culture, Diaspora and Politics in an Age of Terrorism


Course Description

The globalized world of the 21st century has seen both an unprecedented movement of people across borders and a revitalization of many forms of experiential spirituality. The resurgence of religious politics in the post-Cold War era challenges the predicted triumph of secular nationalism. The worldwide explosion of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianities, the birth of new religious movements, the revitalization of religion in post socialist countries and the emergence of transnational Islamic networks have reinvented the notion of diasporas and forced observers of global religious movements to pay more attention to de-territorialized forms of community. 

At the same time,  the "war on terrorism," the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the seemingly interminable and intractable religious-ethnic-nationalist conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia have contributed to a dramatic reexamination of the role of religion in conflict and peace building, as well as the moral norms governing the role of military force. What do these dynamics reveal about the nature of identity, the production of power, the mutability of meaning, the appearance of conflict and the construction of community? How do practices spread, influence and disrupt religious awareness? How has media changed and been changed by religion?

This course explores the role of transnational religion in relation to both the formation of new diasporic communities and problems of conflict and peace building. In doing so, it brings together two topics that are often addressed separately in the literature and in curricula: the study of religion and its relationship to immigration, and the study of religion and its relationship to global violence. In showing how the two topics are intimately related, this course also shows how a critical ethnographic perspective on transnational religion can interact with area and ethnic studies, political science and international relations. This course takes cultural theory seriously, yet also emphasizes the importance of lived religion and varying local contexts.

The first part of the course provides a general framework for understanding the idea of “world religions” and how they have been situated in relation to each other, and to new religious movements.  Recent innovative studies on how religion travels are assessed from both a Trans-Atlantic and a Trans-Pacific perspective, trying to move out of the “national box” to conceive of other forms of spiritual and territorial connections. The second part then addresses particular cases where religion has been involved in suicide bombing, ethnic nationalism, debates about torture and international ethics, humanitarian intervention, the struggle for human rights, and post-war reconciliation. Students will be able to do detailed research projects on a wide range of recent or current cases, from the interventions in Iraq to the role of religion in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.