The modernist expectation of religious atrophy has not only failed to be realized but by the closing decades of the twentieth century it was clear that religious adherence and indeed revivalism were salient not only for believers but significantly shaped the intellectual and political lives of peoples – whether believers or not – in an increasing number of societies. These developments have brought into doubt much of secularisation theory and challenge a good deal of the sociology of religion which tends to treat the interaction of belief and organization without sufficient regard to the role of the political state in shaping religious forces and symbols.
The proposed conference will address the formational relationship between religion and the state through investigation of historical cases and recent developments. The political dimension of religions and their necessary relations with the political state in terms of both competition and sponsorship has been frequently ignored by sociologies of religion which have instead attempted to analyse religions through the social and organizational sources of transcendental aspirations inherent in religious doctrines. Such tensions within religion, between organizational imperatives and political interests – 3 – on the one hand and spiritual experience and sacred symbolism on the other, shall also be explored in the conference. Social Scientists are beginning to grasp the significance of political interests within religions and relations of religions with the political state, as these vectors have impact on such contrasting cases as the United States and Iran, for instance, as well as in several European and Asian societies.
The conference is to be international in terms of its participants and also in so far as it shall discuss Abrahamic as well as Chinese and Indian religions. Treatment of the political elements of religion permits consideration of local as well as global sources and influences on religious developments. The approach to the study of religions to be followed in the conference addresses socio-political trends for the twenty-first century.
All presentations shall have policy relevance in so far as they discuss the relations between states and religions. Some particular papers will have an explicit policy focus. One designated outcome for discussion in the concluding session of the conference shall be concerned with policy implications of social scientific research on the relationships between the political state and religious organizations and movements.
All of the conference participants are highly regarded scholars in their respective fields and some are also explicitly engaged with policy through their advisory roles with government and non-government instrumentalities.