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Thesis Spotlights – Religion and International Politics in Second Modernity: Reassessing the Role of the Religious Factor in EU Policy-Making

Issue 45: Pandemic (Im)Possibilities vol. 1 Tue 2 Jun 2020

Chrysa Almpani, PhD candidate, Greece

Email: chalmpani[at]; chrysa.almpani[at]
Institution: Social Research Centre for Religion & Culture (SRCRC), Department of Ethics and Sociology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Time: June 2016 to April 2020
Supervisor: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Christos N. Tsironis
Funding: PhD Fellowship grant from the Hellenic Foundation for Research and Innovation (HFRI) & the General Secretariat for Research and Technology (GSRT) (GA. no. 2401)

photographed by Chrysa Almpani
photographed by Chrysa Almpani

In the fragile times of Second Modernity (Ulrich Beck), where “both politics and religion act in the same place: that of human uncertainty” [1], religion arises as a prominent issue of sociological analysis that could allow for a better understanding of the modern world and its ambiguities. Moreover, a series of dramatic events at a global scale, such as the 9/11 attacks and more recently the terror attacks in Paris and other European cities, the turbulences in the arc of the Arab Spring and the conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, new ethical dilemmas emerging in biotechnology, along with religious leaders’ appeals for peace, justice and socio-ecological responsibility, have all been linked with the religious factor. [2]

In drawing upon the theoretical background of reflexive modernisation [3], the present thesis will focus on the intersection between religion and global politics, in an attempt to approach the role that the religious factor can play as a ‘soft power’ agent in foreign policy-making, diplomacy and conflict resolution at the international level. Special attention is paid to the dialectical relationship between religion and human rights in the context of the increasing interdependence that characterises the modern world and which underlines the importance of religion in the study of international politics.

The analysis is based on qualitative research, carried out through in-depth interviews, that was conducted in 2018-2019 and was addressed to: i) political representatives at EU level (politicians, MEPs, foreign-policy practitioners, policy advisors in the fields of human rights, external affairs, security and defense), ii) EU representation offices of religious organisations which work in close cooperation with the policy-makers, providing expertise and advocacy on EU policies, and iii) representatives of non-governmental European organisations active in reconciliation and peacebuilding processes.

The research aims to illuminate the way the interviewees approach the debate about the ‘resurgence’ of religion in the international arena, and their conceptions regarding the way the engagement of EU external policies for the advancement of religious freedom may influence the Union’s relationship with third countries and its position as a global actor. Considering the ‘deterritorialisation’ of religion, the analysis finally brings into the fore the question as to whether religions could contribute to the cosmopolitan vision of peace, promoting the universalist respect of human dignity, or whether they carry a burden that unremittingly leads humankind to controversy and conflict. The ongoing PhD thesis is coordinated with the international discourse on the reawakening interest of political science in the religious factor and aims to enhance interdisciplinary, long-term and thorough research in this field.

[1] Bauman, Z. “Jerusalem Versus Athens Revisited”. In: Ulrich Beck: Pioneer in Cosmopolitan Sociology and Risk Society, U. Beck (ed.), pp. 71-75 [p. 72]. Heidelberg: Springer Cham, 2014.
[2] Tsironis, C. N. Religion and Society in Second Modernity. Thessaloniki: Barbounakis, 2018.
[3] See Beck, U. “The Truth of Others: A Cosmopolitan Approach”. In: Common Knowledge. 10, 3 (2004): 430-449; Beck U., W. Bonss and C. Lau. “The Theory or Reflexive Modernization”. In: Theory, Culture & Society. 20, 2 (2003): 1-33; Beck, U. “The Reinvention of Politics: Towards a Theory of Reflexive Modernization”. In: Reflexive Modernization: Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order, Beck U., A. Giddens & S. Lash (eds.), pp. 1-55. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1994.

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