Toft, Philpott & Shah on God’s Century

Take a look at the recently published God’s Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics (2011), by Monica Duffy Toft (Harvard), Daniel Philpott (Notre Dame) and Timothy  Samuel Shah (Georgetown). The authors are political scientists, but the book’s discussion of religion’s influence on global politics will be important for law and religion scholars, particularly those whose work is comparative.

book cover“Over the past four decades,” the authors write, “religion’s influence on politics has reversed its decline and become more powerful on every continent and across every major world religion.”  They attribute religion’s growing sway not so much on a rise in piety, but to the fact that religion today enjoys more independence from political control than ever before.  This independence has allowed religious leaders to act on behalf of liberal public goods like democracy and conciliation.

Of course, some religions support liberal democracy more than others.  For example, the authors write, “religious leaders from the Catholic tradition accounted for an overwhelming proportion of religious activism on behalf of democracy between 1972 and 2009.”  This pro-democratic activism is striking, since the 19th Century Church was often at odds with liberal democracy.  The authors argue that the change resulted Catholicism’s increasing independence from political authority and the “momentous shift in political theology” that occurred during the Second Vatican Council, when, under the influence of philosophers like Jacques Maritain, the Church endorsed religious freedom as a human right.  Catholicism has played a disproportionate role in global peacemaking activities as well.

It would have been interesting to read a bit more on why, at this point in history, some political theologies emphasize liberal democracy and peacemaking so much more than others.  Still, this book is definitely worth reading.  Refreshingly, the authors treat religion as an important phenomenon in its own right, not simply as a smoke screen for something else that “really” matters, like economics or colonialism.  — MLM

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