The Role of Religious Movements in International Politics

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  • 0:02 Religious Movement Defined
  • 0:54 Examples of Religion…
  • 1:44 Role in International…
  • 4:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Religion has reentered the world of international relations with religious-based terrorist groups. However, religious movements are not limited to acts of terror. You'll learn about the role of religious movements in international politics.

Religious Movement Defined

Through much of the past century, the world has seen a trend towards secularization, which is the process of religion becoming a less dominant factor in society. In fact, many countries restrict, or even prohibit, religions from directly participating in the act of governing. However, the power of religious movements came sharply back into focus with the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., by Al Qaeda, a radical Islamic terrorist organization.

The 9/11 attacks commenced the United States' 'War on Terror' and demonstrated that religious movements can have a real impact in the world of international relations. A religious movement is an organized effort seeking to bring about religious reform that often involves attempting to change the broader social and political structure of a society.

Examples of Religion in Politics

While religious-based terror groups are perhaps the most dramatic example of how religious movements affect the international system, they are far from the only means. Let's look at some examples:

  • Many argue that the 1979 Iranian Revolution resulted in Iran becoming a theocracy, a government claiming to rule in the name of a god. Iran has certainly been at the center of an international relations crisis with its nuclear development program.

  • The Christian Right in the United States has wielded a great deal of influence in politics in the country.

  • There are many nongovernmental religious organizations, such as World Vision International, attempting to help those in need in the less-developed countries of the world.

Role in International Relations

Let's dig a bit deeper using Religion and International Relations Theory, edited by Professor of International Relations Jack Snyder. Snyder identifies five different means by which religious movements can affect international relations.

First, Snyder notes that the beliefs of religious individuals affect whom they support politically and which organizations and institutions they support. For example, a Jewish citizen in the United States may tend to support politicians that are pro-Israel and donate to nongovernmental organizations that support Israeli policy.

Second, Snyder notes that religious organizations attempt to indirectly influence key decision-makers involved in international relations by lobbying these decision-makers. For example, an evangelical missionary organization may appeal to officials in the federal movement to help protect their missionaries abroad in a hostile environment. These organizations can also attempt to influence big policy decisions; Snyder provides the example of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' condemnation of the Iraq War.

Many religious organizations are transnational in nature, which means their activities and influence cross international borders. Snyder includes networks of churches, the Muslim Brotherhood, religious-based humanitarian organizations and more militant groups, like Al Qaeda, as examples. These groups are involved in recruiting, fundraising and attempting to influence the political process across many different states. Unfortunately, some more extreme organizations engage in international terror and other criminal activities to support their cause.

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