Religion ↔ Politics

It’s coming more and more clear to me why I don’t want to conflate (identify) religion and politics, or to reduce one to the other. The institutional ramifications of any such theoretical positioning can only be catastrophic, a disaster for both religion and politics. As ideal constructs, they remain distinct, which is not to say that they don’t correlate. The relationship is paideic and networked.

This is an old moderate Enlightenment model (Spinoza, Locke, Mendelssohn). Religion “should” inform the State “morally” by means of education and persuasion, not by political coercion. And the State, which has no right to determine religious conscience, can and “should” direct or redirect the actions of religious people insofar as these impact the greater public good.

Flows of information and affect move between through each separate node, binding them together into hybridized bundles, the one informing the other, and the other the one. Not everything is religious and not everything is political, even if religion and politics reach across to and into each other. Sometimes these flows flow unimpeded. Sometimes they are interrupted and redirected.

I can see how it might be tempting to identify the flow with either the one or the other, with either religion or politics or with some kind of hybrid like theopolitics. I would only argue that this is to make too many overreaching claims for both “the religious” or “the political.” It’s one thing to establish and negotiate a relation, another to constitute an identity, which is what the political theologians on the right and the left both seek to do.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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