How the World Lost the Fight to Separate Church and State
Religion influences politics more now than it did 50 years ago. Are we going forward or backward?
Before joining The Fletcher School, Professor Monica Duffy Toft taught at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government and Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. While at Harvard, she directed the Initiative on Religion in International Affairs and was the assistant director of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies. She was educated at the University of Chicago (MA and PhD in political science) and at the University of California, Santa Barbara (BA in political science and Slavic languages and literature, summa cum laude). Prior to this, she spent four years in the United States Army as a Russian linguist. Monica’s areas of research include international security, ethnic and religious violence, civil wars and demography.
Her most recent books include: Securing the Peace (Princeton, 2011); Political Demography (Oxford, 2012); and God’s Century (Norton, 2012). In addition she has published numerous scholarly articles and editorials on civil wars, territory and nationalism, demography, and religion in global politics.
Monica is a research associate of the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford and at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She is a supernumerary fellow at Brasenose College, University of Oxford, a Global Scholar of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Minorities at Risk Advisory Board and the Political Instability Task Force. In 2008 the Carnegie Foundation of New York named her a Carnegie Scholar for her research on religion and violence, in 2012 she was named a Fulbright scholar, and most recently served as the World Politics Fellow at Princeton University.
Monica Duffy Toft: So religion has become more influential in global politics, and it really started taking off in the 1970s, Whereas people today, if you read contemporary newspapers and magazines and journals and stuff, you would think that it all started in the post-9/11 era—that as a result of 9/11 people started noticing or thought that’s where it really took off, but it actually really started taking off in the 1970s. And there’s a threefold story to it.
The first is the failure of the postcolonial regimes in the 1960s and '70s. So you understand these are states that got independence after World War II and they were given a chance at sort of directing their states, as running their states. These were people—you could think about Gandhi and others who were educated in the West, go back to their countries and bring ideas, Western sort of ideas, out of the university systems—Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, Tufts—and tried to implement those ideas at home, and they failed.
And so by the 1960s and the 1970s you start seeing failed and failing states emerging and populations challenging their statesmen and saying, “Why is it you’re supposed to be the one providing for the basic goods and services for my society and for me, why are you failing?”
And so they started challenging political authorities and helping them to challenge them were church leaders and religious ideas. Because many religions are based on the idea of justice and equality, and there were some things that happened: in the 1960s the Catholic Church started talking about the equality of all people; all people deserve human dignity, not just Catholics.
And so religious actors were there with some ideas and they were also not fully delegitimated in the way in which mainstream, secular political actors were, and so they helped to propel a set of ideas and a set of activities that challenged states. So it was sort of the collapse of the modernization theory, that this was all going to lead to good: the end of poverty, end of disease, end of war—it didn’t. And religious actors were there to capitalize on that, to help; they were there to help—both clergy and bishops but also laypeople who were part of different churches.
And this is across different faith traditions, it’s not just the Catholic and Christian faith tradition, but also within the Muslim community.
Shia were reinterpreting what it meant to be Shia among Muslims, that they needed to be more politically active. And this lead to reinterpretation of doctrine and it culminated in the 1979 revolution where they felt that they had the right, actually the obligation, to overthrow the Shah, who was a secular leader and bring about Sharia law within Iran. So it wasn’t just Christians.
So that was one: it was the failure of modernization, and religious actors were there to help the people who were struggling and suffering within these societies under autocratic regimes.
The second is democratization—it’s related to it—that you do see an increase in the number of countries, globally after the 1970s, that democratize. So voices and ideas, similar to the religion, were being voiced and put into power. So democratization helped propel religious ideas into the global and political arena.
And lastly is globalization. Religious actors or transnational actors—their ideas and their people, their personnel—traveled the globe. Why does the pope travel? The pope travels because his church is made up of church members; that is what constitutes the church, and he needs to go visit them.
When Khomeini was thinking about the revolution and changing the Iranian government he had digital cassette tapes that he sent from Paris—he was in exile in Paris in the '70s—and he sent them back to Tehran. And so as a transnational actor he had ideas that were flowing across this community. Similar to the Catholic Church: Pope John Paul the Second was going around Eastern Europe in the 1980s, basically wagging his finger at these regimes saying, “You need to do better by your people. You have an obligation. These people are relying on you.”
And so this globalization of ideas and movement of people really helped propel religious ideas into the global arena, and it empowered domestic-level actors to be able to challenge their states and their regimes—and they did.
Now it’s 2017 and religious actors are not going anywhere, and if anything they’re becoming stronger. We now have this fight against ISIS. You can look at votes around the world: people want religious actors to have a say in politics. They don’t want religion to necessarily be a private matter, they think that it should be and needs to be part of the public discourse. This is a change. This is a big change from where we were in the 1960s and '70s where the idea was secularism: separating religion from the public space. In the public square you were not allowed—and this was a global phenomenon.
And you can think about the Eastern Bloc: they were atheistic regimes, they cut religion out of the entire system, but then with the end of the Cold War it came back. And so orthodoxy is now married again with the Russian state. And then around of the world you’re seeing this demand to have more and more religious ideas as part of public policy.
Religion influences politics more now than it did 50 years ago. To help explain how we moved seemingly backward from global secularism to increased religious involvement in public policy, Professor of International Politics Monica Duffy Toft explains the threefold story of failed modernization, democratization, and globalization, and how they propelled religious figures and ideas into the political arena once again. Monica Duffy Toft's work at the Center for Strategic Studies is made possible through funding from the Charles Koch Foundation. The Charles Koch Foundation aims to further understanding of how US foreign policy affects American people and societal well-being. Through grants, events, and collaborative partnerships, the Foundation is working to stretch the boundaries of foreign policy research and debate by discussing ideas in strategy, trade, and diplomacy that often go unheeded in the US capital. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
The world's getting hotter, and it's getting more volatile. We need to start thinking about how climate change encourages conflict.
- Climate change is usually discussed in terms of how it impacts the weather, but this fails to emphasize how climate change is a "threat multiplier."
- As a threat multiplier, climate change makes already dangerous social and political situations even worse.
- Not only do we have to work to minimize the impact of climate change on our environment, but we also have to deal with how it affects human issues today.
Human beings are great at responding to imminent and visible threats. Climate change, while dire, is almost entirely the opposite: it's slow, it's pervasive, it's vague, and it's invisible. Researchers and policymakers have been trying to package climate change in a way that conveys its severity. Usually, they do so by talking about its immediate effects: rising temperature, rising sea levels, and increasingly dangerous weather.
These things are bad, make no mistake about it. But the thing that makes climate change truly dire isn't that Cape Cod will be underwater next century, that polar bears will go extinct, or that we'll have to invent new categories for future hurricanes. It's the thousands of ancillary effects — the indirect pressure that climate change puts on every person on the planet.
How a drought in the Middle East contributed to extremism in Europe
(DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Nigel Farage in front of a billboard that leverages the immigration crisis to support Brexit.
Because climate change is too big for the mind to grasp, we'll have to use a case study to talk about this. The Syrian civil war is a horrific tangle of senseless violence, but there are some primary causes we can point to. There is the longstanding conflicts between different religious sects in that country. Additionally, the Arab Spring swept Syria up in a wave of resistance against authoritarian leaders in the Middle East — unfortunately, Syrian protests were brutally squashed by Bashar Al-Assad. These, and many other factors, contributed to the start of the Syrian civil war.
One of these other factors was drought. In fact, the drought in that region — it started in 2006 — has been described as the "worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilization began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago." Because of this drought, many rural Syrians could no longer support themselves. Between 2006 and 2009, an estimated 1.5 million Syrians — many of them agricultural workers and farmers — moved into the country's major cities. With this sudden mixing of different social groups in a country where classes and religious sects were already at odds with one another, tensions rose, and the increased economic instability encouraged chaos. Again, the drought didn't cause the civil war — but it sure as hell helped it along.
The ensuing flood of refugees to Europe is already a well-known story. The immigration crisis was used as a talking point in the Brexit movement to encourage Britain to leave the EU. Authoritarian or extreme-right governments and political parties have sprung up in France, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Slovenia, and other European countries, all of which have capitalized on fears of the immigration crisis.
Why climate change is a "threat multiplier"
This is why both NATO and the Pentagon have labeled climate change as a "threat multiplier." On its own, climate change doesn't cause these issues — rather, it exacerbates underlying problems in societies around the world. Think of having a heated discussion inside a slowly heating-up car.
Climate change is often discussed in terms of its domino effect: for example, higher temperatures around the world melt the icecaps, releasing methane stored in the polar ice that contributes to the rise in temperature, which both reduces available land for agriculture due to drought and makes parts of the ocean uninhabitable for different animal species, wreaking havoc on the food chain, and ultimately making food more scarce.
Maybe we should start to consider climate change's domino effect in more human and political terms. That is, in terms of the dominoes of sociopolitical events spurred on by climate change and the missing resources it gobbles up.
What the future may hold
(NASA via Getty Images)
Increasingly severe weather events will make it more difficult for nations to avoid conflict.
Part of why this is difficult to see is because climate change does not affect all countries proportionally — at least, not in a direct sense. Germanwatch, a German NGO, releases a climate change index every year to analyze exactly how badly different countries have been affected by climate change. The top five most at-risk countries are Haiti, Zimbabwe, Fiji, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. Notice that many of these places are islands, which are at the greatest risk for major storms and rising sea levels. Some island nations are even expected to literally disappear — the leaders of these nations are actively making plans to move their citizens to other countries.
But Germanwatch's climate change index is based on weather events. It does not account for the political and social instability that will likely result. The U.S. and many parts of Europe are relatively low on the index, but that is precisely why these countries will most likely need to deal with the human cost of climate change. Refugees won't go from the frying pan into the fire: they'll go to the closest, safest place available.
Many people's instinctive response to floods of immigrants is to simply make borders more restrictive. This makes sense — a nation's first duty is to its own citizens, after all. Unfortunately, people who support stronger immigration policies tend to have right-wing authoritarian tendencies. This isn't always the case, of course, but anecdotally, we can look at the governments in Europe that have stricter immigration policies. Hungary, for example, has extremely strict policies against Muslim immigrants. It's also rapidly turning into a dictatorship. The country has cracked down on media organizations and NGOs, eroded its judicial system's independence, illegalized homelessness, and banned gender studies courses.
Climate change and its sociopolitical effects, such as refugee migration, aren't some poorer country's problem. It's everyone's problem. Whether it's our food, our homes, or our rights, climate change will exact a toll on every nation on Earth. Stopping climate change, or at least reducing its impact, is vitally important. Equally important is contending with the multifaceted threats its going to throw our way.
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