Foundations I: Religion and State (Lecture)

Course Description: 

This course aims to introduce students to issues that arise in discussions pertaining to state and religion, their connections, intersections, concordances and distinctions, following a discussion of why the issue of religion-state relations arises, and under what circumstances. The approach adopted is intended to involve questions and concepts that occur in the disciplines of history, comparative religion, political anthropology and political sociology. Philosophical and other discussions associated political theory will be broached only tangentially.

 The course will start with contemporary issues that set many of the terms of debate relating to the connection of state and religion. These issues arise from growing salience and self-confidence of political movements with explicitly and often predominantly religious declared agendas. It will discuss issues relating to the secularism and secularization, and to claims for the religious and eschatological character of certain twentieth-century ideologies that have sustained mass movements.

 The course will adopt a conceptual and historical turn. It will take up notions and practices of religion and of state, and different the types of relationships that have existed between them historically, highlighted with reference to specific examples. The course will look into the redefinition of both state and religion in the early modern and modern world, and of their possible range of relationships. Reference will be made to the consequences of the Protestant reformation and to the crucial redefinition of the relationship between state and religion as expressed unsentimentally by Thomas Hobbes.

 Class sessions will consist of introductory remarks by the instructor and the TA, followed by a summary of the previous session by one of the students. This will be followed by a class discussion of the specific theme of each session based upon the mandatory readings.


Learning Outcomes: 

It is expected that students emerge from this class with a specific body of knowledge concerning the overaching theme of the course. This body of knowledge is of two types. One is empirical and relating to specific historical and contemporary situations brought up. The second is conceptual, pertaining religion, state and collateral notions arising from the historical and social sciences and disciplines. Taken together, the conjunction of conceptual awareness and empirical material is intended to train students in the art of using a broad range of concepts in the analysis of concrete materials. This will equip them with generic skills to undertake research into the relationship between religion and politics in a very broad sense.


Students are expected to have prepared the assigned readings before attending the classroom session Student learning and performance will be assessed by 1) students’ reports on their readings to the class and their summaries of previous sessions, supported by written material distributed to the class (40 %), and 2) a final paper relating to one specific historical or contemporary instance relating to the relationship between state and religion. examination (60 %). The paper should demonstrate that the student had followed class discussions carefully, and references should demonstrate critical acquaintance with the overall parameters of the topic over and above and knowledge of the special subject chosen for the paper.


Potential topics relevant to the research paper can range from Buddhist polities at a particular time and place in South and South-East Asia to the Japanese cult of the emperor, through Justinian and the Fatimid Caliphate to Charlemagne, Charles V, Louis XIV, New England Puritans, French secularism, the Soviet and Soviet-type churches to contemporary Iran, Saudi Arabia the polities of former Soviet block countries.