This week sees the publication of Religion, Security, and Global Uncertainties a report by a Research Councils UK/Global Uncertainties team on Religion, Martyrdom, and Global Uncertainties sponsored by the Open University and the Research Councils UK Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security Research. I’ve had the good fortune to play a small part in the project, and an earlier post, Northern Lights, gave an account of a collaborative workshop that fed into the report.
The report makes fascinating reading. It focuses on how a lack of understanding of how religion ‘works’ causes problems for policy-makers as they struggle to understand the role of religious groups in the UK’s national security. Scholars studying religion from a wide variety of approaches contributed to the report, and offer glimpses of powerful reconciliation work being done by religious leaders across the UK, along with suggestions for how to address still-unresolved challenges. One of the contributors whose expertise is in the peace-building process in Northern Ireland, Gladys Ganiel, has also summarised the report’s recommendations as they relate to her own work.
My own contribution to the report, Religion, Conflict, and ‘The Secular’: The View From Early Christianity, takes a historical perspective. I try to explain how the idea of ‘secular values’ isn’t a product of modern critiques of religion. Actually, it grew up in fifth-century Christianity as part of the tradition of Christian self-criticism, expressing the theological idea that in a fallen world, a theocratic government can never reflect God’s will perfectly. The key text, naturally, is Augustine of Hippo’s City of God, his response to the tragedies of religious violence in the parts of Roman Africa that are now North-Eastern Algeria and Northern Tunisia. It is useful, I suggest, to recognise that our modern idea of ‘the secular’ is the creation not of an Enlightenment thinker in a European University, but rather that of an engaged North African community-leader making a point that echoes down through the ages: violence for the sake of religion is not really religion at all.
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