CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

CESNUR 2005 International Conference
June 2-5, 2005 – Palermo, Sicily
Religious Movements, Globalization and Conflict: Transnational Perspectives

The Religious Phenomenon and Contemporary Geopolitics

Daniela-Emanuela Danacica (Constantin Brancusi University of Tg-Jiu)

A paper presented at the 2005 CESNUR Conference in Palermo, Sicily. Preliminary version – do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.


The 2001 September 11 events from U.S. and the recent ones in March 11 from Spain brought into the foreground the importance of religious phenomenon and its impact on contemporary geopolitics. This article provides us with an answer for the question: Does religion have geopolitical objectives or does it penetrate the geopolitical institution of the states? The danger of the minimization of the religious factor is nowadays more then ever incontestable. 

The events took place in 2001 on the 11th of September in the U.S. and in 2003 on the 11th of March in Spain brought into the foreground the issue of interdependence between the religious and the geopolitical factor. The end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century clearly suggest the bringing back to the present of the religious phenomenon.

The modern world we live in is characterized by a powerful increase of new production forces, generated by the technical-scientifically revolution. The previously mentioned process is followed by the globalization phenomenon, which has determined a pronounced increase of the interdependence level and economic interaction of the world states. Although globalization deals particularly with the economic part of life, its effects has connotations on the socio-cultural, political or military fields and on the global and regional security as well. Globalization is having and will have a series of contradictory and additional consequences, which are positive and negative, and, within this context, culture as an expression of individuality and national identity has acquired and will acquire an important role. The state of the world is more and more dependent on the religious condition of mankind.

Having quite recent history geopolitics usually minimized the importance of the religious factor. When the term “geopolitics” was invented, its users believed rather in nature than in God. However, in the course of history a cause – effect relation between religious and political –military conflicts. At present, the world stage is dominated by anxieties generated by terrorist attacks from the part of those who do not defend a state but a religion. The following question comes up: “Is religion a first- rank geopolitical factor or it is has a secondary role, merely amplifying the geopolitical phenomenon having an unknown origin?

The Iranian experience can provide us with an answer to this question. After the shock Mohammed Reza Pahlavi Aryamehr had left the Iran in January 1979, the Islamic revolution of Khomeini inspiration instores a Revolutionary Islamic Council, and on the 1st of April 1979 the Islamic Republic of Iran came into being, having a Constitution which transforms the Iran into an Islamic confessional state. The precepts of the Iran become unique juridical norms, and the European values and especially the American values are removed. Thus, religion becomes a political force, the laicization desired by the present political regime of president Kahatami proving to be a difficult and perfidious process. Other examples might be those of the Pakistan and of the Iraq. The religious factor prevailed in all these cases.

Another delicate issue has been and still is the so-called “violence in the name of God”. While terrorism is a new phenomenon, religious violence has increased, getting disastrous proportions nowadays. Sacred tests are in the “clothes” of military language to “appareled” render a world continuously in a war state, a continuous fight between good and evil. There are obvious similitudes between various confessional groups, Christian, Jews, Muslims, as regards violence in the name of God. All of these assume the right of judging and exert justice in the name of God – even with the price of the others lives.

All of them rise in arms against modern secularized society, want a return to traditional values, but use the most recent discoveries of technical and military science to kill. There are no confessional borders for violence in the name of God. U.S., “the great Satan”, is anathematized seen as the promoter of New World Order, and any political ally of the U.S. implicitly becomes a force enemy.

Anthony Shadid [2001] claimed – a short time before the World Trade Center events – that radical Islam had reached the climax of its development and already was on the descendent slope. The following events have demonstrated that political Islam will remain an important factor of socio-political-cultural dynamics and will direct the internal evolution of Muslim countries. There is an ambivalent relation that the Occident has cultivated within the last decades with Muslim fundamentalism in Persian Gulf and Lebanon, but became ally with the Muslim radicals in Afghanistan against Soviet Union. These ones transformed themselves into the Taliban regime of the last years of the 20th century, a supporter of international terrorism and of Oussama Ben Laden, the moral author of the terrorist attempts in the U.S. and Spain. Thus, violence in the name of God is the same for all confessional groups. Military force is used for the enlargement of the sphere of influence. There are situations when the cause of conflicts is not represented by the conversion to another religion, but by the defense or the recuperation of some regions with an important religious symbology, religion being in this case, an amplifying factor of the geopolitical phenomenon and not a primordial cause. It is the case of Israelian- Arabian conflict and of the conflict between Indian and Pakistan as regards Kashmir. In other cases, religious differentiation interweaves with economical differentiation, becoming an extremely powerful source of conflicts, scenarios happened in ex-Yugoslavia, which led to a devastating civil war and massive changing of place of population.

G. Chaliand [2001] highlighted the fact the source of the recent geopolitical conflicts in the world is represented by the countries who have recently acquired their independence and who are ill-treating their ethnical and religious minorities, the absence of democracy compelling the latter ones to resort to violence.

As we have motivated, notions religion and geopolitics are not two incompatible. Which would be the future of religion as a geopolitical factor? There are various opinions on this point. Some specialist considers that the ecumenical movement, the religious panism is a way of clarifying the disputes. However, religious homogeneousness remains an illusion. Other specialists foresee a future world dominated by conflicts generated by religious and ethnical antagonisms caused by the erosion of the nation – state and the loss of control induced by the globalization phenomenon. Samuel Huntington, in his paper “The Clash of civilizations” claimed: “the most important conflicts in future will be produced alongside the cultural cleavage lines which separate civilizations”. The unfortunate events of September 11, 2001 and March 11, 2003 seem to restate these predictions. We should not neglect the vulnerability and inadaptability of some categories of individuals as regards the changes of the world they live in these ones becoming pawns on the chess table of violence in the name of God. Religious militants or suicidal individuals hearing bombs are just small-scale examples of what means the juxtaposition of religion with geopolitics. Which is the future of religion as a geopolitical factor? It is only future history that will provide us with an answer to this question.            



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