"Toft: Why Religion Wields More Political Influence Today"
Newsletter Article, Belfer Center Newsletter, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Author: Susan M. Lynch, Program Assistant, International Security Program; Web Manager, Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program
Associate Professor of Public Policy Monica Duffy Toft, faculty director of the Belfer Center’s Initiative on Religion and International Affairs, discusses her most recent publication, God’s Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics.
How did you become interested in writing God’s Century?
I am interested in what motivates people politically, especially what motivates religious actors politically. Essentially, I am interested in discerning whether religious actors behave differently than secular actors. This research stems from work on largescale political violence. Religion is an element in half of all active civil wars today and in most terrorism.
God’s Century deals with religiouslymotivated actors who use violence (terrorism, civil war)—and those who pursue agendas of human rights, peace settlements, and democratization. What accounts for such a difference?
The difference between those who use violence and those who do not is based on both the nature of the actors’ political theology and the degree and type of independence between religion and state.
Religious actors have a bad reputation—and some deserve it—but religious actors, including political parties, have also played a major role in most of the movements that successfully strove toward more open political systems over the past forty years. Religious actors enjoy a far greater level of independence from political authority in both their selfgovernance and pursuits than they have at any time in the past. This is one reason why they wield more inﬂuence today than they have for centuries.
What are your recommendations for U.S. foreign policy?
The United States will most likely succeed in its foreign policy by encouraging regimes that treat religion neither as a prisoner nor courtier, but as a respected citizen, and by supporting religious communities that struggle for such a regime. The U.S. should recognize that there is a strategic value in pursuing religious freedom.
Do you have concerns about the new role the Muslim Brotherhood might play in Egyptian government?
Although the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has its roots in Islam, there is no need to reflexively fear it. Not only was it politically active against a repressive regime in Egypt, but over time, it has moderated both its stance and role in Egyptian society. In order to govern, it needed to broaden its support. If the trends over the past forty years provide any guidance, the MB may very well continue to adopt a more democratic orientation and represent the Egyptian polity more broadly.
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