Politics – No place for religion?

We can easily agree on the fact that the mixing of religion and politics in many Muslim countries challenge ideals of Western political cultures, as Helge Lurås (Center for international and strategic analyses) states in an interview in a Norwegian newspaper today. This is exactly why it is essential that our foreign policy is based on a reflective and clarified relationship to religion. Indeed politics will always have to relate to religion also in Western secular democracies.  E.g. Norway is obliged to pursue an active policy to safeguard human rights, including the freedom of faith and believe.  Yet a pro-active politics on religion is something quite different than a politics based on faith.

The development of secular democratic institutions based on universal human rights is an overarching strategic goal in the Norwegian foreign policy. Yet in order to pursue such goal, we cannot simply exclude religion from the map having in mind the role that religion plays in many societies in the world today. It is also this reality that has constituted the basis of the Oslo Center’s project on religion and development that Lurås is commenting on in his interview. But contrary to what he seems to believe, the project is not aimed at promoting inter-faith dialogue or religion as such in the public sphere. On the contrary, we call for a reality check of such initiatives in line with the project’s knowledge based approach.

In the final report we advocate a knowledge based – not faith-based – approach to religion. In line with research communities and practitioners around the globe, we recognize that religion has deep influence on political and social dynamics in many parts of the world today.  This reality must be reflected in the strategies, not by promoting religious leaders and institutions role and power in politics, but to ensure that policies are based on solid knowledge and understanding of social and political dynamics in the countries we are involved.

The project report fully recognises that religious actors challenge fundamental human rights and democratic values in the world today. E.g. we describe how primarily Christian religious actors are joining forces in the fight against gender equality and women’s reproductive rights.

With regard to democratic developments in Muslim countries, we must recognize that it is not up to us but to the people and their respective political actors there to define the balance between religion and politics. Indeed we should be careful when telling other’s how to develop their political and democratic solutions. The credibility of the west in many Muslim countries is probably not at its peak nowadays, much due to western countries non- democratic and non-transparent policies over the last decades.

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