Menchik Publishes Journal Article on Constructivism and Religion

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Jeremy Menchik, Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Fredrick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, published a recent journal article examining the ways in which a new generation of scholarship on religion and world politics is moving beyond the flawed paradigms of the past. Specifically, Menchik explores the constructivist approach in detail.

Menchik’s article, entitled “The Constructivist Approach to Religion and World Politics,” was published in Comparative Politics (Volume 49, Number 4, July 2017).

From the text of the article:

Religion and world politics is a subfield in transition. In the twenty years since political scientists rediscovered religion, scholars have struggled to advance the literature without a common paradigm. The once dominant paradigm, secularization theory, held that with economic development, religious beliefs and practices, religious organizations, and the integration of religion into other aspects of life would disappear. Of those three tenets of secularization theory, only the last one, differentiation of religion from other spheres, retains support among social scientists, and even that is contested. Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” paradigm is similarly doubted if not yet completely discarded.1 A field in transition must, therefore, address the question of how scholars of politics should approach religion after the failure of the dominant paradigms.

This essay begins by explaining why secularization theory is largely discredited before reviewing the three leading approaches to rebuilding the literature, represented by recent scholarship on religion and world politics. These texts move beyond classic secularization theory, beyond the theory of a clash between culturally-rooted civilizations, and beyond appealing to scholars to “bring religion back in.” 2 Instead, each work takes on the task of reconstruction.

My goal in reviewing these approaches—constructivism, revised secularization theory, and religious economies—is not to set up a battle between competing paradigms. Instead, I want to highlight the innovations of the newest entry, constructivism, and suggest that, in contrast to earlier scholarship, scholars today should celebrate theoretical, methodological, and conceptual pluralism rather than aspiring to a unifying theory that will inevitably stumble upon the heterogeneity of religion. Learning from the shortcomings of the prior generation means recognizing that religion, like other aspects of culture and identity, is heterogeneous over time and space, multifaceted in practice, and its relevance to politics is dependent on context.

Jeremy Menchik’s research interests include comparative politics, religion and politics, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. He is also the author of Islam and Democracy in Indonesia: Tolerance Without Liberalism. At Boston University he is a member of the graduate faculty of political science and coordinates the MAIA program with specialization in Religion and International Affairs.