Viewing the film August: Osage County with academy award nominees Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep during the same week that Russia’s Vladimir Putin occupied Crimea and thumbed his nose at President Obama, it became impossible not to regard the movie itself as some sort of deep parable of the political age in which we live.
I first taught this graduate seminar in 2008 as a “Topics in Political Thought” course, and called it “Political Theologies” – a political theory seminar, cross-listed with Study of Religion. Part of the motivation for teaching it was finding a set of themes and readings that would work well in a cross disciplinary way, as I’m jointly appointed to both Political Science and Study of Religion.
Writing in May, 1670, the German theologian Jacob Thomasius fulminated against a recent, anonymously published book. It is, he claimed, “a godless document” that should be immediately banned in all countries. His Dutch colleague, Regnier Mansveld, a professor at the University of Utrecht, insisted that the new publication was harmful to all religions and “ought to be buried forever in an eternal oblivion.” Willem van Blijenburgh, a philosophically inclined Dutch merchant, wrote that “this atheistic book is full of abominations … which every reasonable person should find abhorrent.” One disturbed critic went so far as to call it “a book forged in hell”, written by the devil himself.
Democracy is in crisis. Or, or more significantly, liberal democracy is in crisis. So writes Philip Coggan recently in The Economist, the Western world’s foremost punditocratic commentary on the shifting social, cultural, and political terrain that goes by the slippery name of “globalization”.
Addressing the difficulties attending to necessary albeit unpopular reform of economic policy, the prime minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker once made remarked famously, “We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we have done it.”
Apparently, nonviolence and democracy are strongly connected. Recent research suggests that nonviolent resistance campaigns are much more likely than violent ones to pave the way for “democratic regimes.” . . . But what, in the world, is democracy? The term resides in a restless spectrum, so perhaps the adjective democratic should be employed more than the noun.
The United States is comprised of a religiously diverse citizenry, which leaves officials to balance the tension upheld by a constitution that simultaneously prevents the establishment of a national creed and yet preserves one’s right to freedom of religion. In practice, officials in the United States cannot legislate theology, but they can, and do, use theology to legislate.
As a result, the United States is not a secular democracy where laws guarantee freedom from religion and dismiss theological rhetoric in the political process; neither is it a theocracy, where a single religion prescribes all laws. Whether we like it or not the United States is a theolegal democracy.
I join this conversation as a student of comparative politics, writing a project that explores how islamiyun, often dubbed Islamists, imagine and enact democracy. Specifically, I use insights derived from ordinary language philosophy to apprehend insights from interviews and focus groups with over 100 interlocutors, gleaned in nearly two years of fieldwork in Morocco (2009-2011), to understand what democracy means to Moroccan islamiyun. I find that there are two broad usages of dimuqratiyyah [democracy] in the language and practices of Moroccan islamiyun.