Foundations I: State and Religion

Course Description: 

This course aims to introduce students to issues that arise in discussions pertaining to the concepts and histories of state and religion, their connections, intersections, concordances and distinctions, following a discussion of why the issue of religion-state relations arises today, and under what circumstances. The approach adopted is intended to involve questions and concepts that occur in the disciplines of history, comparative religion, political anthropology and political sociology. Philosophical and other discussions associated with political theory will be broached only tangentially; themes of political theology are evoked in a historio-anthropological rather than an intellectual history settings.

The course will start with contemporary issues that set many of the terms of debate relating to the connection of state and religion. These issues arise from a growing salience and self-confidence of political and social movements with aims and agendas that are explicitly and often predominantly religious.  It will discuss issues relating to the secularism and secularization, which is the backdrop of these movements, and claims for the religious and eschatological character of certain twentieth-century ideologies that have sustained mass movements, including the concept of political religion.

The course will adopt a conceptual and a historical turn. It will take up notions and practices of religion and of state, as well as different types of relationships that have existed between them historically, highlighted with reference to specific examples. The course will look into redefining both state and religion in the early modern and modern world, and their possible range of relationships. Reference will be made to the consequences of the Protestant Reformation and to the crucial redefinition of the relationship between state and religion as expressed fully and unsentimentally by Thomas Hobbes.

Class sessions will consist of introductory remarks by the instructor and the TA, followed by a summary of the previous session by one of the students. This will be followed by a class discussion of the specific theme of each session based upon the mandatory readings.

Learning Outcomes: 

It is expected that students emerge from this class with a specific body of knowledge concerning the overarching themes of the course: religion, state and the ways to think of their relationship. This body of knowledge is of two types. One is empirical and relating to specific historical and contemporary situations brought up during the course. The second is conceptual, pertaining to religion, state and collateral notions arising from historical and social sciences and disciplines. Taken together, the conjunction of conceptual awareness and empirical material is intended to train students in the art of using a broad range of concepts in the analysis of concrete thematic materials. This will equip them with generic analytical skills which will enable them to analyse complex situations, including those related to the relationship between religion and politics in a very broad sense.


Students are expected to have prepared the assigned readings before attending the classroom session. Student learning and performance will be assessed by 1) students’ reports on their readings to the class and their summaries of previous sessions, supported by written material distributed to the class; the purpose of the retrospective summary is to maintain continuity between sessions, and the purpose of the account of the present sessions’ readings is not to summarize but rather to treat the topic of the session starting from a critical readings of the assigned and wider readings (40 %), and 2) a final paper of about 2,500 words containing the discussion of a relevant book to be agreed with the instructor. The submission should be less a summary of the book than a review article containing an analysis of the book’s arguments in light of relevant scholarship and of the different opinions relating to the theme of the book (60 %). The paper should demonstrate that the student had followed class discussions carefully, and has been able to benefit from the class readings meaningfully. The paper should be submitted electronically to Çiçek Dereli by a deadline to be agreed in class.