Dr. Robert Bosco’s newest book examines interplay of religion and national security
Living in a post-9/11 world, national security and religion have both come to the forefront of much public discourse; the latest thread in that interesting and provocative conversation is Centre College Assistant Professor of International Studies Robert Bosco’s newest work, Securing the Sacred: Religion, National Security, and the Western State, hitting bookshelves this month.
“I’m interested in how governments grapple with religion and, sometimes, even try to reform religion or influence its trajectory and development,” Bosco explains. “Prior to 9/11, I was looking at this theme in Algeria and Tunisia, but after 9/11, I realized that engaging with religion had become a national security issue for many states, especially secular ones.”
Bosco was particularly interested in the policy shift many secular governments experienced after 9/11; instead of trying to remain disengaged from religion as they had previously, they were forced to confront it.
“This presents Western, secular states with an interesting conundrum,” he says. “If religion is now perceived as a security issue, one has to do something; but how to do this in the context of secularism? My book examines how the U.S., France and the U.K. dealt with this paradox, and that’s why in the book I refer to religion as a new ‘national security enigma.’”
Specifically, Bosco examined how these three secular states engaged with Islam by trying to define and frame its appropriate and inappropriate forms.
“This framing of the issue is important because it helped to justify what these states actually did—the specific policies they enacted,” he explains. “My point isn’t to make policy recommendations; it’s more to examine an important contemporary problem in comparative perspective and then reflect back on some theoretical issues in the Critical Theory of Religion.”
Because Bosco was teaching and writing at the same time, both processes organically influenced one another.
“Religion and international politics is a young subfield, and it’s very dynamic and exciting because lots of people are getting involved, and it’s truly cross-disciplinary,” he notes. “One issue, however, is that it’s a bit disorganized—it’s hard to introduce students to a field that is fascinating but all over the place.
“My book has helped me tremendously in this regard,” he continues, “because its overall theme—religion and the state—gives me a coherent way to organize my course.”
Bosco mentions how class discussions during a recent CentreTerm course informed his writing on U.S. policy. In addition, collaborative research with Brittany Tucker ’13 was invaluable to his writing process.
“Brittany really helped me with the French case; she translated many of Nicolas Sarkozy’s speeches for me, and the stuff really impressed on me the importance of Sarkozy’s concept of ‘positive secularity,’” Bosco explains. “I missed how important that was at first and decided to rewrite the chapter on France based on that new knowledge. That chapter is more accurate and complete because of her.”
One of Bosco’s favorite elements of the publication process was using WikiLeaks to research various policies and events, which he calls “a treasure trove of primary sources for global politics.”
He also enjoyed conducting interviews in Washington, D.C., connecting with other critical theorists whose work he has admired, and working with University of Michigan Press, which he says made the process of publication easy and enjoyable.
And though this new work is still hot off the press, Bosco has already turned his attention to future projects.
“I think the theme of state involvement in religion is ripe for further application to other countries and contexts,” he says. “I’m especially interested in this in Buddhist majority countries. I’m looking forward to more work in this area.”
To learn more about Robert Bosco’s Securing the Sacred: Religion, National Security, and the Western State, visit http://www.press.umich.edu/4891476/securing_the_sacred.
By Mariel Smith