Bosco Book on Religion & National Security

We recently spoke with Dr. Robert Bosco (POLS PhD) about his new book, Securing the Sacred: Religion, National Security, and the Western State (University of Michigan Press). Bosco is an assistant professor at Centre College.

What is the argument of the book?

I argue that after 9/11, religion became what I call a “national security enigma” for Western states. Political elites perceived that failure to engage with religious ideas and actors had become a national security liability. Secular states like the U.S., Britain, and France were basically forced to come up with a ‘religion policy’ in the national security sphere. By religion, they were of course talking about Islam. But state intervention in religious matters (such as trying to channel Islam’s development into certain acceptable lines of interpretation, which is what ended up happening) heightened other security problems. The empirical parts of my book trace how three secular states–Britain, France, and the U.S.—dealt with these issues. I found that engagement with religion for reasons for national security—what I call the ‘securitization of religion’—is much more difficult at the domestic level of analysis than it is at the international level of analysis. Moreover, religion can be a dependent variable as much as it can be an independent one. In other words, at critical times, secular states try to promote and maintain certain conceptions of religion in the name of national security. It’s at the very foundations of our modernity. You saw it during the Reformation. I argue that you see it again now.

What type of evidence did you gather?

I gathered evidence from multiple sources. I was fascinated by the new conversation Britain, France, and the U.S. were having between and among themselves about religion as a national security issue. I conducted interviews. One in particular with one of the co-drafters of the 2006 U.S. National Security Strategy was formative. I did some structured discourse analysis of speeches, internal memos, and national security strategies. I read massive House of Commons minutes. I read U.S. army manuals and technical journals on military strategy to see how they dealt with religion. I combed Wikileaks. Religion: what it means, what to do about it, how to frame it, came up again and again in the diplomatic back-and-forth between the U.S., Britain, France, and some of their allies like Indonesia, the Philippines, and others. I think the book’s claims are well-supported, and that it has some interesting theoretical implications for how we approach religion in international relations.

Will you continue to work in this area? What is your next project?

I will definitely continue to work in the area of religion and international relations. It has always been and remains my primary area of research. Now, I am taking the theme of state engagement with religion for national security purposes and looking at it in other contexts. My next project takes up the same basic set of questions in the context of Buddhism, specifically in the contemporary relationship between Buddhism and the state in Asia. I’m starting with contemporary relations between the sangha—or community of Buddhist monks—and the state in Theravada Buddhist countries. I recently took a research trip to Thailand and Burma through my college (Centre College) and I got a good start on this.

Bosco wanted to go on record saying a giant “thank you” to his PhD committee members and everyone else who helped him at UConn, including Profs. Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Michael Morrell, Rich Hiskes, Jeremy Pressman, and Garry Clifford.

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