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Global Politics and Religion (Certificate)

The study of religion, politics and public life, nationally and internationally, is a topic of growing interest among scholars at Northwestern and beyond. The graduate certificate program in Global Politics and Religion is an interdisciplinary initiative co-sponsored by the Department of Political Science and the Department of Religious Studies that responds to interest in this emergent field of study. It offers a coordinated program of study for graduate students interested in the interrelations between religion, politics, culture, law, and governance in different parts of the world, and in global and transnational perspective.

Rather than approach religion and politics as discreet entities that ‘influence’ one another, or are even mutually constitutive, this program interrogates the very basis of their conceptual and disciplinary separation. Religion is approached as part of a complex and evolving, shifting series of fields of contemporary and historical practice that cannot be singled out from other aspects of human activity and yet also not simply identified with these either. Resisting the adoption of any singular, stable conception of religion, this program acknowledges the vast and diverse array of practices and histories that fall under the heading of religion as the term has evolved and as it is used today. From this angle, law, political institutions, and other tools of collective governance do not possess procedural autonomy ‘above the fray’ of religious lives. Unpacking the sense of inevitability and neutrality of received understandings of secularism, disestablishment, law, toleration, minority rights and other familiar templates of late modern governance makes it possible to carve out new spaces for the study of religion, law, diversity, and governance—and the complex interrelations between them.

Building on existing strengths across fields at Northwestern, this certificate brings focus and concentration to this dispersed interest. It provides students with the theoretical grounding in the necessary disciplines to support their research, develop professional networks, and prepare them for academic positions in this area of inquiry. Affiliated with the Buffett Global Politics & Religion Faculty Working Group and the Global Politics & Religion Graduate Student Workshop, the program strengthens coordination and cross-fertilization across fields and departments among Northwestern faculty and graduate students working in this field, establishing Northwestern as a robust participant in this emerging global conversation. Because this conversation transcends long-standing disciplinary divides, a strong institutional response requires creative programmatic innovation as well as new thinking at the boundary between the study of religion and the study of global and transnational politics, law and history.

In Winter 2015 the certificate co-organizers co-taught a graduate seminar, “Religion and Modernity.” Also in 2014-2015, a speaker series on “Religion, Law, and Politics,” organized by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd and sponsored by the EDGS program, with support from the Department of Political Science and the Department of Religious Studies, brought together distinguished scholars in the field with Northwestern faculty and graduate students interested in critical analysis of the interaction of law, religion, culture and politics in social, historical, and legal context. Serving as a forum for reflection on theoretical, methodological, and critical issues in law and society, religion and diversity, and culture and politics in the US and globally, the series traversed disciplinary boundaries to explore these questions, drawing on political science, law, religious studies, anthropology, history, and sociology of religion.

The Global Politics and Religion Graduate Student Workshop creates an interdisciplinary space for graduate students to share their ongoing research projects and to discuss emerging approaches to studying the intersections of religion and politics in global and transnational perspectives. The workshop aims at inviting various disciplines into a fruitful conversation as it looks forward to its participants bringing to the table their distinct fields, area interests, and analytics in an effort to create a common ground for productively using the categories “religion” and “politics” in relation to one another.

Who to contact

Please contact the program directors, listed below, with questions about this program. 

The following requirements are in addition to, or further elaborate upon, those requirements outlined in The Graduate School Policy Guide.

To participate in the Religion & Global Politics certificate program, students receive the permission from the Director of Graduate Study in their program, and must declare their affiliation to the co-directors of the certificate program. To obtain the Religion & Global Politics certificate, students must complete five graduate courses: two core courses and three electives. Students are required to take two core courses in methods: one in Religious Studies and one in Political Science; and three electives from among a list of approved certificate elective course offerings compiled by the certificate administrators. 

Required courses

  • Rel 481-1: Classical Theories of Religion: Theory and Method or
  • Rel 481-2: Contemporary Conversations in the Study of Religion
  • Poli Sci 408: Interpretive Methods in the Study of Politics or other graduate methods class in Political Science as approved by certificate administrator

Elective options

  • Poli Sci 490 (20): Special Topics in Political Science: Religion and Politics
  • Poli Sci 464: Contemporary Political Thought
  • Poli Sci 490: Critical Theory and the Study of Politics
  • Rel 482: Themes in Comparative Religion
  • Rel 462: Topics in American Religious History & Contemporary Practice: Lived Religions
  • Rel 318: Topics in East Asian Religions: Religion and Politics in the People’s Republic of China (undergraduate seminar, would need to be taken for graduate credit)
  • Anthro 474: Seminar in Religion and Values (Anthropology of Scriptural Religion)
  • Anthro 490: Language and Law (also Anthro 378: Law, Culture and Language)
  • History 405: Seminar in Historical Analysis: the Historical Study of Religion
  • Communications 525: Problems in Communication Studies: Language and Power
  • Rhetoric & Public Culture (Communications): Culture and Critical Theory; Publics in a Global Context
  • Soc 476: Special Topics: Religion and Modernity
  • Other graduate courses approved by certificate administrators