According to philosopher Ernest Renan, nationalism is a kind of spirit and soul that binds the community or a group into a whole. Nationalism typically refers to the animating spirit of a community of people with an aspiration to be politically self-determining.
Religious nationalism includes any religious manifestation of national self-determination or ideological superiority within a restricted geographical or ethnic area. Thus, it is related to the process of singling out specific, privileged cultural artefacts, habits, morals or ideology and opposing them to the past, other regions, religions, nations or peoples.
The idea of religious nationalism provides logic to a community to incorporate their shared heritage in a sovereign state. It is an approach that has manifested itself in the nation-state system that has given birth to various struggles within the national boundaries.
There are four sources of religious nationalism.
1. The belief that the religion of a certain community is chosen by God; for example, the Jewish people consider themselves as the chosen ones.
2. An emotional affection for a specific geographical territory; for example, Jews consider themselves the rightful owner of the land of Palestine.
3. A strong urge for revival and resurgence of religious philosophy; for example, the desire of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to revive the historic contours of Hinduism.
4. A conviction that certain sacrifices by the people of a state would revitalize the probability of success and achievements.
Max Weber’s Theory and Religious Nationalism
Max Weber’s theory on Protestant nationalism argues that the specialization aspect of industrial movement has secularized world politics and religious nationalism is incorporating it in modernism. This modernism is leading towards ethnic polemics and secessionist movements in the discourse of the nation-state system; resultantly, leading to violence. The advancement and modernization of the world economy have led to the division of humanity. Specifically, in the nation-state design, the marginalized groups have confronted the disadvantages of state policies based on religious nationalism. Therefore, the struggle between two different religions in a nation-state gives birth to religious warriors, and it creates conflict. Individuals and groups driven by religious nationalism become involved in terrorist attacks and halt political rapprochement.
The dominant religious faction in a certain nation-state holds massive political power that creates cleavages based on ethnicity and race. Religious symbols and traditions manifest in the state policies that motivate the minority groups to get involved in the arms struggle. Hence, all the above-mentioned aspects trigger conflicts in a certain country.
Religious nationalism also plays an important role in policymaking and thus creates conflict for marginalized classes. According to famed political scientist Charles Tilly, religious nationalism is a form in which a state motivates its nationals to amalgamate in the name of religion within a specific territory with a particular cultural ethos. Consequently, a state derives its power from religion and becomes highly authoritative and centralized.
For instance, Islamization was the policy adopted by General Ziaul Haq and it was purely implemented on the pretext of religious nationalism. Since more than 90 percent population of Pakistan belongs to Sunni sect of Islam, therefore, he tried to mobilize the society by mixing the puritanical approach of Islam along with the rhetoric of nationalism.
Similarly, Hindutva is the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which is an Indian right-wing political organization. The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, is an active worker of this organization and is working on its narrow agenda. Modi, through his various policies of religion, has tried to emphasise and heightened the nationalistic feelings of the Indian nation.
Repercussions Political Movements
Religious nationalism transforms itself into political movements. It occurs in a religiously heterogeneous society and creates diverse religious movements. For instance, minority groups, for the preservation of their rights, get united against the majority religious group within the state paradigm. And, when two contending religious movements contest over the same territory, conflict and violent activities seem inevitable.
When different religious groups in a specific territory compete, cleavages inside a state appear. Such disunity might be exploited by neighbouring states in pursuit of their international manoeuvres. For example, the Israel-Palestine conflict depicts the dominance of two religious nationalistic groups in the same territory both groups have claims to. This phenomenon has given birth to violent political movements.
In Pakistan’s case, Ziaul Haq’s Islamization policy has given birth to political movements that try to assert themselves on infringements of minority rights. For example, the Zakat Ordinance issued by Zia mobilized Shia Muslims and created a movement called “Tehreek-e-Jafaria.”
In India, the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act under the Modi government, which is a transgression of minority rights, has created outrage. In reaction, Muslim people including all factions, such as students, political parties and civil society, have completely mobilized against Modi’s fascist move.
Political and Social Factions
Religious nationalism in a heterogeneous nation-state leads to the development of different political and social factions that contest for their rights and often get involved in violence. For example, Hamas and Al-Fatah of Palestine both claim to represent the Palestinian people but have been involved in conflict with other states and violence with each other as well.
The use of religious nationalism in Pakistan by Zia created different political factions in a society that led to hatred and ultimately to sectarian conflicts. Zia purposely supported the Wahabi mindset to counter the influence of the Iranian Revolution but it turned the society into diverse political factions. The Islamization paved the way for militant political factions such as Sipah-i-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Sipah-i-Muhammad.
Moreover, Modi’s policy on labour unions has mobilized them against him. The changes in Industrial Disputes Act of 1947 put restrictions on the mobilization of labour unions thus creating a societal faction.
Exclusionary State Policies
In a multi-religion nation-state system that rests upon religious nationalism, only the people of majority religious groups enjoy the privileged status, meaning thereby that they become the beneficiary of resources. Other groups, i.e. minority groups, are accorded second-class status. If such a state incorporates the religious laws in the central law, it leads to the exclusion of other religious nationals. Such inclusions and repression result in violence. Similarly, the exclusionary nature of religious nationalism often leads to violent conflict between religious groups. In the making of religious identities, a minority group is created. And these minority groups become excluded from state policies. This other is, by the nature of religious nationalism, excluded. In a state where religious nationalism is practiced, the religion becomes institutionalized and a tool of persecution. In religious-nationalistic states, the state often resorted to the policy of benefitting and bestowing upon that individual who converts their religion to the state religion. It’s a form of discriminatory policy.
For example, the Illegally Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) had been a contested territory. The Indian Constitution under Article 370 awarded Kashmir a special status but the revocation of that very article comes under the exclusionary policy of states.
Religious nationalism creates ethnic cleavages that prelude the emergence of violent conflicts. The cause of such ethnic conflicts is the direct outcome of exclusionary policies that lead to ethnic conflicts and violence. Religious nationalism is often related to the primordial essence of identity formulation. Through such discourse, ethnic minorities become excluded from state policies. In turn, such groups adopt the hues of separatism. In a state that abused its religious doctrine to obtain political legitimacy, ethnic formations played a major role in creating conflicts. Moreover, the fusion of religion and nation spark ethno-lingual conflicts.
Is Religious Nationalism Declining?
Postmodernists argue that religious nationalism has declined due to the incorporation of liberalism that professes the decrease of state interference in every realm of life. The multi-ethnic and multi-religious states that adopted modernization have weak governance systems, and religious nationalism does not play a dominant role in such states. For example, East European states that got their independence from Communism long ago.