Religious violence, gender and post-secular counterterrorism

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Colleges, School and Institutes


This article argues that despite the framing of religion in the discipline and practice of International Relations (IR) as a force for good, or a cause of evil in the world, IR fails to treat religion on its own terms (as sui generis). With a few exceptions, the discipline has pigeonholed religion as a variable of IR, one that can be discussed as one might GDP, HIV, or numbers of nuclear missiles: measurable, with causality and essential properties. IR has also tended to treat religion as equivalent to features of global politics that it already recognizes - as an institution or community or ideology, for example - but in doing so, it misses intrinsic (and arguably unique) elements of religion. Drawing on feminist insights about how gender works in IR, namely that gender is a construct, performative and structural, this article argues a similar case for religion. A reframing of religion is applied to the case of Daesh (so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS) to show how our understanding of the organization changes when we view religion differently. The implications for counterterrorism policies if religion is viewed as more than a variable are explored in light of recent territorial and military losses for Daesh. The article therefore proposes a post-secular counterterrorism approach.

Bibliographic note

Publisher Copyright: © 2020 The Author(s). Copyright: Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-303
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • counterterrorism, gender, International Relations theory, post-secularism ideas and actors, religion, terrorism