Rethinking “Religion and Politics”

Reflections on the Reception and Import of Talal Asad’s Genealogies of Religion


  • Richard Amesbury University of Zurich



Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion, Religion and Politics, Sovereignty, Globalization


Twenty years after the publication of Genealogies of Religion, scholarship in the field of “religion and politics” mostly ignores Talal Asad’s central arguments about the socially constructed nature of the secular-religious distinction. However, a critical counter-tradition is gaining traction. After briefly reviewing the work of three scholars who have drawn on Asad to intervene in debates in political theory, religion and violence, and international relations, I offer some reflections on the triangular relation among states, capital, and the cultural formation of religion. “Religion” as a transcultural category, I argue, can be understood as partly the spectral projection of a universalizing liberal-capitalist order in search of an “other” by means of which to legitimate itself.

Author Biography

Richard Amesbury, University of Zurich

Professor of Theological Ethics Faculty of Theology


Amesbury, Richard. 2011. “Secular State, Religious Nation? American ‘Civil Religion’ and the Paradox of Democratic Belonging.” In *Religion in the Public Sphere*, edited by Roger Trigg and Niek Brunsveld, 187-97. Ars Disputandi Supplement Series.

Asad, Talal. 2012. “Thinking about religion, belief, and politics.” In *The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies*, edited by Robert A. Orsi, 36-57. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Asad, Talal. 2007. *On Suicide Bombing*. New York: Columbia University Press.

Asad, Talal. 1993. *Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam*. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Brown, Wendy. 2010. *Walled States, Waning Sovereignty*. New York: Zone Books.

Brown, Wendy. 2006. “Subjects of Tolerance: Why We Are Civilized and They Are the Barbarians.” In *Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World*, edited by Hent de Vries and Lawrence E. Sullivan, 298-317. New York: Fordham University Press.

Cavanaugh, William T. 2009. *The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict*. New York: Oxford University Press.

Cavanaugh, William T. 2007. “Does Religion Cause Violence?” *Harvard Divinity Bulletin* 35:2 & 3.

Connolly, William E. 2005. *Pluralism*. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Hurd, Elizabeth Shakman. 2007. *The Politics of Secularism in International Relations*. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Smith, Jonathan Z. 1982. *Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown*. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Somers, Margaret R. 2008. *Genealogies of Citizenship: Markets, Statelessness, and the Right to Have Rights*. New York: Cambridge University Press.



How to Cite

Amesbury, R. (2014). Rethinking “Religion and Politics”: Reflections on the Reception and Import of Talal Asad’s Genealogies of Religion. Bulletin for the Study of Religion, 43(1), 2–7.