The Religious Challenge to Securitisation Theory

AuthorMona Kanwal Sheikh
Published date01 September 2014
Date01 September 2014
Subject MatterForum: Religion and violence
Millennium: Journal of
International Studies
2014, Vol. 43(1) 252 –272
© The Author(s) 2014
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DOI: 10.1177/0305829814540853
Journal of International Studies
The Religious Challenge to
Securitisation Theory
Mona Kanwal Sheikh
Danish Institute for International Studies, Denmark
This article deals with the definition of the religion sector of securitisation theory, and seeks
to strengthen the contribution of securitisation theory to the study of religious violence and
doctrinal conflicts. It is argued that the original elaboration of the security sector leans too
heavily on a West-centric notion of religion as apolitical and of faith as a distinction between the
sacred and the profane. These leanings limit the theory’s global applicability, consequently leading
to a challengeable formula for the desecuritisation of conflicts with religious dimensions. Two
alternative ways of integrating religion within a securitisation framework are suggested, one of
which is based on a multidimensional concept of religion that embraces the different dimensions
of religion defended by religio-political actors around the world. The second way focuses on
doctrines in order to embrace equally the securitisation of doctrines conventionally designated
as secular. It is also maintained that convincing reasons exist for treating religion/doctrine as a
separate sector, despite the fact that religion appears to have cross-sectoral relevance. A religion/
doctrine sector has strong defining characteristics that, in addition to the referent object(s), also
include the criteria for survival and successful securitisation, the narrative structure of religious/
doctrinal securitisations and the proclivity of religion/doctrine towards macrosecuritisation.
religion, violence, international relations, securitisation, doctrinal war, secularism
When religion reappeared on the International Relations (IR) research agenda more than
a decade ago, the uncritical adoption of West-centric concepts of religion was called into
question. Several contributions have since then pointed to the genealogical inclination of
the IR discipline toward a secular bias, most notably due to the foundational narratives
Corresponding author:
Dr Mona Kanwal Sheikh, Danish Institute for International Studies, Østbanegade 117 – 2100 København Ø,
540853MIL0010.1177/0305829814540853Millennium: Journal of International StudiesSheikh
Forum: Religion and violence
Sheikh 253
1. Important contributions have been made arguing that the global resurgence of religion chal-
lenges hegemonic western concepts and thought patterns of IR by showing how the ‘con-
structedness’ of the religious/secular division affects established theoretical approaches to
understanding international relations, e.g. Daniel Philpott, ‘The Challenge of September 11
to Secularism in International Relations’, World Politic 55 (October 2002): 66–95; Scott M.
Thomas, The Global Resurgence of Religion and the Transformation of International Relations:
The Struggle for the Soul of the Twenty-First Century (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005);
Elizabeth Hurd, The Politics of Secularism in International Relations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 2007); ‘Theorizing Religious Resurgence’, International Politics 44 (2007):
647–65. See also Pavlos Hatzopoulos and Fabio Petito, eds, Religion in International Relations:
The Return from Exile (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).
2. See Mona K. Sheikh and Ole Wæver, ‘Western Secularisms: Variation in a Doctrine and its
Practice’, in Thinking International Relations Differently, eds Arlene Beth Tickner and David
Blaney (London: Routledge, 2012), 275–98.
3. Carsten Bagge Laustsen and Ole Wæver, ‘In Defence of Religion: Sacred Referent Objects
for Securitization’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies 29, no. 3 (2000): 705–39.
Reprinted in Religion in International Relations: The Return from Exile (New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2003).
4. Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver and Jaap De Wilde, Security: A New Framework for Analysis
(Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998).
about modernity and the very state system that define its identity.1 For IR scholars, the
adoption of biased concepts of religion can have crucial political effects, especially when
dealing with contemporary conflict lines between diverse manifestations of religion and
secularism,2 and in responding to contemporary policy calls to understand the nature of
religious violence.
In recognition of this challenge within the major bodies of IR discourse, the
Copenhagen School (CS) of security studies was among the first to offer an explicit theo-
risation of religion in an article in a special issue of Millennium published in 2000
(revised edition published in 2003).3 Highly open-minded towards the unfamiliar con-
cept of religion, advocates of CS securitisation theory launched the opening of a new
sector of security already one year before religion truly began to make security political
headlines in the aftermath of the 2001 terror attack on the US. That article remains the
only text by one of the founding fathers of the theory that explicitly deals with the issue
of demarcating a religion sector.
Taking religion into account was a considerable move to further widen the scope of
the theory, which originally was a response to what its founders saw as a concept of
security that was too narrow and inflexible. Securitisation theory was formulated in
response to the heated security debates throughout the 1980s and 1990s dealing with
issues of conceptualising security – vertically beneath and above the state and horizon-
tally beyond military threats. It proposed a new way of defining threats as well as the
analytical task of the IR scholar. Instead of pointing out objective threats, the analytical
task should be to study the process by which some issues become accepted as security
concerns in a given context/security sector.4
Integrating religion into the theoretical framework has allowed securitisation theory to
develop an ability to analyse new issues on the security agenda while simultaneously

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