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15 January 2021
Religion and State in Pandemic Times
At times of looming catastrophes such as pandemics, religion becomes an arena of social life that faces challenge and change. Religious institutions and leaders need to offer both practical and theological responses: healing and solace for human suffering, explanations for the meaning of tragic events, and support for their communities. Importantly, this includes decisions on the degree and forms of cooperation with government authorities, which for some will include a quandary of choosing between mainstream medical and faith-based solutions. Traditional ways of maintaining faith and community can be challenged while possibilities for innovation and reform are opened up.
This special issue of Religion, State & Society will consider intersections between state and religion in pandemic times by focusing on the Covid-19 global pandemic. While having deep and far-reaching medical, economic, and political impacts across the world, the virus has also fundamentally altered taken-for-granted social interactions. The nexus of religion and state has varied across the globe. Saudi Arabia closed the holy cities of Mecca and Medina to all international pilgrims. The Tzu Chi Foundation of Taiwan has embraced the move to digital environments, offering a popular Buddhist online prayer service to ‘dispel the plague’ 24 times a day in each of the world’s time zones. The Salvation Army’s activities have expanded substantially in many countries during the pandemic in the priority areas of food security, personal hygiene, and spiritual care. In a radically different example, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro exempted churches from social distancing measures and discounted scientific advice in favour of miracle cures. Believers in the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in South Korea, in some Russian Orthodox monasteries, and in a number of Pentecostal or charismatic churches around the world have contravened their governments' advice on Covid-19, citing the preponderance of their articles of faith over science-based understandings.
We invite contributions to this special issue, based on original empirical research and theoretical thinking. By focussing on religion and the state in times of pandemics, we aim to advance scholarly understandings of a broad range of themes such as secularisation, state regulation, populism, securitisation, or political protest and dissent. We also hope that this special issue will inspire new themes and perspectives in the study of religion, state, and politics.
Relevant topics for submission would include, but are by no means limited to:
- How are state pandemic responses associated with secularisation or religious vitality? For example, what is the role of religion in granting or denying legitimacy to pandemic-related state regulations? Do state responses to the current pandemic point to a displacement of religion in favour of secular, ‘scientific’ approaches?
- What are the pandemic’s effects on the state regulation of religion? For example, how do some governments use pandemic measures as a means for surveillance or control of religious minorities? In what ways do pandemic regulations influence the possibilities for or the discourses about religious freedom?
- How and with what consequences can pandemics trigger religious innovation? For instance, what are the political dimensions and effects of moving religion to online spaces?
- Have the changes in religion during the pandemic created new political opportunities for protest movements? For example, how and to what extent have participants in racial justice or ecological movements used religious resources? Conversely, how have nationalist or populist responses to the pandemic tapped religion for political capital?
- What is the role of religion in regulating the relationship between the individual and the state during pandemic? For example, in what ways can religions give people the spiritual agency to transgress state imposed legal boundaries or, conversely, to cooperate with the state in confronting the virus?
- To what extent are religious organisations active participants in pandemic-related governance? For example, are religious NGOs and groups being instrumentalised for their abilities to reach particular populations in pandemic responses? Or does the decreased capacity of the state to deal with such matters present real opportunities for meaningful religious partnerships and social interventions?
- What can historical precedents tell us about the relationship between religion and the state during pandemics? For instance, what was the role of religion and the state in confronting historic pandemics in modern times, such as the Spanish Flu? What impact do historic legacies of religious persecution have on state and church responses to pandemic-related measures?
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This special issue of Religion, State & Society is planned for print publication in early 2022. The editors have been invited by Routledge to also consider republication of the contributions as a book.
Please send completed papers of 6,000-8,000 words. To submit a paper, please register for an account and follow the submission instructions at the journal’s online submission portal. Please also read carefully the journal’s ‘Instructions for Authors’ page. All manuscripts will go through the normal peer review process.
Questions related to the theme and potential ideas for papers can be discussed with the editors:
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