Holy Wars and Holy Alliance

The Return of Religion to the Global Political Stage

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Manlio Graziano
Religion, Culture, and Public Life
  • New York, NY: 
    Columbia University Press
    , April
     368 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In a time of desecularization, a clash of interest may between religious and secular institutions rather than between two different religions. This creates a possibility of alliance among different religions that are either motivated to fight back against secular forces or who wish to contribute to world peace and prosperity. In his book, Holy Wars and Holy Alliance, Manlio Graziano superbly analyzes the possibility of such an interreligious alliance after criticizing the clash of civilizations theory of S.P. Huntington. Graziano accepts Huntington's argument that “in the modern world, religion is a central, perhaps the central, force that motivates and mobilizes people” (Page: 130). Throughout the book, Graziano focuses on this central point. The first part of the book explains how modernity leads to desecularization, just like it led to secularization earlier. Then he examines a few cases where religion and politics have started to converge. The arguments of these first two parts of Holy Wars and Holy Alliance can be widely accepted even by those who criticize the public role of religion. However, Graziano challenges the widespread understanding of religion as a cause of violence and a threat to the public security. In the last two parts of the book, he examines the possibilities of alliance among traditional religions.

In his analysis of the resurgence of religion, Graziano examines many cases (including Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the United States), and identifies various reasons behind religious resurgence, though these factors are different from one area to another. Urbanization and the spread of traditional rural values to urban areas play a significant role in the resurgence of religion. Globalization helped resurgence of religion by reducing the role of nation-states.  Growing role of religious groups, along with other non-sate actors, in the social- welfare activities increased the popularity of religion. The resurgence of religion also can be seen as the outcome of the decline of Western countries and rise of Asian countries. Predictably, the dominant western values are challenged and later replaced by eastern values.

Graziano challenges Huntington’s idea of the clash of civilizations by pointing to many shortcomings of that theory. First of all, neither “the West” nor Islam is a singular unified entity. Europe cannot be seen as a development of Greek-Jewish civilizations because Jews were not considered as part of Europe until mid of the twentieth century. At the same time, it was Muslim scholars who transmitted the Greek tradition and knowledge to modern Europe. Islamic civilization cannot be separated from Western or European civilization, Graziano concludes. It also should be noted that Jews had a good relationship with Muslims and enjoyed their freedom under Muslim rule at a time when they were attacked in Western countries. Throughout the history, the clashes within the “Western civilization” were more than clash with other civilizations. Furthermore, Islam is different from one region to another.

Graziano challenges many stereotypes of Islam, such as its supposed connection with violence and terrorism, population growth, a poor status for women, and the linking of politics and religion. According to Graziano, violence has historically been supported by all religions, including Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism. “Terrorism” as a method of violence was a secular invention rather than religious one, he argues, though it was given religious justification by Muslim terrorist groups only after Christians, Hindus, and Jews had done the same. As far as the status of women is concerned, according to Graziano, women enjoyed more rights under Islamic sharia than Western laws. Regarding the role of religion in politics, Graziano contends that Islamic scholars had less influence on rulers than the Christian church did. Even today, only a very few Muslim countries (like Iran and Saudi Arabia) take the Islamic rulings of scholars seriously.

Graziano hopes that in this time of desecularization, world religions may create an alliance with one another. Recently, the attitude of the Christian church towards Islam and Judaism has changed. In its relationship with Islam, the Vatican has shifted from a state of ignorance and hostility to one of recognition and cooperation, while it shifted its relationship with Judaism from hatred to friendship. According to Graziano, the presence of a supreme religious authority and a deeply rooted organization provide the Catholic Church an advantage in leading this imagined alliance of religions. He further asserts that the statelessness of the Roman Catholic church is an advantage.

 In the ongoing debate over global politics, Graziano suggests new aspects of a “geopolitics of religions,” and offers a vision of an alliance of religions without states, rather than traditional notions of state-based alliances.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Shameer Modongal is a doctoral student in International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Date of Review: 
February 12, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Manlio Graziano teaches geopolitics and geopolitics of religions at Sorbonne University, the American Graduate School in Paris, and the Geneva Institute of Geopolitical Studies. His books include The Failure of Italian Nationhood: The Geopolitics of a Troubled Identity (2010), Essential Geopolitics: A Handbook (2011), and In Rome We Trust: The Rise of Catholics in American Political Life (2017).



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