Archive for May, 2015

Hegel on Religion and Politics

Hegel on Religion and Politics by Angelica Nuzzo (ed.). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2013. 247pp., £51.11, ISBN 978 1 4384 4565 6

What is the relationship between religion and politics in modern capitalist society? And what implications does this relationship have for religious diversity and democracy around the world? Angelica Nuzzo addresses these questions through the works of Hegel. She argues that although much has been written about Hegel’s ideas on religion and politics separately, not much has been done to understand the dialectical relationship between religion and politics as such. In Hegel on Religion and Politics, she brings together ten distinguished Hegelian scholars to address the above questions and examine their relevance in today’s context.


In the Introduction, Nuzzo sets the tone of the book and outlines the debate. The first essay, by Mark Tunick, looks at the fundamental role of religion for the state. According to him, the role of religion is to support the state by motivating citizens’ political participation. However, in Chapter 2, Rachel Bayefsky argues that all kinds of religions do not play a supporting role; it is only ‘true religion’ (as opposed to superstition or fanaticism) that supports the state. Hegel therefore argues that the state should promote ‘true religions’ and act as a strong defender of religious freedom and tolerance.

Lack of tolerance between religions gives rise to religious conflicts. Such conflicts, according to Kevin Thompson, should not be seen as a mere theological opposition, but as ‘a theological-political opposition’ (p. 12). The answers to it, argues Robert Williams, lie not in ‘conflict-free harmony’, but in ‘reconciliation’ (pp. 133–4). Hegel rejects the idea of a state religion and advocates religious pluralism, which, he believes, forms the foundation for democratic social order. For Hegel, religion and politics are co-dependent: while modern political principles and rights are rooted in religious assumptions, religion itself depends on secular political institutions for its realisation. The authors broadly agree that ‘religion and politics are thus “reciprocal guarantees of strength” and each is conceptually unintelligible without the other’ (p. 214).

Although the volume is well-argued and lucidly written, it suffers from two shortcomings. First, by accepting the state as the ultimate sphere of ethics, the authors have ignored the fact that the state could also undermine freedom. Second, there is no discussion of the politicisation of religion, which today is a major cause of conflict around the world. Despite this, the book successfully presents the dialectical relationship between religion and politics in the modern world. Taken together, the volume provides innovative theoretical understandings on Hegel’s political thought and is recommended for students of philosophy, political science and religious studies.

Sarbeswar Sahoo (Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi)


Sahoo, S. (2015) Political Studies Review, Vol.13, No.2, May, pp.253-254.