Global Governance Institute


Breaking Dichotomies: Religion, Science and Secularism in Environmental Politics

25 February 2020

This paper challenges the allegedly 'neutral' secular foundation of modern environmental politics, arguing that a hidden discourse of ‘secular religiousness’ solidifies dominant power structures.


By Julia Amann (MSc Global Governance and Ethics) 

Through a critical, poststructural and interdisciplinary approach, this article aims to shed light on how a ‘secular religiousness’ shapes modern environmental politics. Tracing the complex historic entanglements between the religious and the secular, it argues that dominant ‘secular’ ideologies – conventionally perceived as promoting ‘neutral’ rationality – are in fact permeated by Christian axioms, in particular dualist conceptions of time and space. It further shows how the dichotomous division between a rational, immanent public space (the ‘secular’) and an irrational, transcending private space (the ‘religious’) engenders a politics of post-democratic consensus, which excludes non-dominant forms of belief from the arena of environmental politics. As the case of the Sami people in Finland illustrates, this has propagated fear-driven populist discourses of exclusion, both on the part of governmental bodies and on the part of marginalised populations. However, we can also observe the employment of tactics to renegotiate power through the adaptation of belief systems and the creation of liminal spaces of ‘productive tension’. The article concludes that a ‘desacralisation’ of environmental politics, through facilitating creative and self-reflexive conflict between a diversity of belief systems, can constitute a first step towards more inclusive environmental politics. 

To access the full Working Paper: Breaking Dichotomies: Religion, Science and Secularism in Environmental Politics [PDF]