Review of International Studies

Research Article

Religious actors as epistemic communities in conflict transformation: the cases of South Africa and Northern Ireland



With the increasing influence of theocrats and other religious actors on policymakers and masses, recognising the agency of the clergy is crucial. This article uses the ‘epistemic communities’ framework to place the religious ‘agents’ in contemporary politics and it shows how hermeneutics can be treated as a form of ‘episteme’. Until recently, this framework has been used to explain how scientific communities affect policymaking. Using the cases of South Africa and Northern Ireland, this article claims that religious actors, especially with their shared set of normative and principled beliefs as well as shared norms of validity, also meet the requirements of the epistemic community category. The employment of this established IR framework in theorising religious politics has the potential to shed light not only on peacebuilding and mediation, but also violent movements and terrorist organisations that use religion as justification.

(Online publication March 01 2011)

Nukhet Ahu Sandal is a Visiting Fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University where she teaches Religion and Global Politics. She is the author of articles on public theologies of governance; religion and International Relations theory; and crisis decision-making. Nukhet can be contacted at: { }.

* I am grateful to Emanuel Adler, Laurie Brand, Mai'a Davis-Cross, Jonathan Fox, Thomas Goodnight, Jeffrey Haynes, Patrick James, Michael Kennedy, Neophytos Loizides, Daniel Philpott and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the earlier versions of this article.