Hilary Carey is Associate Professor of history at the University of Newcastle and was the Keith Cameron Professor of Australian History at University College, Dublin, between 2005 and 2006.
Religion and the “Evil Empire”†
Article first published online: 21 MAY 2008
© 2008 The Author. Journal compilation © 2008 Association for the Journal of Religious History
Journal of Religious History
Volume 32, Issue 2, pages 179–192, June 2008
How to Cite
CAREY, H. (2008), Religion and the “Evil Empire”. Journal of Religious History, 32: 179–192. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9809.2008.00711.x
This paper was originally presented to the “Enlightenment, Modernity, Secularization, Resacralization in Western Europe and East Asia” conference, University of Wuhan, China, in September 2006 and retains some of the features of the original presentation to that audience. I am grateful to University College Dublin for funding my travel to China, and to Hugh McLeod for inviting me to join the University of Birmingham delegation to the conference.
- Issue published online: 21 MAY 2008
- Article first published online: 21 MAY 2008
This paper provides an historiographical review of the rhetorical and historical sources for religious suspicion of empires and imperialism in the west. It begins with an analysis of Ronald Reagan's celebrated “evil empire” speech of March 1983, and traces its polemical roots to scriptural precedents, notably in the Book of Revelation, in which “empire” is equated with the unjust rule of Babylon. Some comparisons are made between the general use of religious ideologies to support imperial regimes in ancient and other, more modern, world empires including China and Islam. The final section considers the debate about the role of religion in supporting — or critiquing — modern, secularised empire states such as the second British Empire. The paper argues that it is not possible to understand the problematical relationship of religion and empire in modern societies without recognising the ongoing force of Christian polemic even when religious arguments have not specifically been invoked.