Religious Multilateralism

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In contrast to the current view, according to which international relations are thought to be a secularized space, many international organizations engage with the religious factor.

Founded in 1969, and now with 57 member states, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OI) is the only international organization explicitly founded on a religious basis. In the context of the time, it reflected the attempt to regain control of this factor, particularly on the part of Arab states which have been weakened by the rise to power of political Islam.

It also aimed to offer a cohesive response, given the lack of coordination among these states in the context of the Six Day War and the Al-Aqsa Mosque fire. Although the Muslim religion is the condition for joining the OIC (the religion is defined according to loose criteria, which enable constitutionally Islamic states to join, but also other states which include numerically large Muslim minorities), representation is exclusively inter-state and its fields of action (political, economic and commercial) in no way reflect the theological divisions of its members.

Conventional multilateral organizations have also incorporated increasing visibility of the religious factor into international relations. UNESCO was one of the first organizations to formalize it by establishing a Chair in Interfaith Studies in 1999, followed by many initiatives in interfaith dialogue, which was presented as a necessary condition for international peace. The UN designated 2001 as a “year of dialogue between civilizations” (on the initiative especially of the Iranian president Khatami). Subsequently, in 2005, it encouraged the foundation of the “Alliance of Civilizations” (these latter being defined mainly by religious criteria). These initiatives are part of a dual approach to religious phenomena, which consists in condemning ways of expressing faith that are likely to produce conflict while at the same time encouraging those aspects conducive to peace. A critical view of these initiatives highlights the fact that, on the one hand, they tend to overestimate the role of religions as variables explaining either conflicts or reconciliation processes; while, on the other, they convey a uniform and standardized view of religious groups perceived as legitimate in the eyes of the organizations concerned, reinforcing the marginalization of denominations or practices that are not represented.

Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OCI) membership dates

Sources: Organisation of Islamic Cooperation,; Arab Center for International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Education, 

Comment: The diagram and colored areas on the map show that since 1969 the OIC, an inter-state organization with a religious basis, continues to grow, and includes membership of states where Muslims are in the minority (absence of hatching, or less than 22% of Muslims).

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" Religious Multilateralism " World Atlas of Global Issues, 2018, [online], accessed on Mar 15 2021, URL:

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