Religion and Politics Research Paper

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I. Introduction

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II. The Evolution of Religion Theory

III. The Secularization Theory

IV. Scope of Theory

V. Primary Regions and Theories of Current Interest

A. Europe

B. Latin America

C. The United States

D. The Middle East

VI. Future Research

VII. Conclusion

I. Introduction

The past two decades have seen a resurgence in the study of how religion affects politics in the United States and around the world. For generations, social scientists believed religion to be declining in influence to the point that it might eventually be marginalized. However, political scientists continue to observe, among other things, the importance of Christianity in the United States and the increasing influence of extremist Islam leading to events such as September 11, 2001. As political scientists have asked questions about these developments, the body of literature on the subject has grown to the point that the American Political Science Association recently initiated a journal titled Politics and Religion in order to give proper attention to this important area of research.

This research paper will review contributions scholars have made to the understanding of religion and politics from a comparative perspective. Although the United States is one case that is worth examining because it is unique, the paper will touch on it only briefly. Analyzing religion and politics from a comparative perspective makes the analysis a great deal more complex. There are a wide variety of government institutions and cultures around the world, as well as a variety of religions represented. In addition, there is considerable distinctiveness within many of those faiths as to how the sacred texts are interpreted or how “faith” is to be practiced.

There is also considerable variation in the methods comparative political scientists use to do their research. The days of comparativists doing exclusively qualitative area studies are gone. While some of that valuable research remains, comparativists now have the data and computing capacity to strive for more quantitatively supported grand theories. The problem that has been seen in the past, as this research paper shows, is that the oversimplification that is required to make a grand theory can many times render the theory weak or simply wrong. In the end, the prevailing wisdom among comparativists calls for building theory from the bottom up (Geddes, 2003). This means researchers start with a country or a region, establish a relationship there, and then try to generalize as they can from there. This means that the variations in institutions, cultures, and religions previously mentioned cannot be ignored, making religion and comparative politics a very complex subject.

As such, this research paper does not cover the whole topic. Instead, it starts by examining the fundamental role of religion in society and how that role has evolved over the years. It then reviews some of the primary approaches scholars have taken to understanding the relationship between religion and politics around the world. Finally, it looks specifically at some of the most important areas of study in the field in recent decades.

II. The Evolution of Religion Theory

To understand the current state of the literature in the field of religion and comparative politics, it is helpful to begin with the influence religion can have on individuals. It goes without saying that religion has always been important to people and has the capacity to influence how they live their lives. For many, religion is a cornerstone of who they are and plays a big part in many of the decisions they make. As will be discussed, there is evidence that religion has been losing influence over the past 400 years and that this pattern continues today, although the extent to which this fact is true is up for debate. In any case, religion has always had, and continues to have, a very personal connection to many people and can therefore be used in many ways as a powerful motivator.

From where does this deep personal connection come? Social scientists have been debating many possible answers to this question for centuries. In Eight Theories of Religion, Daniel Pals (2006) identifies primary modern theories and traces them back to their origins in an effort to understand how this connection between people and religion is formed and why it is so important. Before a few of the social scientists that Pals credited with defining these theories are highlighted, two points need to be made. First, it is interesting to note that most of these early social scientists took general theories that they had been working on and applied them to religion. They had a lens through which they saw the world, and they then looked at religion through that lens, giving us a different perspective.

Second, most of these social scientists were not religious people. A certain religion (i.e., Christianity) was not the lens through which they saw the world. It was scientific theory that provided their perspective. One of the assumptions sometimes made in discussions about the nature of religion is that devoutly religious people cannot effectively contribute to an intellectual discussion about religion. For a religious person, religion is what it is. There is an absolutism to religion that would make it difficult, if not impossible, for a religious person to look at religion from an intellectual viewpoint. However, the point can be made in the other direction as well. Can an irreligious social scientist properly understand the impact a religion has on a person or a culture without properly understanding the supernatural aspects of the religion itself? This debate about the role of social scientists in analyzing religion is one that continues in political science journals today (see Mitchell, 2007; Wilcox, Jelen, & Wald, 2008).

Pals begins by discussing two anthropologists, E. B.Taylor (1871) and J.G. Frazer (1911–1915),who endeavored in different ways to discover the role of religion in “primitive” societies. They both felt that this investigation would provide insight into how religion developed into such an integral part of the different cultures around the world. Two main themes come from Pals’s discussion of Taylor and Frazer. First, humans have a basic desire to believe in something greater than themselves. This animism can be found contributing to religious traditions as well as other mythological traditions.

The other theme was the desire to explain the seemingly unexplainable. For these societies, much of the world could not be explained. To say these things were magic was one possible explanation, but to form a religion around these events and objects provided an opportunity to rationally explain the unexplainable. This would in turn give order and structure to the culture, as those who understood the “gods” would be granted positions of authority. Divine right would become the primary source of legitimacy for governments around the world for centuries, and it still is a source of legitimacy for some governments today. For Christianity, becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire about the year 400 CE gave it an authority that would go nearly unquestioned in many ways for more than 1,000 years.

Although these anthropological studies provide certain insights, they do not directly explain the influence of religion in most of today’s world. Although there are still pockets of “primitive” societies around the world, most of the world has developed far beyond that level. The biggest historical step in this development was arguably the printing press. This enabled people to have access to information themselves. In terms of Christianity, a big reason for the Church’s authority was that no one could read the Bible, including many priests. Many people today, Christians and non-Christians alike, accept the fact that many parts of the Bible can be interpreted many different ways. Prior to the printing press and the Gutenberg Bible, there was no opportunity for individual interpretation.

Among the first wave of challengers to the authority of the Christian Church was Niccolò Machiavelli. Although he was subtle and respectful in his approach (as he had to be at the time in order for anyone to listen to him), it was clear he was challenging the Church as an absolute authority. This challenge would be followed soon by Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Luther, like many other visionaries, was trying only to improve the existing structure by challenging the leaders to address the corruption that had developed. Instead, he ended up inspiring a revolution that changed the face of Christianity around the world.

The power of the exchange of ideas would soon move beyond religion and inspire the Enlightenment. This movement of liberal philosophers spanned the 16th and 17th centuries and represents an important turning point in our discussion. Although John Locke and many of these thinkers still wrote in a religious context, so as not to alienate their potential readers, they wrote about a more secular world. Locke and Montesquieu envisioned a world where commerce was central to people’s lives and secular education was to be of vital importance. They felt people had the ability to reason, and therefore they should be given freedom to run their own governments (via democracy) and invest themselves in science or commerce as they saw fit. These philosophies, first incorporated by the founders of the United States and since throughout most of the world, have led to industrial revolutions and centuries of unprecedented advancement in science and technology. However, what does all this mean about the role of religion?

Religion had begun to lose its absolute authority in many societies. In addition, science and technology were beginning to provide answers to questions that previously could be answered only by religion. Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher critical of the Enlightenment, went as far as saying that he envisioned a world where God would be dead. Science may not answer all the questions, but if commerce is there to keep us preoccupied, then we may lose our drive to delve into deep issues in which religion could still provide guidance. The bottom line of this view is that religion could well lose its relevance as a significant political force.

This theory gained influence among social scientists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Pals reviews the works of three men who reduce religion to an expendable role in their view of the world. Sigmund Freud (1913/1953) saw religion as a form of psychological neurosis that could be eliminated with proper treatment. For Émile Durkheim (1915), religion provides a sense of social order and belonging, things that could potentially be achieved by other means. Karl Marx (1867/1990) saw religion as an illusion that was propagated to maintain the class structure. Each author fit religion into his lens, and each saw it as expendable as a political force.

For the remainder of his book, Pals focuses on social scientists, including Max Weber, who seemed to have a better appreciation for the complexity of religion. Weber’s approach to religion and politics is more direct and complex than the social scientists previously mentioned. His signature work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1930), places religion at the center of who we are as a people and what we do. However, at the same time, he says that once these behavior patterns become ingrained in us, they are no longer tied to the religion, making the religion less significant. Therefore, despite his belief that religion is quite important to the formation of cultural values, Weber, among other things, contributed to the growing notion that religion may one day be marginalized.

III. The Secularization Theory

The dominant paradigm in the social sciences through most of the 20th century centered on the idea that religion was headed toward extinction as a political force. Eventually, this idea was formalized into the secularization theory. Peter L. Berger (1969), one of the leading proponents of the theory, said that reason, scientific development, and bureaucratic specialization were among the factors that would eventually destroy religion as a political influence. As this grand theory was the dominant paradigm for so long, not much was written about religion and comparative politics for decades except for pieces supporting the secularization theory or religion’s being an aspect of the qualitative analysis of an individual country’s culture. Communism was spreading through the world without the use of religion (overcoming religious obstacles, Marx might say). At the same time, Western Europe was becoming less religious by the decade. The pattern of secularization worldwide, at least in more developed nations, seemed to be clear.

This all began to change in the 1970s. Political scientists began to ask questions about two main trends that seemed to be challenging the secularization theory. First, although religiosity was on the decline in Western Europe and much of the “first” world, this pattern was not as strong in the United States. The second trend was the liberation theology that spread through Latin America at that time. In the late 1960s, the Catholic Church held a council called Vatican II, resulting in documents that, among other things, encouraged Catholics to be more active in expressing their faith. Latin American Catholics, much to the dismay of the Vatican, interpreted this to mean that they should band together as Catholics and rise up against the oppression of the authoritarian governments that were common in Latin America at the time. This use of religion to motivate a bottom-up political movement was unique and provided evidence that religion was still very much alive as a political force. (For more on liberation theology, see Gill, 1998; Levine, 1986a.)

An article by Daniel Levine (1986b) shows the beginnings of a trend to counter the secularization theory. It is basically a review of books written in the early 1980s that shed new light on changes in religions and their roles in societies. Later, in the introductory chapter to his collection of works titled The Desecularization of the World, Berger (1999) recants his previous support for the secularization theory. Berger goes on to say that modernization can have the opposite effect of actually promoting religion. This countersecularization movement can be driven by the people (conservatives) or by elites searching for expanded legitimacy. The bottom line is that the secularization theory, as it stood into the 1980s, is now dead, and the question becomes, Where do we go from here?

IV. Scope of Theory

As has been shown, the prospect of developing a grand theory, in this case one theory that explains the relationship between religion and politics all over the world, is problematic. Freud’s and Marx’s attempts to incorporate religion into their grand theories left us with more questions than answers. With the demise of the secularization theory and the spread of the bottom-up theory, it might not make sense even to attempt another grand theory. Yet the temptation is always there for the social scientist. There have been two attempts at a grand theory of religion and comparative politics since 1990 that are worth mentioning here.

In The Clash of Civilizations (1996), the late Samuel Huntington sees religion as a major aspect of global realignment after the cold war. The end of the Soviet Union saw the end of 45 years of a global bipolar balance of power. The world had taken sides, and the battle between capitalism and communism dominated the world stage. The question Huntington is trying to answer is, Now what?

In Huntington’s vision, religious and other ethnic factors divide the world into two main categories: The West and the rest, or Christian democratic nations (and a few others for strategic reasons) versus the rest of the world (of which the primary unifying force is Islam). Huntington discusses the decline of the, until now, dominant Western culture leading to opportunities for regional conflict to escalate along these fault lines. In his conclusion, he paints a scary scenario about the potential for World War being driven from these divisions, although this scenario is not presented as inevitable, just as an example of how his vision of the world could go wrong.

A counterparadigm for the role of religion in the world comes from Sacred and Secular, by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart (2004). They argue that the secularization theory is not a relic; it just needs some modification to properly explain today’s world. The theory still applies to the modern industrialized world, taking into account historical differences, but not to the rest of the nations of the world, which have yet to modernize and replace religion as the focal point of their society.

This work is a largely quantitative study using data from the World Values Survey ( Basically, the authors apply Inglehart’s postmaterialist theory to the role of religion in the world. They say that developed nations get more secular as they get more secure. As a result, postindustrial countries have less religious alignment and lower church attendance. In addition, birth rates are lower in these countries, and therefore Norris and Inglehart see religion actually growing in the world because population rates are increasing faster in the less developed world, which intensifies the line of conflict between the secure world and the third world.

Norris and Inglehart paint a picture much different from Huntington’s, and they present data that challenge Huntington’s vision. However, there are anomalies in their theory, the primary one being the United States. They explain that the minimal U.S. social welfare system fosters enough economic insecurity in our cities and rural areas to cause religiosity similar to that in areas of the third world. This explanation seems weak because one could easily argue that the homeless person living in a shelter in Los Angeles has a more comfortable life than half of the population of a country like Bangladesh.

While both of these attempts at a grand theory are important, they are arguably oversimplified and incomplete. As such, most of the literature on religion and comparative politics over the past 30 years has been smaller in scope. Researchers analyze one country or region in depth to try to show a pattern or relationship between variables. They might also compare two countries or regions and try to explain a similarity or a difference between them. Once these connections have been made, it may be possible to generalize the theory from there, but even if not, it is still a valuable contribution to our understanding of the relationship in a particular context. This research is also helpful for comparativists who had previously done qualitative work in a specific area of the world. They can still focus on their region of expertise as they add quantitative analysis.

An excellent example of this regional approach is a compilation of chapters edited by Ted G. Jelen and Clyde Wilcox (2002) titled Religion and Politics in Comparative Perspective. Contributors to this book cover issues in religion and politics in countries from Japan to India and Spain, just to name a few. Researchers have written articles of note about Australia (Bean, 1999), China (Weiming, 1999), Israel (Wald, 2002), and many countries around the world. However, there are a few regions that have gotten the bulk of the attention because they provide clear examples for some of the primary theories being currently tested. These countries and regions include the United States, Europe, Latin America, and the Islamic Middle East.

V. Primary Regions and Theories of Current Interest

A. Europe

Europe is a good place to start, as it has always been the model for the old secularization theory. Even today, evidence of religious dealignment and very low church attendance abound throughout most European nations, making Europe a unique study.

In the late 1960s, Berger developed the sacred canopy model out of the secularization theory and used it to describe these European countries. In those days, many of the countries had a formal church–state institution. Take Catholic Italy, for example. The canopy model says that because of this formal institutional link, a linkage also develops in the culture. It is as if being Italian becomes intertwined with being Catholic to the point it is difficult to distinguish whether a cultural value is distinctly Italian or Catholic. This can be evidenced by non-Catholic Italians professing Catholic values.

The church’s going unchallenged has a number of ramifications. First, church attendance lowers (if you are Catholic from birth, you do not have to go to church every week to prove it). Second, a professionalization of the clergy occurs as its members find themselves less connected to their congregants. Finally, government policy and religion grow more connected, which can be positive and negative. Certainly the government stands to gain by association with this added source of legitimacy. Does religion gain from the alliance? Some say it does by having a more mainstream role in the society. However, others say religion loses by an alliance with government because generally democratic governments strive for compromise and consensus whereas religion is about right and wrong, leaving church and state incompatible. In any case, many European countries to this day provide strong evidence for the sacred canopy model.

This picture has two major complications, however. First is the assumption that low church attendance means a lack of religiosity. Church attendance has always been the signature variable for measuring religiosity because it is data that is easily accessible. One may ask, How are the data acquired? Are they self-reported by people who want to make themselves look good? Or do they come from the church, which also has image motives? While it is not completely reliable, church attendance has always been the best indicator we have. However, with the continuing development of worldwide surveys such as the World Values Survey, this limitation is changing. We can get a more complete picture of a concept such as religiosity with questions about belief in God, belief in hell, the authoritative nature of scripture, and so forth. These new data are very important because comparing church attendance levels in Europe with those in the United States, for example, is just not appropriate without additional evidence to support an inference, whatever it might be.

The other development that is complicating the canopy picture in many European nations (there are a few, such as Ireland, where church attendance and other measures of religiosity are very high) is a trend away from church–state institutions in Christian nations. Many nations that were church-states, such as Italy and Poland, have broken that formal link, and others, such as Norway, are considering such a move. What does it mean to no longer have a formal church-state but to still have a religion with a strong majority status? Is the resulting canopy the same, or do other religions start to come in to compete and change the religious dynamic in the country? Many studies have examined this transformation in Europe (Jelen & Wilcox, 1998) and Latin America (Gill, 1998), where the Catholic Church has always held a strong position.

It should be noted that some religions and religious sects lend themselves more easily to church-states. Islam, discussed later, first comes to mind. Mohammed was a spiritual, political, and military leader. As such, any nation that follows his example can conceive of, maybe even strive for, a combination of church and state. Within Christianity, the institution of Catholicism lends itself easily to a church-state, as has been seen often throughout history. Still, Islam and Catholicism operate well independently of government in the United States, and Protestant church-state systems operate in Norway, England, and elsewhere. Does one religion operate better as a formal church-state than another religion, and what impact does this difference have on the people of the nation? These are empirical questions that political scientists continue to explore.

Discussing institutions leads us to focus on political parties. One issue that has drawn much attention from political scientists is the “Christian Democratic” parties found throughout Europe. While these started out as Catholic parties, they no longer operate as such today. In most cases, they are relatively liberal parties focusing on poverty and social justice issues (Kalyvas, 1998).

B. Latin America

The liberation theology movement in Latin America provides a good example of two main themes of research. The first is the debate over whether political institutions work primarily from the top down, or from the bottom up. This debate is central to political parties literature, among other things. The point is not that the institutions have to work exclusively one way or the other. As a matter of fact, the truth may be that sometimes they work one way and sometimes the other. However, it is important to distinguish whether the position of a politician on abortion affects public opinion or vice versa. Many political scientists take a top-down approach, trying to show the power of the elites, including religious elites, to manipulate public opinion. As mentioned before, the liberation theology movement reminded researchers not to ignore the bottom-up approach. In any form of legitimate democracy, the people still have power, and under certain conditions they may actually decide to use it. Under other forms of government, the people can take power, but to do so requires a deep commitment, something religion can provide.

The second key concept illustrated by liberation theology is the importance of civil society and social capital (for an explanation of these concepts, see Putnam, 1994, 2000). Religion is in a unique position to generate social capital for two reasons. First, its institutions are in place, connecting people to each other and encouraging them to meet on a regular basis. Second, religions generally promote the volunteering of time and money in order to accomplish things that, in many cases, an individual will not benefit from directly. This selfless giving is not easy for many people and intensifies the connection among those who are willing to participate in it. It also commits people to the idea that there is something more important than themselves to work for. Religion has powerful potential for social action because the institutions to organize the people are there and religion has the power to motivate the people and put them in the right frame of mind for collective action. Whether that action is sparked by elite discourse or from the grass roots can vary.

C. The United States

Although a great deal of work has been done regarding religion and social capital in the United States (Smidt, 2003), the concept of social capital is only a small part of what makes studying religion and politics in the United States fascinating. As a large country that uses a federal system of governance, the United States comprises state-to-state and regional differences that are interesting to study. In addition, the availability of survey data makes research easier for the political scientist (see also Wald, 2003).

This research paper focuses on one central issue that sets the United States apart from the rest of the world. As Europe has always been the best example of secularization, the United States was always the outlier. A high level of religiosity remains today, and the influence of religious groups in politics has actually increased since the 1980s in a country that tries to present itself to the rest of the world as a leader in secular concerns such as democracy and capitalism. What makes the United States different?

Many argue that the religiosity in the United States is best explained by the establishment clause in the First Amendment to the Constitution, which separates church and state. Because of the “religious free market,” churches find themselves competing for members. This competition creates a buzz that increases overall levels of religiosity. In an economic analogy, this is a supply-side approach (for the most complete work on this dynamic in the United States, see Finke & Stark, 1992). A large body of research deals with the religious marketplace in the United States.

One of the weaknesses of comparative politics in its early decades (1950s and 1960s) was U.S. ethnocentrism, a normative approach that assumed other countries would eventually want to be like the United States, and so social scientists should help them do that. Today, comparativists are much more empirical and appreciative of differences in culture. In this case, however, the U.S. example is very unique. In few places in the developed world are people as religious and the politics as affected by organized religious groups. Debates in the United States over issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion have strong religious overtones. Some political scientists have observed that since the 1980s the two political parties have become more divided along a religious versus secular fault line. If the marketplace model explains these trends, than it makes sense to see to what extent the marketplace model can be applied around the world.

Scholars have taken this model and applied it to Europe with limited success (Jelen & Wilcox, 1998). The supply-side approach can be used to investigate how much of a majority a sect has to have before a sort of religious canopy sets in. Recent research in Latin America has shown that countries in which the members of a single religion number more than 85% of the population represent the canopy model, and when the percentage of the population following a single religion falls below 85%, elements of the competition model begin to appear (Gill, 1998). It appears that a supply-side approach to religion and politics in other countries may help explain observed behavior.

This economic model suggests another dynamic as well: the rational choice model. Religious people are not seen as rational actors because they do what God tells them, not necessarily what would maximize their utility according to secular scales. Incidentally, this logic illustrates a flaw with rational choice theory. If getting to heaven is maximizing utility, then doing what you understand God is asking of you is completely rational. Regardless, the point here is that using the supply-side economic model leads researchers to consider churches and religious elites as rational actors who are trying to maximize their utility or get more members. This possibility opens up opportunities for theories and research, not only in the United States but around the world (see Gill, 1998; Warner, 2000).

D. The Middle East

One of the biggest questions facing social scientists today is whether Islam is compatible with democracy. The overwhelming widespread trend toward democracy during the past 20 years has, for the most part, missed the Islamic world. The evidence clearly indicates democracies are considerably less likely to fight with each other, so promoting democracy, besides being a good thing normatively, would seem to have security value. What is it about Muslim countries that makes it difficult for democracy to take hold? To what extent can Iraq and Afghanistan answer this question if their democracies have been forced on them from outside?

This point should be left in. Scholars trying to determine answers have focused attention on many aspects of Islam and the Muslim people (see Tamadonfar, 2002). Many factors have been shown to effect democratization in general (Przeworski, 1996). In addition, most of these countries are known as rentier states, referring to a resource curse that may be the biggest factor hindering democratization in the Middle East. Of course, many of these factors may be working in concert. The complicated relationship of religion and politics does not operate in a vacuum. Outside factors are constantly influencing the outcomes, making the relationship that much more difficult to study.

VI. Future Research

The possibilities for future research in this field are immeasurable. Religion is and will remain an important factor in politics all over the world. The growing possibilities for survey research in the Islamic world are exciting. Africa and the rest of the developing world offer opportunities. As survey data begin to emerge from all corners of the globe, political scientists can begin to explore some of the issues faced in other nations.

For example, most of the previous work done with regard to identity politics in the developing world has focused on ethnicity (see Horowitz, 2000). Although this work is important, the focus on ethnicity can marginalize the perceived impact of religion. Religious differences are many times included with ethnic differences when appropriate; otherwise they are often not considered. There is a definite need for an equally strong focus on the religious aspects of these issues.

It is true that religion and ethnicity have much in common and, in many cases, interact a great deal. Both concepts are important to individuals and can elicit strong emotional responses. Both are unifying forces that can bring a group together and potentially define an enemy group. Both contribute to cultural and historical identities that, along with national identities, are used to define the world stage (Huntington, 1996; Jelen & Wilcox, 2002). In many cases, divisions among groups can be both ethnic and religious. Examples include divisions in the former Yugoslavia and many other places around the world. In some situations, it can be difficult to separate the impact of religious divisions from that of ethnic divisions.

Yet the concepts of religion and ethnicity can also play different roles in society. To begin with, they can have different foundations and historical significance. Although religious conflicts sometimes line up along ethnic lines (e.g., the Christian Croats and the Muslim Bosnians), there are also examples of religious conflict that overrides ethnicity (e.g., Iraqi Shi‘a and Iraqi Sunni) or of ethnicities that combine under religious banners (as in Nigeria). Furthermore, religion may be more important than ethnicity to one person or group (e.g., Muslims) whereas ethnicity might be more important in another culture (e.g., Han Chinese). Most important, however, the groups are organized differently, and that organization can play a major role in how they can operate in society.

Religion generally has formal institutions in place that allow it to be well organized in society. An ethnic group is generally less well organized than a religion. An ethnic group does not necessarily have a supreme authority (unless the ethnic group is tied in with a religious group). There is likely leadership of some sort as a hierarchy is developed, especially in situations in which the groups are unranked. However, ethnic groups do not necessarily have a positive formal mechanism for membership or mobilization such as the church offers for religion (Horowitz, 2000).

From this institutional perspective, religion seems to be in a much stronger position to influence something like democratic stability in the developing world. The success of a newly formed democracy depends, to a large extent, on the ability of the new formal institutions to be perceived as legitimate by the people. The institutions that are already in place and respected in a country will be expected to provide a cue to the public on whether to accept the new system. Although similar to the endorsement of an ethnic leader, religious endorsement goes farther, for two reasons. First, an endorsement of democracy from the religious leadership could be interpreted as coming from a higher power. Second, the church has formal institutions in place to mobilize the masses to accept democracy. Churches can align their message with the ideology of freedom and democracy, register people to vote, and perform many other functions to promote the new system.

In addition, the structure of the religious institutions can provide insight into culturally accepted norms of hierarchy. Tapping into a religious organization is tapping into the social and informal political institutions and links they might already have in place. These points reinforce the important institutional arguments that help us understand how support from religion could make the difference in certain new democracies. The bottom line is that the ultimate way a religion can promote the legitimacy of a democratic government is to participate in it.

VII. Conclusion

The field of religion and comparative politics is as strong as it has ever been. A tremendous amount of work has been done in the past 20 years. However, there still is a lot of extremely important work to do. Most of the conflicts around the world have some sort of religious overtone. If people in the United States, for example, can gain a better understanding of how Islam operates in Islamic countries, that understanding will help break down some of the barriers that keep us apart.


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