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Religion and Politics - Doctrine Of Necessity

Religion and Politics

 Religion and Politics

Religion and Politics

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Abstract

The complicated interaction between religion and politics is examined in this article, with a focus on theories of this relationship, the function of religion in modern statecraft, and the effects of religion on democratic governance. The essay makes the case that the interaction between religion and politics is complex and frequently divisive by drawing on a variety of academic sources. While some scholars contend that religion can play a significant influence in influencing political ideals and ideologies, secularization theories predict that religion will inevitably lose significance as civilizations modernize. In the modern world, religion is still a powerful force in many societies, and religious organizations frequently participate in political decision-making.  This has sparked discussions regarding the proper place of religion in the state. While some favour a clear separation of church and state, others contend that religion ought to play a larger role in public life. In analyzing the connection between religion and democracy, the essay comes to the conclusion that while religious values and beliefs can serve as a foundation for democratic decision-making, they can also be a source of tension and conflict in democratic communities. Overall, the paper offers a detailed understanding of how religion and politics interact and influence one another in modern civilizations. It also offers insights into how these two fields cross and influence one another.

Key Words: Religion, Politics, modern state, democracy

 

Introduction

Religion and politics have always been intertwined, with each influencing the other in significant ways. Religion can shape people’s political beliefs and guide their actions, while politics can also affect the practice of religion. The relationship between religion and politics has often been contentious throughout history, as different groups try to assert their values and beliefs. In some countries, religious leaders hold great power in the government, playing a significant role in shaping policies and laws. In others, there is a clear separation of church and state, with religious institutions having little influence on political decisions. However, even when there is no official connection between religion and government, politicians may still use religious rhetoric to appeal to voters or justify their actions. The intersection of religion and politics can lead to both positive outcomes such as increased social cohesion and negative ones like discrimination against minority groups.

Politics and religion are terms that refer to two different but related societal subsystems. Although the ideas are conceptually distinct, there is interdependence in the link between religion and politics. According to Peter Berger (1967, 1999), religion is “a collection of beliefs that binds the individual to a community, and in turn to a sense of being or purpose that transcends the individual and the mundane.” This definition of religion is commonly recognised among social scientists.

Whilst politics refers to the regulatory ability to allocate resources, make legally binding judgements, and address social issues.(Künkler & Leininger, 2011)

Theories of Religion and Politics

 

Theory of Secularization

 

In the context of the early modern secularization processes, which resulted in the development of the modern secular state, the connection between religion and politics underwent a systematic reshaping.

For a better understanding of secularization theory, one should look back to the classical theory of secularization presented by Frenchman Auguste Comte (1798-1857)

According to Comte, society has progressed through three stages: the religious, the metaphysical, and the positivist. He maintained that the positivist stage was the pinnacle of human evolution and that at that time, science and reason will triumph over religion as the preeminent way of thinking.

According to Comte’s theory of secularization, religion would eventually lose its hold on society as science and reason gained importance. He contended that people will reject conventional religious practices and beliefs in favour of more logical and scientific approaches to interpreting the universe as a result of the complexity of society and the expansion of scientific knowledge. A new social order based on scientific principles and the pursuit of human growth would arise instead of moral degradation or social turmoil as a result of the decline of religion. He thought that a new “religion of humanity” based on the values of reason and social progress would take over the role of religion. (Critique of Auguste Comte’s Ideology on the Death of Religion, n.d.)

The sociological field benefited from Comte’s notion of secularization, and several sociologists have expanded on it to create more complex conceptions of secularization. But his thesis has also come under fire for being overly straightforward and for discounting the persistent influence of religion on culture.

Although the term “secularization” has been used in a wide variety of often conflicting ways over the past century, the majority of social scientists today agree, at the very least, on the historical-descriptive definition of the term, which refers to the process of separating secular institutions and norms (such as the transfer of people, things, and meanings from ecclesiastical or religious to civil or lay) from religious ones. Also, this interpretation comes closer to the term’s etymological roots.

Some ideas about secularization are teleological in nature. For instance, Berger predicted that as society becomes more modern and rationalized, religious beliefs will become less important in social and political life on a global scale. The sociology of religion, which has demonstrated that diminishing levels of religiosity in the twentieth century were a phenomenon limited to Europe and hence a global exception rather than the rule, has most prominently challenged this view of secularization. Contrary to predictions made about the “death of religion” in the 20th century, both private and public religions have experienced a global resurgence.

The concept of secularization is the privatization of religion, or the limitation of religious doctrine to the private realm.

John Rawls stated that secularization as privatization is a must for the liberal democratic state in his 1993 book Political Liberalism and that religion should be taken “off the menu” in liberal democratic politics.

The Rawlsian premise is rejected by contemporary democratic theory, and Rawls himself tempered his position in a later journal article. Alfred Stepan’s (2001) concept of the twin tolerations between religion and the state significantly reworked the Rawlsian postulate. (Künkler & Leininger, 2011)

Democracy requires secularity in the sense of a strict institutional separation of state and religion but does not need it. Secularity is defined as mutually respected spheres of autonomy between religion and the state, “freedom for democratically elected governments, and freedom for religious organizations in civil and political society. (Fox, 2013, p. 19)

 

Theocracy

A theocracy is a form of government where the ruler is considered to be a divine figure or representative of a deity. In this type of system, religious law and doctrine often dictate political decisions and policies. Theocratic governments are typically led by religious leaders or council members who are appointed based on their spiritual authority rather than through democratic processes.

The Islamic Republics of Iran, Pakistan, and Mauritania are among the states that are formally governed by Islamic law and are referred to as Islamic republics. With the 1956 constitution, Pakistan became the first country to use the name. On November 28, 1958, Mauritania ratified it. After the 1979 Iranian Revolution that toppled the Pahlavi monarchy, Iran embraced it. After the overthrow of the Taliban administration in 2004, Afghanistan adopted it. Although sharing names, the governments and legal systems of the nations are very different. One example of a theocratic government can be found in Iran, where Islamic clerics hold significant power over the country’s political and social institutions.(‘Iran’, 2023)

Another example is Vatican City, which operates under the leadership of the Pope and the College of Cardinals. (‘Holy See (Vatican City)’, 2023)

While these types of governments may have some benefits, such as promoting strong moral values and providing guidance for citizens, they also come with many challenges. Critics argue that theocratic governments can lead to discrimination against minority religions or non-believers.

 

Political Theology

The phrase “political theology” has been used in a wide range of contexts by authors looking at various aspects of Christians’ interactions with politics.

The idea of political theology is associated with Christian political theology however, this concept is not originally a Christian concept. The idea of political theology was given by the pagan philosopher Varro.

In his book “The City of God,” Augustine of Hippo (354–430) portrays pagan theology by addressing the viewpoints of the pagan philosopher Varro. Varro divided paganism’s gods into three groups: philosophers’ gods, people’s gods, and poets’ gods. Augustine criticized this division.

According to Augustine, poets’ gods like Jupiter and Venus are founded on stories and legends and are not deserving of adoration because of this. Additionally, he criticizes popular deities as being too particular and constrained in their scope to be really divine, such as domestic gods and regional deities. The gods of the philosophers, which are based on ideals like justice, virtue, and wisdom, are the last thing that Augustine criticizes. These gods, according to Augustine, are too remote and impersonal to be the subjects of true adoration and devotion.

After criticizing different levels of Pagan Theology Augustine offers a Christian Theology. (Augustine, 2009, p. chapter 8)

 Political Theology has been used to discuss Thomas Aquinas’s De Regno: On Kingship, Augustine of Hippo’s City of God, and Augustine of Hippo’s Summa Theologica.  It has also been used to describe the writings of the Protestant reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin, as well as the Eastern Orthodox perspective on Symphonia. Christian political thinking has a long history of equating politics, statecraft, and worldly power with the more general category of carnal literalism, labelled as “Semitic” by the Pauline tradition.(Tsonchev, 2018, pp. 60–88)

Another instance is that Chinese government officials, academics, and religious leaders have all responded to the topic of the link between religion and politics in political theology. This was structured over a period of two millennia based on a Confucian view of politics and religion, which was frequently described in terms of Confucian political philosophy. Throughout its history, Chinese Buddhism has offered a challenge to the political influence of Confucianism at various times. Communist interpretations of religion, however, have dominated the conversation since the middle of the 20th century. (Wong, 2011)

At its core, political theology seeks to explore the intersections between faith and power, asking questions about who holds authority within religious communities, how that authority is exercised, and what implications this has for broader social and political systems. Scholars in this field draw on diverse disciplinary perspectives including philosophy, history, sociology, anthropology, theology, political science and more.

One of the key debates within political theology concerns the extent to which religion should be involved in politics. Some argue that religious values should play a significant role in shaping public policy decisions while others maintain that such an approach could lead to discrimination against those who do not share a particular worldview.

Liberation Theology

Liberation Theology is a movement that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, primarily in Latin America. It combines Christian theology with social activism, emphasizing the need for Christians to work towards social justice and the liberation of oppressed people. Theology is not seen as an academic exercise but rather as a means to bring about social change. (Travis Kitchens, 2010)

The roots of liberation theology are found in the inequalities and oppression experienced by marginalized communities, particularly those living in poverty. Theologians such as Gustavo Gutierrez argued that Christianity should be concerned with the struggles of these communities and that it was necessary to address their needs, including economic inequality, political repression, and human rights abuses.

The movement gained popularity across Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s, despite opposition from some within both religious and secular circles.

There are many other instances of liberation theology such as black theology, feminist liberation theology, Dalit theology and Palestinian liberation theology.

A key proponent of black theology, James Hal Cone, describes it as “a rational study of the being of God in the world in light of the existential situation of an oppressed community, relating the forces of liberation to the essence of the Gospel, which is Jesus Christ.”(‘James H. Cone’, 2023) Black theology aims to free people of colour from various forms of political, social, economic, and religious subjugation. Black theology combines Religion with civil rights issues, especially those brought up by the Black Power and Black Consciousness movements.

In the 1980s, Dalit castes on the Indian subcontinent developed a form of Christian theology known as “Dalit theology.” It shares many elements with Latin American liberation theology, which had emerged 20 years earlier, including the idea that one is an Exodus-going people. In Luke 4’s “Nazareth Manifesto,” where Jesus talks about delivering “good news to the poor… liberation for the captives and recovery of sight for the blind,” as well as about liberating “the oppressed,” Dalit theology finds hope.(Schouten, 2008, p. 247)

In an effort to make the liberating message of the gospel relevant to the perceived needs of their Indigenous flocks, a number of Palestinian theologians from different denominations—mostly Protestant mainline churches—have developed Palestinian liberation theology, which is an expression of political theology and contextual theology. Typically, this articulation includes a condemnation of the State of Israel, a theological justification for Palestinian national aspirations and resistance to Israel, and a strong exaltation of Palestinian ethnic and cultural identity as guarantors of a more accurate understanding of the gospel because they live in the same region as Jesus and the Bible. The primary figure in Palestinian liberation theology is the Anglican cleric Naim Ateek, founder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. (Ateek & ʿAtīq, 1989)

Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism is a term used to describe a belief system that seeks to return to the basics, or fundamentals, of a particular religion or ideology. It can be found across many different faiths and political movements. While it may seem like a harmless desire to hold onto tradition, fundamentalism can quickly turn into an extremist mindset. One of the key characteristics of fundamentalism is its rejection of modernity and secularism. This often leads to intolerance of other beliefs, as fundamentalists view their own beliefs as the only correct ones. Another hallmark of fundamentalism is its emphasis on literal interpretation of sacred texts or teachings, rather than allowing for metaphorical or symbolic meanings. (Kunst, n.d.)

While not all fundamentalists are violent extremists, there have been numerous instances where fundamentalist beliefs have fueled acts of terrorism and violence around the world.

According to most religious scholars, the term “fundamentalism” refers to a largely modern religious phenomenon that, while itself a reinterpretation of religion as defined by modernism, reinforces religion in opposition to modernist, liberal, and ecumenical tendencies emerging in religion and society at large that it perceives as being foreign to a particular religious tradition. Similar to how labelling political ideas “right-wing” or “left-wing” can have negative connotations, the term “fundamentalism” can have derogatory rather than neutral implications depending on the context. (Harris, 2008)

For Instance, several religious and ethnic groups have been the targets of Buddhist extremism, such as in Burma. A Buddhist-dominated country, Myanmar has seen tensions between Muslim minorities and the Buddhist majority, especially during the 2013 Burma anti-Muslim riots as well as during actions which are associated with the Rohingya genocide (2016 onwards)

Fundamentalism among Buddhists is also present in Sri Lanka. Recent conflicts between Muslim minorities and the Buddhist majority have been present in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka, particularly during the 2014 and 2018 anti-Muslim riots, which were purportedly started by hardline organisations like the Bodu Bala Sena. (Sri Lankan Muslims Fearful after Buddhist Mob Violence | CNN, n.d.)

Similarly, Jewish fundamentalism has been used to describe Ashkenazi and Sephardic Haredi Judaism as well as violent religious Zionism. Jewish fundamentalism is “an ultranationalist, eschatologically based, irredentist worldview,” according to Ian S. Lustik.(Israel’s Dangerous Fundamentalists by Ian S. Lustick, n.d.)

Pluralism

Pluralism is a concept that refers to the coexistence of different groups and cultures within a society. It is a term used to describe the acceptance and celebration of diversity in all forms, including race, ethnicity, religion, language, and more. Pluralism recognizes that individuals have unique identities that should be respected and valued. One of the most important benefits of pluralism is that it promotes equality and inclusivity within society. By embracing differences and acknowledging individual perspectives, pluralistic societies can create a more harmonious environment where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. Additionally, when diverse groups work together towards common goals, they often bring with them new ideas and perspectives which can lead to innovation and progress.

However, despite its many benefits, pluralism also faces significant challenges in practice.

From antiquity to current post-modern trends, cultural and religious plurality has a lengthy history and evolution.

According to Ludwig Feuerbach and Ernst Troeltsch, German religious philosophers, Hinduism and Buddhism, in particular, were the earliest proponents of religious plurality and the freedom for everyone to choose their own faith and create a unique religious construct within it. Daoism and Jainism, two other ancient Indian religions, have long supported religious pluralism for people who disagree with their theological tenets and have also always been inclusively flexible.

 

Relations Between Religion and Politics in the Contemporary State

State Supervision of Religion

The formal connections between religion and politics in modern states vary greatly. The modern state is characterized by a certain degree of intertwining between politics and religion, with complete institutional separation between the two being the exception. The majority of states allow for complex relationships between religion and politics. For example, they recognize religious holidays as state holidays, allow for religious instruction in public schools, provide public subsidies for private religious schools, provide welfare through (or in collaboration with) religious institutions, give tax breaks to religious organizations, and allot time on public television and radio to religious institutions and authorities.

These arrangements are common in most societies, regardless of the majority religion—they can be found all over the world, whether the majority religion is Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or something else. Some states, including long-standing democracies such as Denmark, Finland, Greece, Norway, and the United Kingdom, as well as non-democratic regimes such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, recognize an official state religion.(Ahmed, n.d., p. 15)

It is helpful to recognize some characteristics among the wide variety of religion-state connections. Strict separation of religion and state, as is de jure in the US, is at one extreme on the spectrum of institutional religion-state relations. The Establishment Clause has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court as creating a “wall of separation” between religion and state since 1947. Regimes that strictly control religion, such as theocratic and atheist regimes, stand at the other end of the spectrum.(Kulchycki & Wang, n.d., pp. 4–6)

 An example of a country where religious and political authority coexist, where conversion away from Islam is punishable by death, and where religious institutions (such as mosques, seminaries, and religious schools) are heavily governed by the state is the Islamic Republic of Iran.(‘Iran’, 2023)

An atheist government, such as that which ruled Albania from 1967 to 1989, outlawed all religions, religious organizations, and religious activity; it also closed religious schools and persecuted religious leaders. There are various prototypes that illustrate blended systems in between these extremes of absolute separation on the one hand and intense governmental regulation of religion on the other.

The primary power structuring the relationship between politics and religion is the state. State policies frequently involve some control over religious concerns because they try to allocate resources and resolve social problems in addition to other issues. Legislation and constitutional provisions are used to accomplish this.

Religious Laws

Most nations outside of those with a Christian majority uphold large volumes of religious legislation and statutes, including several Catholic and Christian-Orthodox nations. This is especially true in the area of personal status law, where regulations regarding marriage, divorce, and child custody are in accordance with positive religious norms (for instance, in India; Israel; most Muslim-majority states except for Turkey, Albania, and the former CIS states; as well as Catholic-majority states like Ireland and Italy; and Christian-Orthodox countries like Armenia, Georgia, and Greece). Outside personal status law, religious law frequently governs issues like inheritance and common-law trusts. The state or a state-instituted body of religious authorities with authority over the definition of religious law typically propagates religious law.(Mitchell, 2017)

The existence of religious legislation highlights the ongoing conflicts between adherents to religious norms and liberal conceptions of citizenship that do not distinguish between citizens based on religion, language, or ethnicity. The normative discussions that are most passionately contested centre on several issues relating to religious law. The scope of religious jurisdiction, the body charged with reforming and politicizing religious law, its membership, the process used to derive religious law from other sources of law, the appointment and training of those who decide cases based on religion, and the ways in which national law, including religious law, can be brought into compliance with international human rights conventions that states have signed are typically the topics of contention.(Mitchell, 2017)

Religious Political Parties

Religious political parties, such as the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India, Jewish Orthodox parties in Israel, and Islamic parties in countries of the Muslim world, are the second institution through which religion may have a significant influence on the politics of the modern state. From the standpoint of democratic theory, it is problematic that religious parties are prohibited in democracies like those found, for instance, in Mali, Portugal, Senegal, and other places. Due to their representational and interest-aggregating duties as an intermediary in political decision-making processes, political parties are a fundamental component of democratic regimes. A political party’s commitment to constitutional rules and democratic norms, behaviour, and attitudes is more important for democratization than the party’s philosophy. Only after a political party has demonstrated via its activities that it has broken democracy should restrictions be placed on them.(Ahmed, n.d., p. 25)

Religion in the Age of Democracy

Democracies depend on the existence of a specific ethos for citizens to respect laws and rulers to prioritise the public good over individual interests, even though most democratic thinkers will concur that the values of democracy and human rights stem from extra-religious sources. Here, religion can have a significant impact. According to Abdolkarim Soroush;

“Democracy cannot prosper without commitment to moral precepts. It is here that the great debt of democracy to religion is revealed: Religions, as bulwarks of morality, can serve as the best guarantors of democracy”(Surūsh et al., 2000, p. 122)

Democracies must be tolerant of all worldviews, including religious beliefs, but they also rely on particular moral standards, which may include religious principles as well as constitutional and republican principles.

The third wave of democracy, which began after 1974, is frequently referred to as the “Catholic wave,” in contrast to the first two waves, which were primarily Protestant. The fourth wave, which began after 1989, involved numerous Orthodox-Christian and non-Christian majority countries with Buddhist, Confucian, and Muslim backgrounds. The fourth wave has given empirical credence to the claim that all religions are multivocal and can be reconciled with democratic values and human rights, if and where local religious intellectuals succeed in generating arguments within their own religious traditions supportive of such values. Until recently, the question of the compatibility of democracy with certain religions occupied a great deal of scholarly attention. Religious practices and beliefs develop within the framework of sociopolitical institutions as a result of the interdependence between politics and religion.(Gunitsky, 2018, p. 634)

In other words, over the medium to long term, the sort of political government can have a substantial impact on religious beliefs and behaviours.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the link between politics and religion is nuanced and frequently intertwined.

While some contend that religion has no place in politics, others think it can have a substantial impact on political beliefs and policy choices.

 Individuals and societies must carefully navigate this relationship, striking a balance between the demands of secular government and the ideals of religious freedom.

In the end, it is possible to ensure that religion and politics may coexist in a way that is beneficial to all members of society through open communication, mutual respect, and a dedication to fairness and justice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Authors Profile

Shagufta Amir received her Master’s degree in Islamic Studies from Bahauddin Zakriya University Multan Pakistan in 2018 and the M.S. degree in Comparative Study of Religions from International Islamic University Islamabad Pakistan in 2021. She now is a Ph.D. scholar in same university and working as researcher and blogger. 

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