Religion in politics

State atheism Anti-Zionism Christianity and politics

Religion in politics covers various topics related to the effects of religion on politics. Religion has been claimed to be "the source of some of the most remarkable political mobilizations of our times".[1]

Religious political doctrines

Various political doctrines have been directly influenced or inspired by religions. Various strands of Political Islam exist, with most of them falling under the umbrella term of Islamism. Graham Fuller has argued for a broader notion of Islamism as a form of identity politics, involving "support for [Muslim] identity, authenticity, broader regionalism, revivalism, [and] revitalization of the community."[2] This may often take a socially conservative or reactionary from, as in wahhabism and salafism. Ideologies espousing Islamic modernism include Islamic socialism and Post-Islamism.

Christian political movements range from Christian socialism, Christian communism, and Christian anarchism the left, to Christian democracy on the centre,[3] to the Christian right.

Beyond universalist ideologies, religions have also been involved in nationalist politics. Hindu nationalism exists in the Hindutva movement. Religious Zionism seeks to create a religious Jewish state. The Khalistan movement aims to create a homeland for Sikhs.

An extreme form of religious political action is religious terrorism. Islamic terrorism has been evident in the actions of the Islamic State, Boko Haram, Taliban and Al-Qaeda, all paraticioners of jihadism. Christian terrorism has been connected to anti-abortion violence and white supremacy,[4] for example in the Christian Identity movement. Saffron terror describes terrorism connected Hinduism. There has also been cases of Jewish religious terrorism, such as the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, as well as of Sikh terrorism, such as the bombing of Air India Flight 182.

Religious political issues

Religious political issues may involve, but are not limited to, those concerning freedom of religion, applications of religious law, and the right to religious education.

Religion and the state

States have adopted various attitudes towards religions, ranging from theocracy to state atheism.

A theocracy is "government by divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided".[5] Modern day recognised theocracies include the Islamic Republic of Iran[6] and the Holy See[7], while the Taleban and Islamic State are insurgencies attempting to create such polities. Historical examples include the Islamic Caliphates and the Papal States.

Map of states with official religions.

A more modest form of religious state activity is having an official state religion. Unlike a theocracy, this maintains the superiority of the state over the religious authorities. Over 20% (a total of 43) of the countries in the world have a state religion, most of them (27) being Muslim countries.[8] There are also 13 officially Buddhist countries such as Bhutan[9], while state churches are present in 27 countries.

In contrast to religious states, secular states recognise no religion. This is often called the principle of the separation of church and state. A more extreme version, Laïcité, is practiced in France and in Turkey, which prohibits all religious expressions in many public contexts.[10]

Some states are explicitly atheistic, usually those which were produced by revolution, such as various socialist states or the French First Republic.

There have also been cases of states creating their own religions, such as imperial cults or the Cult of Reason.

Debates about religion in politics

There have been arguments for and against a role for religion in politics. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has argued that "faith and state should be kept separate" as "the most sinister and oppressive states in the world are those that use God to control the minds and actions of their populations", such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.[11] To this, Dawn Foster has responded that "when religion is fully unmoored from politics it becomes all the more insular and more open to abuse".[12]

See also


  1. ^ Jelen, Ted G. (2002). Religion and Politics in Comparative Perspective. Cambridge University Press. p. 1.
  2. ^ Fuller, Graham E., The Future of Political Islam, Palgrave MacMillan, (2003), p. 21
  3. ^ Boswell, Jonathan (2013). Community and the Economy: The Theory of Public Co-operation. Routledge. p. 160. ISBN 9781136159015.
  4. ^ "Hate In God's Name". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2019-12-01.
  5. ^ "Theocracy | political system". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-12-01.
  6. ^ "Inside Iran - The Structure Of Power In Iran | Terror And Tehran | FRONTLINE | PBS". www.pbs.org. Retrieved 2019-12-01.
  7. ^ Society, National Geographic (2013-12-16). "Vatican City Created". National Geographic Society. Retrieved 2019-12-01.
  8. ^ correspondent, Harriet Sherwood Religion (2017-10-03). "More than 20% of countries have official state religions – survey". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-12-01.
  9. ^ "Religion". www.bhutan.com. Retrieved 2019-12-01.
  10. ^ Winkler, Elizabeth (2016-01-07). "Is it Time for France to Abandon Laïcité?". The New Republic. ISSN 0028-6583. Retrieved 2019-12-01.
  11. ^ "Should religion play a role in politics?". New Internationalist. 2019-01-29. Retrieved 2019-12-01.
  12. ^ "Should religion play a role in politics?". New Internationalist. 2019-01-29. Retrieved 2019-12-01.