Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, POLITICS (oxfordre.com/politics). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 16 December 2018

Summary and Keywords

Since around the 1950s, hundreds of articles have been published in social science that are concerned with the concept of authority and authoritarianism and how both relate to religion. Despite this tremendous volume of research, two camps have emerged that have failed to incorporate the ideas of the other. Psychologists contend that deference to authority is primarily a personality-driven variable and is often shaped by subconscious and undetected psychological processes that are unchangeable once established. In contrast, sociologists contend that authoritarianism is largely a product of interaction in a social environment. This perspective suggests that religion is one of many factors that help to shape the authoritarian outlook of individuals, along with political and economic variables. Neither of these approaches has managed to synthesize their perspectives into a unified whole.

In addition, while many scholars have included some aspect of religion in their analysis, little scholarship has placed it at the center of the inquiry. As a result, there has been no well-defined and thoroughly tested theory of religious authority, despite the fact that authority has driven two of the most important recent religious movements in the United States: the Religious Right and the Emergent Church Movement.

Several suggestions are offered as means to make measurable progress in the field of religion and regard for authority. One way forward is to generate and test a battery of questions that measures authority from a uniquely religious perspective. Another opportunity lies in scholars measuring the deference to authority levels that exist in different religious traditions. These comparisons could be between Jews and Catholics, or even inside the larger Protestant tradition. Finally, scholars should make a concerted effort to connect clergy with their congregations as a means to discern if perceptions of authority are congruent between a religious leader and his or her parishioners.

Keywords: religion, authority, authoritarianism, religious leaders, fundamentalism

Access to the complete content on Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter without a subscription. If you are a student or academic complete our librarian recommendation form to recommend the Oxford Research Encyclopedias to your librarians for an institutional free trial.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.