The Political Opportunity Structure and Religion
- Luis Felipe MantillaLuis Felipe MantillaDepartment of History and Politics, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg
There is growing scholarly recognition of the prominent role that religion can play in empowering, shaping, and constraining political mobilization. Conceptually, religion can intersect with political opportunity structure in two general ways. First, it can be a component of the political opportunity structure: degrees of religious diversity, varieties of religion-state relations, levels of religiosity, and prevailing religious norms can substantially affect how social movements mobilize supporters. Second, religion can be an attribute of movements operating within a given political opportunity structure: a set of distinctive frames and resources available to religious actors that are unavailable to their secular counterparts. Understanding the intersection of religion and political opportunity structure requires addressing both of these dimensions of religion.
One key challenge derives from the diversity of religious beliefs and organizations across and within faith traditions. There is persistent scholarly disagreement regarding the importance of specific ideological or doctrinal tenets and how these shape the salience of particular religions as both a component of the political opportunity structure and as a set of resources available to social movements. Scholarly understanding of these dynamics is hampered by the limited amount of research across faith traditions. Works focusing on Catholic, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, or Protestant movements, among others, tend to emphasize different features of religion, in ways that make their findings hard to aggregate.
Despite this and other challenges, the consolidation of religion as a topic of scholarly attention has resulted in increasingly sophisticated arguments and improved the scope and quality of data on religion and politics. Scholars now have access to a variety of global, regional, and national surveys that describe patterns of religious belief, behavior, and belonging. There is also a growing repertoire of country-level measures covering religion-state relations, denominational diversity, and religious conflict. In addition, a growing body of in-depth case studies focusing on particular religious movements and organizations has enriched our understanding of the dynamic interaction between religious groups and the institutional, structural, and cultural opportunities they face.