The Canadian LGBT movement has had enormous success in gaining political and legal recognition for sexual minorities—as much as any of its sister movements in other countries. This is especially remarkable because the sexual repressiveness of the Canadian social and political climate remained largely in place until the 1990s. And although activist groups across the country have had challenges in marshalling resources, mobilizing beyond the regional level, and overcoming internal inequities, advocacy pressure has been effective enough to produce a political sea change with few precedents in other issue areas. Starting in the 1990s, Canada experienced a country-wide “takeoff” in the formal recognition of sexual diversity, most dramatically in the legal status given to same-sex relationships. Even if a vocal minority of the general public opposed such moves, the acceptance of sexual minorities as legitimate members of the Canadian mosaic has become politically normalized.
Sexual diversity is far from being fully accepted, and those communities traditionally under-represented in the LGBT movement still face marginalization in a period of growing socioeconomic inequality. But the movement has made impressive gains, aided by social and institutional factors that have allowed activist leverage when the political winds blew in their favor. This success, however, presents new challenges, creating complacency within and beyond LGBT circles and increasing the difficulty of mobilizing people and resources.
The decline of religiously conservative opposition to the public recognition of sexual diversity in Canada has also created room for the movement to become more fragmented than it has been in the past. And yet there is still much need for advocacy. Socially conservative politicians are still pandering to public anxiety about recognizing sexual diversity. Activist attention is still needed in areas such as schooling, policing, social service provision, and immigration. Trans people, “two-spirited” Indigenous people, and sexual minorities within Canada’s large ethnocultural and religious minorities are often on the margins of their own communities, the broader society, and the LGBT movement itself.
From the early 1970s through the mid-2000s, the Canadian movement’s trajectory was similar to activism elsewhere. A “liberationist” period generated a long-lasting strand of radicalism alongside a slowly growing current focused on seeking rights through mainstream political channels (Adam, 1987, 1999). The analysis to follow first points to distinctive elements of the Canadian social and political context and then traces the evolution of what would become the LGBT movement from these early stages and into a period of legal and political “takeoff.” It points to strong commonalities in movement agendas, even across imposing regional lines, but also recognizes the challenges of mounting coherent movement responses to remaining inequities in a political environment so marked by activist success.
Christopher W. Hale
Historically, the Catholic Church in Latin America has supported conservative interests. It legitimized Spanish colonial rule and sided with traditionalist elites following Latin American independence. However, beginning in the mid-20th century, some within the Church engaged with social causes, and a new progressive theology inspired many priests and bishops to advocate politically on behalf of the poor. The resultant movement helped topple dictatorships, facilitated transitions to democracy, and developed as a result of three factors. First, liberation theology emboldened clergy to support the political causes of the poor and created an ideological frame encouraging Catholic laity to organize for social change. Furthermore, competition from new Protestant religions provided Catholic leadership with an incentive to support secular political movements and created an opportunity for political engagement through the Catholic Church. Finally, decentralization within the Church encouraged Catholic adherents to engage and develop organizational capacities at the grass-roots. Taken together, scholarly explanations emphasizing framing, opportunity, and resource mobilization create a compelling account of the development of progressive Catholic activism.
Less sustained theoretical attention has been given to assessing the dynamics of conservative Latin American Catholic advocacy. The Church consistently opposes abortion, divorce, the use of contraceptives, and gay marriage. Moreover, although the Catholic Church has enabled many women’s political movements, it suppresses efforts at liberalizing reproductive rights. Future research on Catholic advocacy in Latin America should identify additional pathways through which framing, opportunity, and resource mobilization influence conservative Catholic advocacy in the region. Additionally, the Church’s relationship with environmental issues is understudied. Finally, Latin America offers untapped potential to examine the complicated relationship between ethnicity, religion, and collective action.
Yahia H. Zoubir
The Islamist movement in Algeria and Islamist ideas (politicized/revivalist, Islamic reformism) date back to the colonial period. While Radical Islamist Groups (RIGs) and Salafi Jihadist Groups (SJGs) have demonstrated a high level of violence more noticeably in the 1990s, following the return of the so-called Afghans, who had trained and fought Soviet troops in Afghanistan, radical Islamism has emerged at different periods in Algeria’s history. In the 1960s, RIGs sought to intimidate Westernized youth and women. In the 1970s and 1980s, SJGs almost destroyed the state through a ferocious armed insurgency. The major SJGs in Algeria, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Jund-el-Khalifa, are part of the transnational extremist organizations such as al-Qaeda and, since 2014, the so-called Islamic State (IS), respectively.
Political Islam in Algeria took different forms, from quietist groups to peaceful Muslim Brothers to sanguinary armed groups, such as the Armed Islamic Groups (GIAs) of the 1990s or the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which succeed the Salafi Group for Preaching and CombatSGPC. Whatever form the movement has taken more recently, one cannot understand Islamism without scrutinizing Algeria’s colonial history and the enduring crisis of identity it has engendered among Algerian Muslims. Soon after the colonial invasion, resistance to France was often expressed in Islamic terms, such as jihad, or holy war, against infidels. During the war of national liberation [1954–1962], the nationalist movement referred to the fighters as mujahideen (holy warriors). Algerian identity itself is often expressed in relation to Islam, which dominates social and cultural personality. Islam and Islamism have served as means of opposition to the successive incumbent regimes since independence. Indeed, opposition to the socialism of the 1960s and 1970s emanated from religious figures. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Islamic Salvation Front ak.a., FIS), a mass party, sought to seize power to establish a state in which Shari’a Law could be implemented. The cancellation of the electoral process resulted in bloody civil strife that pitted the security forces against SJGs of different denominations. The civil strife claimed the lives of perhaps 100,000 people, mostly civilians. However, Algerian Islamism also has elected representatives, with legal Islamist parties represented in the government. Islamism, or Islamist ideas, present during the anticolonial struggle are interwoven with the radical jihadi groups that exist in the region and country today. Algeria went through an almost decade-long, atrocious period of civil strife that abated by the end of the 1990s. The ensuing 2005 National Charter on Peace and Reconciliations provided a political framework for stability in the country.
The relationship between civil war and religion is a complex one. Civil wars are influenced in many different ways by religiously based factors. Different religiously based factors influence the onset, dynamics, and termination of civil wars. Religious factors have been examined both as causes of war and their dynamics and as factors behind how violence is prevented, conflict is managed, and peace is built. Whereas research on peace and conflict has often tended to neglect religiously focused explanations in favor of explanations based on strategic, economic, or other factors, research on religion and conflict has seen a resurgence in recent years. Research can be organized based on three different levels of analysis: (a) explanations relating to the religious group level, (b) explanations relating to the level of interrelationships between different religious groups, and (c) explanations relating to the level of the group’s relationship to the state. On the group level, religious beliefs, religious practices, religious constituency, and religious institutions play a role. On the intergroup level, two main debates center around the “clash of civilization” and religious demography. On the state-religion level, religious grievances and state favoritism can be seen as explanations for civil wars. As religiously defined conflicts are becoming more common, understanding more about the conditions under which religious factors influence civil wars’ onset, dynamics, and termination is vital.
Emil Aslan Souleimanov
Reflecting on the recent rise of Salafi groups and their impact on civil war, the academic literature on Salafi radicalization, mobilization, and recruitment has burgeoned in the recent decade and a half. Yet little consensus exists as to the relative power of three major causes: grievances, ideology, and radical milieu and support structures as causes of violent radicalization. Even less is known about how jihadist foreign fighters affect civil wars in terms of conflict intensity and resolution. In both fields, key debates are identified in the recent scholarship, explain the major shortcomings and gaps, and suggest avenues of future research. For instance, it is important—and hardly avoidable—that epistemological and ontological obstacles lay in the way of establishing the causes of (violent) radicalization, because the processes relating to the change of human perception and behavior are extremely difficult to trace. Another point is the frequent—deliberate or unintended—distortion of the testimonies of former combatants, not least Salafi-jihadists, which makes the task of establishing the causes of (violent) radicalization and recruitment harder. Identifying avenues of further research, there is a lack of quality first-hand data in the current research on Salafi-inspired radicalization, mobilization, and recruitment. More methodological plurality—particularly in-depth ethnographic studies and quantitative work—is needed, as well as more research on virtual social networks and non-verbal contents.
Out of the 111 armed conflicts that took place worldwide between 1989 and 2000, only seven were interstate conflicts. The others were intrastate in nature. As a result, the last decade and a half witnessed a boom in the publication of works on civil wars. While the percentage of civil wars involving religion increased from 21% to 43% between the 1960s and 1990s, scholars have been rather slow to integrate the study of religion into the overall framework of conflict in general, and of civil wars in particular. Operating under the impact of the secularization thesis and treating religion as an aspect of ethnicity, the literature on civil wars has long embraced ethnonationalism as its subject matter. Yet, since the early 2000s there has been a rapid increase in the number of works focusing on religion and civil wars. While one branch treats religion as a trigger for and an exacerbating factor in conflict, another focuses on religion as a conflict resolution tool.
Turkey is an apt case to ponder the latter as several governments have deployed religion (namely, Sunni Islam) as a tool to suppress ethnic divisions for years. During the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule, religion has gained even more visibility as a conflict resolution tool in the 33-year-long armed ethnic conflict between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). Yet, the role of religion in Turkey’s Kurdish conflict still remains understudied. Increased attention to this topic could deliver important insights not only for those who conduct research on the Kurdish conflict in Turkey specifically, but also for those who explore the role of religion in civil wars more generally.
Daniel G. Hummel
Religion has played a constant role in the United States–Israel relationship. Christian and Jewish interests have shaped U.S. foreign policy, especially after the rise of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. The role of religion Israel has historically depended on three interlinking factors: the influence of domestic political considerations in the calculations of American policymakers, the prominence of the Middle East in U.S. diplomatic and strategic thinking, and the beliefs and attitudes of individual policymakers, both their own religious convictions and their assessment of how important religious beliefs are to the American people.
Religion has alternately strengthened and strained the U.S. relationship with the Zionist movement and the state of Israel. At some moments, such as the 1930s, religious attitudes and prejudices worked against closer cooperation. At other times, such as the Israeli–Egyptian peace summit of 1978, religious forces played a prominent role. As a state with special religious significance for many Americans, Israel provides a window into how religion functions in U.S. foreign policy, how its function has changed over time, and how religion has acted as an independent variable in political and policy outcomes.
“Religious fundamentalism” is a term that, for several decades now, has been a staple of writing about the general involvement of religion in politics. “Religious fundamentalism” is nearly always associated with “traditional,” “conservative,” or “right-wing” understandings of the world. It is articulated and pursued by those who appear to believe that the world would be a better place if all people lived by the word of (their) God, as articulated and set forth in their particular faith’s holy scriptures. In addition, for many, “religious fundamentalism” implies a rejection of modernity and a wish to return to the past, to a—perhaps mythical—time when people lived by God’s jurisdiction.
Despite what some believe, it is clear that religious fundamentalism is a modern phenomenon, although with historical antecedents. As a concept, “religious fundamentalism” has been widely employed since the late 1970s, especially by the mass media and many scholars. It has been used to describe and explain quite a few, sometimes rather diverse, religious movements around the globe with political aspirations to change society. The designation “fundamentalist” was first applied by some American Protestants to themselves in the 1920s. In the early 21st century, as a generic term, it is now widely applied additionally to a multitude of groups outside the corpus of American Protestantism.
Generally speaking, the character and impact of fundamentalist doctrines is located within a nexus of moral and social issues revolving, in many contemporary countries and religions, around state–society interactions. “Modernization” has affected many people’s lives in profound and sometimes disconcerting ways. For some religious fundamentalists, this was manifested in an initial defensiveness, which eventually developed for many into a political offensive that sought to alter the prevailing social and political realities of state–society relations. That rulers were performing inadequately and/or corruptly, led many—but not all—religious fundamentalists to relate contemporary developments to a critical reading of their faith’s holy texts. The significance of this from a political perspective was that it could serve to supply an already restive group with a ready-made manifesto for social change. Many religious leaders saw the opportunity and began explicitly to use a selective reading of religious texts both to challenge secular rulers and to propose a program for often radical societal or sociopolitical reforms. Under these circumstances, it was often relatively easy for fundamentalist leaders to gain the support of those who felt that in some way the development of society was not proceeding according to God’s will or their community’s interests. In sum, various manifestations of what are generically referred to as religious fundamentalisms have appealed to different groups for different reasons at different times.
Manus I. Midlarsky
To understand the relationship between religion and genocide in time of war, one needs to distinguish between sacred and secular political religions. Among the genocidal events inspired by political religions based on sacred texts are the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the Sack of Magdeburg, the British Civil War in Ireland, and Bosnia. I also examine several groups pursuing a genocidal agenda claiming religious justification: al-Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Civil religions and secular political religions discussed are the French Revolution, Italian Fascism, Nazism, and Stalinist Communism. Lacking the restraints found in traditional religions, secular political religion is most dangerous. Large-scale genocides are best explained by diachronic processes entailing subordination followed by gain and then loss by the perpetrators. The presence of loss in various forms is found in virtually all cases. Emotions that typically do not influence routine politics—such as anger and fear—are engaged. All of the cases, even those of minimal loss, are influenced by international events. Without the presence of war, genocides like the Holocaust, and those of the Armenians and Tutsis, are inconceivable. Even as an exclusionary ideology, traditional religion is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for all forms of genocide in time of war. But religion can be an enabler that together with other antecedents can lead to genocide. Sacred religious sites can be sensitive locations whose violation inspires violence. Radicalization of religious leaders can occur when their religion appears to be under attack, especially during or following a period of widespread violence.
Rina Verna Williams and Sayam Moktan
With over one billion adherents worldwide and 15% of the world’s population, Hinduism is the fourth largest, and among the oldest, of the major world religions, with important political aspects that reverberate well beyond South Asia. Yet it is perhaps the least studied of the major world religions. Hinduism is also one of the most geographically concentrated religions of the world. The majority of Hindus are concentrated in two South Asian countries, Nepal and India, where Hindus constitute 80% or more of the population. Small but politically influential diasporic communities of Hindus are found throughout Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, the United States, and Canada.
Key characteristics of Hinduism that set it apart from Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), especially politically, include its polytheistic nature and lack of one single authoritative text; the tremendous variation in its practice across locality and caste; and its frequently informal practice beyond the confines of official institutions such as temples. Hinduism has been compatible with a range of regime types over time in India and Nepal, including empire, monarchy, and democracy. Both India and Nepal are officially secular countries, but the status of secularism in both countries is contested by the forces of Hindu nationalism, a movement that seeks to institutionalize the political, social, and cultural predominance of Hinduism. Religious conversion is expressly prohibited in Nepal; in India, it is increasingly under legislative attack. The politics of caste are an important political aspect of Hinduism in both India and Nepal. While politics in both countries remain dominated by upper castes, important lower-caste political mobilization has appeared in India, but has yet to take hold in Nepal. A better understanding of Hinduism’s political aspects has enormous potential to enhance knowledge of religion and politics more broadly.
John F. McCauley
Social science literature does not identify a direct effect of religion on the occurrence of intrastate conflict. Yet religion as a sociopolitical identity does have several fairly unique features that render religious differences particularly useful to political entrepreneurs in the course of conflict. First, religions often have codified guidelines, typically written, that convey normative behaviors—what one should do to attain salvation, for example. The presence of such guidelines can reinforce the organizational strength of particular groups and underscore the nonnegotiable status of their beliefs, both of which can be useful in the course of conflict. Second, the religious identity includes multiple levels of division that do not exist within other identity types—including interfaith differences, differences between sects within religious traditions, and divisions between secularists and strong religionists. Such divisions create opportunities for outbidding that exacerbate tensions and conflict. Third, religious group membership confers nonmaterial benefits, such as perceived access to salvation, that can motivate behavior in very tangible, this-worldly ways, for example by encouraging fighters to choose martyrdom over negotiated settlements. Finally, religious networks link adherents transnationally in a manner that no other identity type can, creating opportunities to mobilize resources and support from abroad for a conflict within borders.
These features suggest that, whereas religion is no more likely than other types of identity divisions to cause conflict, it can be particularly powerful for political entrepreneurs to wield as a tool in conflict settings. In some cases, conflicts are viewed as religious because the religious labels of competing sides differ, even if the conflict itself has nothing to do with religion. In other cases, conflicts may be described as religious if the content over which adversary sides fight is itself religious in nature; violence over the imposition of Islamic sharia law in a religiously mixed country may be one such example. Even when intrastate conflicts are fought over religious content, however, from the perspective of political scientists the matter is still one of political choice. This underscores the critical role that political entrepreneurs play in the shaping of conflicts as religious. Understanding the power of codified behavioral guidelines, multiple layers of division, non-material payoffs, and transnational networks that religious identity provides, political entrepreneurs can use religion to exploit the (sometimes unrelated) grievances of their supporters and thus escalate conflict where doing so pays political dividends. In this way, scholars recognize that intrastate conflicts with various causal foundations frequently become fights in the name of God.
Lars Tore Flåten
In 1925, the Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was founded. The main aim of the RSS was to make India into a nation state defined according to Hindu cultural and religious values, which in the RSS version reflected a distinct high-caste outlook. Internal enemies, namely Muslims, Christians, and Marxists, had no place in such a state. This ideology goes under the name Hindutva, which can be translated as Hinduness. Due to the large-scale and religiously based violence experienced in the final stages of its freedom struggle, independent India adopted democracy and secularism as its foundational values. Hindu nationalist parties were present, but never influential in the first decades after independence. This circumstance was about to change in the 1980s, as the newly founded Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with strong links to the RSS, decided to mobilize on the Ayodhya issue. According to the BJP, the Ayodhya temple had been demolished by the Muslim ruler, Babur, and replaced with a mosque. The time had come to rebuild the temple.
This campaign catapulted the BJP onto the political scene in India. The strategy, however, was not without its flaws, and the weaknesses connected to the BJP’s Ayodhya campaign summed up the party’s main challenges. It has been difficult for the BJP to promote the existence of a nationwide Hindu identity in heterogeneous India, characterized by religious pluralism, different regional political cultures, and caste divisions. Particularly caste has proved difficult for the BJP, since the party is associated with high-caste values. Moreover, the way in which the BJP has utilized anti-Muslim rhetoric and campaigns has alienated potential alliance partners. The BJP has managed to overcome most of these challenges and was elected to power at the national level in 1998 and then again in 2014. In addition, the party governs many different states. During several national election campaigns, the BJP has actually chosen to background the most contentious issues in order to attract alliance partners. Instead, the party has conveyed its message of Hindu cultural unity in more subtle ways, most prominently through educational reforms. The BJP has also managed to adapt to regional variations and conveys its ideology in different ways throughout India. The landslide victory of Narendra Modi and the BJP in the 2014 elections represents a new phase in the history of the party. With a majority of its own, one could expect that the BJP would implement its Hindu nationalist agenda. For the most part, Modi has kept some degree of distance from Hindutva. However, through a division of labor, it appears that Modi has left the Hindutva agenda to the states governed by the BJP as well to the well-organized and influential Hindu nationalist movement.
Lyn S. Graybill
The civil war was a turning point in the life of the faith community in Sierra Leone, which previously had been politically complacent. With the establishment of the Inter-Religious Council (IRC), Christian and Muslim religious leaders joined together with a unified voice based on shared values to first, mediate the conflict and second, promote reconciliation through the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
The efficacy of faith-based initiatives is attributed to many factors: the vast numbers of religious adherents, a far-reaching infrastructure of churches and mosques, close partnerships with international organizations, untainted reputation of clerics, and sacred texts that promote peace. Reconciliation is a dominant theme in both Christianity and Islam, giving religious leaders a powerful tool in bringing warring sides who share these faith commitments to the peace table, and, also, postconflict in encouraging restorative mechanisms, such as truth commissions that aim at reconciliation among enemies, over more retributive ones, such as courts.
Like the earlier South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (SATRC), which was headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Sierra Leone TRC was headed by a religious leader, Bishop Joseph Humper, then president of the Inter-Religious Council. Like the SATRC, it turned to religious notions of confession and redemption that resonated in a very religious society, where 60% of the population are Muslims and 30% are Christians. It was only partially successful, however, because of the existence of the Special Court for Sierra Leone operating contemporaneously, which was based on a punitive model of justice. Because of confusion about the two institutions’ different mandates, and fear of being prosecuted by the Court, even low-level perpetrators hesitated to testify at the TRC, limiting its ability to reconcile enemies. Unfortunately, the international community prioritizes justice over reconciliation, and is less supportive of restorative approaches that may resonate more deeply with religious people in postconflict societies.
Nathan C. Walker
A society’s political and legal treatment of religion is a distinct indicator of the health of a democracy. Consequently, high levels of political and legal contempt for religion in the United States can be an indicator that partners in American democracy may be going through a divorce. By drawing upon studies that measure voter attitudes and behaviors, as well as research that tracks the levels of social hostilities and violence toward religion, students of democracy see into two of society’s most revealing mirrors: political rhetoric and the nation’s laws. These reflections can unveil powerful questions about the true character of a nation: will democracy rule from a place of contempt for the religious other, or from a state of passive political tolerance, or from a constitutional commitment to actively protect the rights of those with whom we disagree? Theories of political tolerance and psychological studies of contempt prove helpful in examining contemporary levels of religious animosity in politics and law. The Religious Contempt Scale, as introduced in this essay, gauges a society’s willingness to tolerate the religious other. When special attention is given to the frequency and degrees of severity of expressions of contempt, it becomes clear that contempt has political utility: to motivate the intolerant to gain access to power and, in turn, to motivate those who are intolerant of intolerance to remove them.
Jacob R. Neiheisel
Shaped by Marxist understandings of religion as a source of comfort, but not action, numerous scholars have explored whether various aspects of religion can be linked to participatory acts, either in politics or in civic life more generally. Decades of social scientific research on the subject offer no simple lessons regarding the relationship between religion and participation. Some elements or aspects of religion have been demonstrated to drive down levels of civic and political engagement. Although the whole picture is much more complicated, it is accurate to say that private devotionalism and other facets of religious belief that emphasize individual spirituality and a relationship with the divine over taking steps to improve conditions on Earth are going to promote detachment from the civic realm. By contrast, collective aspects of religious belief and practice often track with greater levels of political participation. These collective elements include the creation of religiously based social networks, as well as opportunities to practice civic skills and receive entreaties to political action. At a different level of analysis, government action on such moral issues as abortion and same-sex marriage has served as a spur to the political involvement of religious interests, whereas government regulation of religion has been shown to deter participation in the civic arena by religious organizations and groups. Taken together, the literature on religion and participation suggests that religion can serve as both a spur to civic and political engagement and as a suppressant, depending both on an individual’s approach to his or her faith and on the institutional dynamics that impinge on the political involvement of religious interests in the public square more generally.
After decades-long neglect, a growing body of scholarship is studying religious components of protests. Religion’s role as a facilitator, the religious perspective of protesters, the goals of religious actors as participants, and faith-based outcomes of protests have been examined using quantitative and qualitative methodology. Although it is now a thriving research field, due to recent contributions, incorporating faith-based variables in protest research is a challenging task since religion travels across different levels of analysis; effortlessly merges with thick concepts such as individual and collective identity; and takes different shapes and color when it surfaces in various social contexts across the globe. Therefore, at the religion and protest nexus, there are more questions than answers. Research in the field would improve by investing more on theoretical frameworks and expanding the availability of qualitative and quantitative data.
Religion, and particularly the Catholic Church, was at the center of the emergence and initial mobilization of the pro-life movement in the United States. The movement originated in Catholic opposition to the liberalization of abortion law beginning in the 1950s, and accelerated rapidly after 1973 when abortion was legalized nationwide by the Supreme Court. Protestants began entering the movement in large numbers beginning in the 1980s, which corresponded with a peak in the amount of antiabortion street protest (and violence). All forms of pro-life protest—educational outreach to influence public opinion, political and legal involvement to influence the legal status of abortion, the development of crisis pregnancy centers to persuade individual pregnant women to carry their pregnancies to term, and direct action against abortion providers—have their roots in this formative period of movement mobilization, and all have continued to be important elements of the movement over the last half century. All these forms of protest activity include a religious component. They involve activists of deep religious faith, motivated by religious ideas, using religious principles in arguments about abortion, and depending on the leadership and resources of religious organizations. But the role of religion in the movement is sometimes overstated. Religion has not been the sole source of support for the movement. Pro-life protest has always included activists and organizations that are partially or wholly outside these strands of religious influence. Religion has also been a frequent source of tension and conflict in the movement, in addition to being a source of support. And the relationship between religion and the movement in recent decades does not distinguish it from the underlying partisan political landscape in which it is now firmly rooted.
After years of exceptionally high levels of religious adherence and identity, the latter part of the 20th century saw the start of a trend: increasing numbers of Americans reported they had no religious affiliation when asked by pollsters. From the start of polling on religious beliefs and identity in the mid-20th century, Americans were unlikely to report they had “none” when asked to name their religious identity. National surveys in the 1970s and 1980s found fewer than one-in-ten American adults reported they had no religious affiliation. After decades of reported religious belief levels and religious identity patterns that remained robust, America is experiencing a decline in religiosity in the 21st century. Research in 2016 found that nearly one-quarter of those surveyed identified as “atheist,” “agnostic,” or “nothing in particular,” nearly triple the 9% reporting the same during the General Social Survey in 1992. Those without a religious identification are now the second largest “religious” group in America
What accounts for the observed changes in American’s religious affiliation responses over time? Social researchers have identified more than one possible source of change. One could be changing social forces; a second source of variation might come from changes in which people, how people, and why people answer religious affiliation questions over time; and third, the factors people say were the source of change in their religious affiliation.
The crackdown on Falun Gong by the Chinese Communist Party demonstrates the unintended consequences of the deep penetration of politics into religious affairs in an authoritarian regime. Falun Gong emerged in China in the early 1990s as a state-sanctioned health practice, or qigong. Initially it focused on treating physical diseases and promoting general health, and therefore received recognition from the state, which has granted legal status to only the five institutional religions while relentlessly suppressing secret religious societies. Qigong, however, has contained spiritual elements since its inception. In the mid-1990s, Falun Gong began to reveal and highlight its spiritual teachings. While this differentiation strategy brought it a huge following, it sent alarming signals to the ruling Communist Party. As the state sought to curb its influences, Falun Gong responded with open defiance. In particular, its tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance encouraged the practitioners to launch a “truth clarification” campaign, targeting local political authorities and media outlets. The campaign achieved moderate initial success, but Falun Gong’s persistent and coordinated efforts to demonstrate its “apolitical” nature convinced the state that it was indeed a politically subversive force. Falun Gong’s political defiance culminated in a large, 13-hour sit-in protest near the central government compound in Beijing. Three months later, the state officially banned Falun Gong and mobilized its entire security and propaganda apparatus to eliminate Falun Gong in China.
Religious nationalism, or the fusion of religious and national identities and goals, is an increasingly salient aspect of nationalism. Rather than secular nationalism simply replacing religious identities and allegiances, religious and national identities coexist and even reinforce each other. Such religious nationalism becomes a powerful force in buttressing popular religiosity and attitudes, empowers religious organizations in influencing policy across a wide range of domains, and shapes the patterns of inter- and intra-state violence. The two implications of these findings are that we should invest in better measures and operationalization of religious nationalism and reconsider the logics of state- and nation-building.