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Religious Frames: Falun Gong in China  

Junpeng Li

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.

Article

Religious Regulation in Muslim States  

Andrew Bramsen and Zoe Vermeer

Muslim majority states regulate religion at much higher levels on average than non-Muslim states. There are two main explanations for this. First, Muslim states are on average much less religiously pluralistic than non-Muslim states, which tends to result in less tolerant attitudes toward minority religions. Second, and more importantly, religion and politics are much more intertwined in the foundations of Islam than is the case with most other major religious traditions. Because there is this traditional connection in Islam, government regulation of religion is seen as legitimate and even as a positive good. Regulation in Muslim states takes four basic forms. The first is a country’s approach to having an official religion, with Muslim states being much more likely to have an official religion than non-Muslim states. The second involves the degree to which government supports Islam. Muslim states support Islam in a variety of ways ranging from paying the salaries of imams to implementing sharia law and enforcing public morality. The third form deals with the restrictions on religion in general. This occurs in a variety of ways, ranging from repressing forms of Islam that deviate from the government-preferred form of Islam to limiting political manifestations of Islam that might challenge the ruling elite to imposing restrictions on worship practices and proselytizing. Finally, religious discrimination is a form of regulation that imposes different restrictions on minority religions than it does on Islam. For example, some states outlaw the proselytizing of Muslims while allowing the proselytizing of non-Muslims, or restrict the building of minority worship places while granting permits for the building of mosques. The level and nature of regulations vary widely across the Islamic world, and these variations have consequences for democracy, with Muslim states that have lower levels of regulation tending to have more democratic regimes. The two most democratic countries (Senegal and Tunisia) in the Islamic world both have high percentages of Muslim citizens and strong connections between Islamic leaders and the government but have successfully limited discrimination against minority religions, thereby providing a potential model for other Muslim states.

Article

Religious Regulation in Poland  

Ewa A. Golebiowska and Silviya Gancheva

It is a truism to say that most Poles are Catholic. Yet, there is also a large number of other churches and religious organizations that are currently registered with the Polish state, although they are very small in the number of adherents they boast. In comparison with other churches and religious organizations, the Catholic Church is a uniquely important social and political actor today and has played an important role in Poland’s over millennium-long history. A brief review of the history of the Catholic Church in Polish society and politics helps illustrate how the Catholic Church has come to play the role it plays in present-day Poland. At present, its relationship to the Polish state is formally outlined in the Constitution, several statutes concerning religion, the country’s criminal code, and an international agreement with the Vatican known as the concordat. Three issues—religious education in public schools, the relationship between the Church and state finances, and the Church’s openness to new religious movements—illustrate how the Catholic Church and state in Poland interact in practice. More informally, religious expression in the country’s public square provides further insight into the relationship between church and state in Poland.

Article

Religious Regulation: The Regulation of All Religion in a Country  

Jonathan Fox

Countries can regulate both the majority religion and minority religions. Although most countries do both, the motivations and dynamics of these two types of regulation are distinct. The regulation, restriction, or control by a government of all religion in a country, including the majority religion, can take multiple forms. These include regulating (1) religion’s role in politics, (2) religious institutions and clergy, (3) religious practices, and (4) other aspects of religion. At least one form of religious regulation is engaged in by 95.5% of governments, and religious regulation is becoming more common over time. Regulating, restricting, and controlling religion is the norm worldwide regardless of world region, government type, and majority religion. Multiple motivations exist for regulating, restricting, and controlling majority religions. (1) Some countries have secular or anti-religious national ideologies. (2) Some countries support religion, but countries that support a religion often also want to influence and control that religion. In fact, control is a nearly inevitable consequence of support. (3) Politicians often fear religion’s potential political power and seek to keep it in check. (4) Autocratic governments often seek to restrict any aspect of civil culture they cannot control, and this includes religion. On the other hand, regulation is costly. It requires resources that can be used elsewhere, so regulating religion represents a decision to use resources despite these costs.

Article

Secularism and Politics  

Jeremiah J. Castle and Patrick L. Schoettmer

An increasingly important area within the subfield of religion and politics is the study of secularism, an ideology that seeks to limit the influence of religion in public and private life. Secularism can refer to conditions at the societal level (public secularism) or at the individual level (private secularism). In addition, it can take the form of simply an absence of religion (passive secularism), or it can include an affirmative acceptance of secular ideals (active secularism). Comparative studies highlight the complex ways in which secularism both influences and is influenced by politics. In Western Europe, the long-standing practice of established and/or preferred religions has led to a lack of vitality in the religious marketplace, resulting in high levels of private secularism. In Russia and other Eastern European nations, the end of communism and political motivations are leading to both decreasing public and private secularism. In the Middle East, secularization throughout the 20th century seems to have led to a fundamentalist backlash. Similarly, in the United States, the increasing association between religion and political conservatism seems to be driving increasing levels of private secularism. Together, these lessons suggest that both political factors and local context are key to understanding the relationship between secularism and politics.

Article

Terrorism and Religion: An Overview  

Peter Henne

The terrorist attacks of 9/11—in which al-Qaeda operatives flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and attempted to crash an additional plane into the Capitol Building in Washington, DC—highlighted for many the role religion could play in terrorism. Al-Qaeda, an Islamist terrorist network striving to undermine U.S. influence in Muslim countries, combined a global religious ideology with brutal violence in a way that caught the attention of policymakers and scholars. Since then, academics have been attempting to analyze and understand how religion and terrorism intersect. Scholars have debated whether religion is a distinctive aspect of contemporary terrorism or is secondary in importance to other factors, such as nationalism and rational calculations. Some scholars take a critical approach to the topic, pointing to normative concerns with the study of religion and terrorism, and disparate other scholars have analyzed how religion and terrorism relate to a vast array of topics from public opinion to political repression. After surveying the literature, it is difficult to question the distinctiveness of religious terrorism. Yet it also appears that terrorism does not arise inevitably from religious beliefs, nor is it unique to Islam. Moreover, religion seems to be connected to the transnational nature of contemporary terrorism. One particularly useful approach moving forward may be to draw on the relational approach to contentious politics that scholars such as Charles Tilly have formulated. This article’s approaches religious terrorism as violence or the threat of violence motivated by religion that intends to effect political change. This article will thus focus on how acts of violence that fall within the above definition relate to “religious imperatives,” and what the effects of these connections are. Charles Tilly’s approach to political violence, which conceptualizes terrorism as one manifestation of the range of political violence types, extends from brawls and riots to full-scale civil war. As a result, insights into how religion affects related forms of political violence can inform our understanding of religion and terrorism. Terrorism can also be understood as a nonstate phenomenon. Although states can commit terroristic acts, terrorism as a distinct tactic involves nonstate actors. State behavior—particularly religious repression—can have significant impact on the incidence and severity of religious terrorism in a country, however.

Article

Authority, Authoritarianism, and Religion  

Ryan P. Burge

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.

Article

Civil War and Religion: Salafi-Jihadist Groups  

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.

Article

Electoral Choice and Religion: An Overview  

Christopher D. Raymond

A wide body of research has studied the impact of religious cleavages on electoral choice in a range of democracies. This research focuses on two types of religious cleavages. One type of religious cleavage is the confessional cleavage, which is a measure of the center-periphery cleavages. This type of cleavage is measured in surveys using indicators of respondents’ religious identities (e.g., Christian vs. Muslim [when one needs to distinguish between voters of different faiths], Catholic vs. Protestant [when one needs to distinguish between different denominations within the same broader faith], and Presbyterian vs. Methodist [when one needs to distinguish between different traditions]). The other type of religious cleavage is the clerical cleavage, which divides religious from secular (i.e., nonreligious) voters. Clerical cleavages are measured using either a measure of religious behavior (e.g., individuals’ frequency of attendance of religious services or frequency of prayer) or beliefs (e.g., whether and the degree to which one believes in the tenets associated with one’s religious identity). Where such cleavages are present, previous research shows that religious groups tend to vote for parties appealing to their votes, while religious voters behave differently from secular voters. A wide body of research also examines whether and how the effects of religious cleavages change over time. One line of research argues that the effects of religious cleavages on electoral choices change in response to changes in society and among individuals. For instance, as individuals and society as a whole become more secular, some research argues that religious cleavages impact electoral choices less than more religious societies where religion matters more to individuals. Additionally, as voters become more cognitively sophisticated, voters do not need to rely on religious cleavages, resulting in weaker religious effects on voting behavior. Another line of research argues that the effects of religious cleavages change in response to changes in the messages articulated by political parties: When parties compete on issues relevant to religious voters and maintain organizational ties to religious groups in society, the effects of religious cleavages on voting behavior will be strong; when parties deemphasize religious issues and reduce formal ties to religious organizations, the effects of religious cleavages will weaken. While research suggests both types of changes impact the effects of religious cleavages on electoral choices, more research is needed to determine the extent to which ties between parties and religious voters have weakened, especially after accounting for the impact of religious and parental socialization on the behavior of seculars, as well as the degree to which material satisfaction increases the salience of religious issues for religious voters.

Article

Terrorism and Religion: Christian Fundamentalism  

Douglas Pratt

Terrorism is a multifaceted phenomenon. It is by no means the sole province of religious fundamentalism although it can be (and sometimes is) the end result of an ideological trajectory identified as “fundamentalist.” Following a “higher dictate” or a “divine command” may obviate otherwise normal attributions of culpability. Thus, Christian extremism can issue in terrorism, where an otherwise negatively valued destructive act can be transformed and rendered acceptable, even laudable. Such acts may qualify as terrorist, at least in some respects. An analysis of the ideology of religious fundamentalism reveals that an extreme perspective can originate as simply a passive viewpoint, manifest as an assertive identity orientation, and emerge to be a fanatically imposed program of aggressive behaviors and actions. Christian fundamentalism is a specific variant of religious fundamentalism and, indeed, it is from within modern Christian history that the term “fundamentalism” arose. Its use today is much broader, denoting a generic phenomenon with wide application, even beyond religion. The motif of exclusivism, which is inherent to fundamentalist ideologies and values, is an important dimension to be taken account of. It is critical to understanding the specifics of Christian extremism and terrorism. Similarly, the issue of theological justification for Christian extremism and violence, together with biblical motifs and references for violence and extremism, are important dimensions for critical study. Christian extremism rests on select biblical models and references, such as that of Phineas (Num. 25) and proffers self-justifying theological support. In short, Christian fundamentalism manifests an ideological sequence of factors whose cumulative impact once (or if) the final factor of enacting violence is reached, can be devastating. There is historical evidence for this as well as contemporary examples. The ideological and behavioral trajectory of 21st-century fundamentalist Christians can—and in some situations does—result in deadly terrorist behavior. And as with any religion, such ideology leading to terrorism is necessarily extreme: a deviance from the norm of religious values and behaviors.