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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

Civil War and Religion: Turkey  

Gülay Türkmen

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.

Article

Party Systems in Africa  

Matthias Basedau

Political party systems are an important element of political systems in Africa and elsewhere. They form the central intermediate institution between the general population and the government. Party systems represent and aggregate diverse political views and group interests, and they form coalitions that then form governments with potentially important consequences of democracy and political stability. Unlike the case in the period directly after independence, African party systems have been overwhelmingly multiparty since the 1990s. As a result, the literature has grown significantly, although most works focus on political parties rather than party systems. Many efforts have been devoted to classification, referring to the legal context as well as, more specifically, the number of relevant parties, the levels of institutionalization, and, less often, the degree of ideological or other polarization. While levels of institutionalization and ideological differences are generally not pronounced, more than half of African party systems have been one-party dominant, of which most are authoritarian. In contrast, two-party and pluralist-party systems, which make up approximately one half of all multiparty systems, are generally more democratic. Besides determining classifications, most analytical work focuses on the determinants of African party systems using quantitative and qualitative as well as macro- and micro-level methodologies. Three determinants are debated: first, ethnicity, which has been cited as the main social cleavage behind African party systems; however, while ethnicity matters, its effects vary and are limited; second, political institutions, especially electoral systems for legislative elections, which only partly explain fragmentation or other features; third, the performance of political parties and rationalist approaches. Scholars largely agree that all of these elements need to be taken into account. While certain functions of party systems may facilitate democratization and political stability or other outcomes, little empirical work exists on the consequences of party systems. Some evidence suggests that highly institutionalized, moderately fragmented, and polarized systems promote democracy. Future research faces many challenges, in particular the development of integrated theory and more fine-grained data, as well as an increased focus on the consequences of party systems.

Article

Political Culture of East Asia  

Jie Lu

East Asia has been defined as a cultural sphere characterized by the lasting influence of Confucianism on its political and socioeconomic lives. Academic interest in the political culture of East Asia has been mainly shaped by the great diversity in this region’s economic and political landscapes. The systematic differences between Confucianism and its Western philosophical counterparts in prescribing how to organize societies and manage state–society relationships are central to understanding the uniqueness of this region’s political culture. The features of East Asian political culture cast some significant influence over the dynamics of political practice and development in the region, including but not limited to how East Asians assess their political regimes, conceptualize democracy, and participate in politics. Increasing access to high-quality regional barometer surveys, as well as expanding global survey projects, has empowered students of comparative politics to more effectively examine the political culture of East Asia and test the so-called “Asian values thesis” in a much broader context. Yet, among academics, there is a lack of agreement on what constitutes East Asia. This, along with discrepancies between empirical instruments and corresponding theoretical constructs and insufficient research designs tailored to various versions of the “Asian values thesis,” has prevented more fruitful dialogues among scholars. Considering such issues in future research could contribute to more effective accumulation of knowledge and yield a more nuanced and dynamic understanding of the political culture of East Asia.

Article

Religious Establishment as a Subject of Political Science  

Michael Driessen

Recent scholarly attention to religious establishment can be understood as a response to the crisis of secularization theory and the apparent return of religion to global politics. As a category, religious establishment represents a concrete instance of the religious touching the political, which political scientists can systematically measure and analyze to qualify the nature of religion’s return to global politics. Theoretical advances in the conceptualization of religious establishment as a combination of various policies of government regulation and favoritism of religion, in addition to the creation of cross-national databases to measure these policies, has led scholars to rediscover and categorize a broad range of patterns of religious establishment across the globe. Furthermore, these advances in conceptualization and data collection have enabled scholars to produce new political science research on the relationship between religious establishment and patterns of national religious life; cross-national levels of democracy; and the probability of political violence. Several hidden threads bind much of this scholarship together, including implicit assumptions made about normative debates on the meaning of religious liberty, as well as historical patterns of state formation. By explicitly recognizing these assumptions and linking them to future research agendas, political science scholarship on religious establishment is well placed to advance debates on the contemporary role of religion in global politics.

Article

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

Youth Politics in Africa  

Ransford Edward Van Gyampo and Nana Akua Anyidoho

The youth in Africa have been an important political force and performed a wide range of roles in the political field as voters, activists, party members, members of parliament, ministers, party “foot soldiers,” and apparatchiks. Although political parties, governments, and other political leaders often exploit young people’s political activity, their participation in both local and national level politics has been significant. In the academic literature and policy documents, youth are portrayed, on the one hand, as “the hope for the future” and, on the other, as a disadvantaged and vulnerable group. However, the spread of social media has created an alternative political space for young people. Active participation of young people in politics through social media channels suggests that they do not lack interest in politics, but that the political systems in Africa marginalize and exclude them from political dialogue, participation, decision-making, and policy implementation. The solution to the problem of the exclusion of young people from mainstream politics would involve encouraging their participation in constitutional politics and their greater interest and involvement in alternative sites, goals, and forms of youth political activism in contemporary Africa.