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.
Dominant narratives and theories developed at the turn of the 21st century to account for the links between state formation and civil wars in Africa converged around two main ideas. First was the contention that the increase in civil wars across the continent—like that in many parts of the globe, including South Asia and Central Europe—was linked to state failure or decay. Violent conflict thus came to be seen as the expression of the weakness, disintegration, and collapse of political institutions in the postcolonial world. Second, guerrilla movements, once viewed as the ideological armed wings of Cold War contenders, then came to be seen as roving bandits interested in plundering the spoils left by decaying states, and their motives as primarily, if not only, economic or personal, rather than political. However, recent research has challenged the reductionism that underlay such accounts by looking into the day-to-day politics of civil war, thus moving beyond the search for the motives that bring rebels and rebel movements to wage war against the established order. Drawing on this literature, this article argues that violent conflict is part and parcel of historical processes of state formation. Thus, in order to understand how stable political institutions can be built in the aftermath of civil war, it is essential to study the institutions that regulate political life during conflict. This implies a need not only to look at how (and if) state institutions survive once war has broken out, but also to take into account the institutions put in place in areas beyond the control of the state.