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Secularism in Political Philosophy  

Miklos Zala

In the previous centuries, religion had been losing its prominent role in society, but its relationship to the modern democratic state is still among the most fundamental questions of political philosophy. Secularism is commonly described with label of “the separation of Church and state,” but the idea of the state disconnectedness from religion is a much more complex a phenomenon than this term suggests. A secular state must “manage” the relationship between religion and state institutions in a way that makes religion both subject to specific disabilities and singling out for special treatment. Modern secularism has several different faces: Political secularism, economic secularism, educational secularism, ethical secularism, scientific secularism, and religious criticism are all different modes of secularism. Political secularism is the key mode among these, because it is a precondition of the pursuit of the other modes. Political secularism has three essential elements: politics, religion, and their separation. Consequently, different conceptions of secularism will provide different and rival versions of the core concept, political secularism, depending on how they define politics, religion, and separation. Secularism can refer to different levels of the state: to its ends (a theocracy is the exact opposite of a secular state in this regard); its institutions (the connectedness/disconnectedness of the state’s institutions with that of the Church); its laws/public policies (the state’s regulation of religion and religious activities); its source of legitimacy (what is the final source of the legitimacy of the state); the justification of its public policies/laws (what justification is given to state laws/public policies); the level of power and jurisdiction (whether the state is the only sovereign on its territory or sovereignty is shared with the Church); and its symbolic dimension (whether the state symbolically supports any religious groups). The function of political secularism is to prevent at least four different kinds of problems: It must protect the religious freedom of believers on its territory, and religion must be protected from politics, but the state must be also protected from religion. In addition, there is a possible problem on the symbolic level, with the state’s official endorsement of religion. Political secularism must also satisfy important normative principles. The most important of these are freedom of conscience and the principle of state neutrality. To satisfy these principles/normative requirements, the secular state must manage religion in a way that it keeps a principled distance on the aforementioned levels, but it must also protect and accommodate religion so it does not suffer unfair disadvantages. The upshot is that a secular state will be incompatible with either full religious establishment and the radical separation of Church and state—regimes that satisfy political secularism will take place somewhere between these two poles.

Article

Religion in 21st-Century Political Philosophy  

Sune Lægaard

Discussions of religion in political philosophy concern normative questions such as whether religious reasons can be appealed to in political justification, whether the state can support the church, how the state should regulate religious symbols in public space, and how freedom of religion and religious discrimination should be understood. Debates about religion in political philosophy can be separated into two different main framings. One framing represents the issues in terms of a relation between different spheres, such as religion and politics. Another framing represents the issues in terms of the regulation of specific acts and activities, such as observing religious beliefs by wearing religious dress. All these issues, however framed, raise questions about what counts as religion and why it is normatively relevant. However, religion can denote quite different things which are normatively relevant for different reasons in different respects.

Article

Church, State, and Political Culture in Orthodox Christianity  

Victor Roudometof

Conventional views assume a systematic intertwining between the Orthodox Church and the state, which makes Orthodox countries culturally hostile to modernity. These views have been shaped by a long history of antagonistic relationships between Western and Eastern European states and fail to grasp important long-term trends within the Orthodox religious landscape. The political culture in Orthodox countries has undergone several changes across the centuries. Under the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire, complementarity provided the blueprint for church-state relations. In later centuries, this model was modified to suit the Ottoman and Russian empires. Modernization also prompted Orthodox states to create state churches. Church-state separation was further pursued by communist and colonial regimes and was sometimes accompanied by the active persecution of clergy and the faithful. The political culture of modern Orthodox countries was decisively shaped by the nationalization of the faith, spurred by various national revivals. In the 19th century, Orthodox Christianity became a nationalized religion, whereby strong associations were established between newly constructed churches in Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania and these countries’ respective nations. This version of Orthodoxy was exported into the New World through communities of East European immigrants. The communist takeover of Eastern Europe further strengthened administrative fragmentation. After 1989–1990, the fragmentation of the USSR allowed for a more open expression of the model of national religion. Orthodoxy was revitalized but also served as a cornerstone for Russian, Ukrainian, and Estonian national identities, leading to regional ecclesiastical disputes. Current institutional dilemmas have resulted from these long-term processes.

Article

Religious Nationalism and Religious Influence  

Anna Grzymala-Busse

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.

Article

Protest and Religion: Christianity in the People’s Republic of China  

Yu Tao

The relationship between religion and protest has been thoroughly discussed in various academic disciplines of social sciences, but there is far from consensus on the topic. Scholars differ significantly in their opinions on how religious values and doctrines shape the mechanisms which link protest and religion, and on how interaction between religious groups, the state, and other secular and religious groups may increase or reduce the likelihood of protests. Contemporary China provides an ideal setting in which to further advance scholarly understanding of roles that religion plays in protest, thanks to its richness, diversity, and complexity of religion, protest, and their relationship. In contemporary China, due to the inherent, profound, and possibly deliberate ambiguities within the state’s legal and regulatory arrangements on religious affairs, the boundaries between government-sanctioned churches and “underground” churches are often blurred. Many Christianity-related protests directly respond to government crackdowns, which are aimed not only at those congregations and groups that are normally considered as “underground,” “unofficial,” or “independent,” but also at churches that have long been tolerated or even officially recognized by the state. Further, while many Christianity-related protests are closely associated with the clash of ideologies in contemporary China, the specific causes of protests differ significantly among Catholic and Protestant churches, and Christian-inspired groups. The ideological incompatibility between the ruling Communist Party and the Catholic Church in China is epitomized by their struggle for authority and influence over the Chinese Catholic community. Until the provisional agreement signed between Beijing and the Vatican in September 2018, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Holy See had been competing fiercely for the authority to approve the ordination of new bishops, with such confrontations triggering numerous protests among Chinese Catholics. Unlike the Catholic Church, many of the Protestant churches that have emerged in the post-Mao era—including most “house” churches that do not affiliate with the state-sanctioned church—have no direct link with the transnational denominations which were active in China before the communist takeover in 1949 and are operated solely by Chinese citizens. However, while many Chinese Protestants display affection toward China and a sense of responsibility for improving their country, some influential Protestant church leaders have turned their progressive theology into social activism since the turn of the 21st century, leading to various forms of protests against the authoritarian policies and politics in contemporary China. Ideological and theological conflicts between different religions or religious schools may also trigger the Chinese state’s suppression of certain religious groups and activities, which often in turn cause protests. In particular, the Communist Party tends to impose extremely harsh repercussions on religious groups that are accused by mainstream Christianity of being “heterodoxies,” like the Shouters and the Disciples. These religious groups are often labelled as “evil cults” and their leaders and members often face legal action or even criminal charges. The protests organized by these religious groups have not only targeted the government but also the mainstream Christian churches that criticize them from a theological point of view. Given the profound ideological and political incompatibility of the CCP and various Christian groups, it is unlikely that Christianity can replicate the close collaborations that Buddhism and Daoism have developed with the CCP since the early 1980s.

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 in the United States  

Barbara A. McGraw and James T. Richardson

Although the United States Constitution presumably was designed to avoid “regulation” of religion, there is an interplay between religious individuals and private organizations, on the one hand, and the state, on the other hand, which has a regulatory effect on religion in some areas of public life. The First Amendment’s “Religious Clauses” prohibit an establishment of religion and preserve the right to free exercise of religion. An important area of contention and development in legislation and Supreme Court jurisprudence involves free exercise accommodations or exemptions to laws and rules that generally apply to everyone. These are particularly at issue in the workplace, in correctional institutions, and in the military. The latter two give rise to establishment issues, which have been resolved in favor of free exercise, as government support of religion has been held to be necessary to preserve the free exercise rights of inmates and service personnel. The enactment of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) have led to a much greater deference to religious rights, resulting in accommodations that would not have been required under preexisting legislation and judicial interpretation. Another such area involves religious organizations themselves, in particular issues regarding tax-exempt status, land use, and faith-based initiatives. A provision in the tax code known as the Johnson Amendment, which restrains religious (and other tax-exempt organizations) from certain political activities, has been challenged recently as a limitation on free speech, however without success so far. Issues involving local government limitations on religious organizations’ land use through zoning restrictions are now being addressed more favorably for religious organizations through the land-use provisions of RLUIPA, although not without controversy. Faith-based initiatives have promoted religious organizations, or faith-based organizations (FBOs), as important government partners, which are eligible to receive public funds for the delivery of social services. Since the late 20th century, there has been a gradual, but significant shift toward greater respect for individuals’ and groups’ religious rights, especially reflected in recent legislation and Supreme Court decisions. Such trends suggest that, although religion has come into conflict with legal-policy developments in other areas, such as those involving gay marriage and contraception coverage, the right to practice one’s religion and participate in public endeavors alongside nonreligious individuals and groups, is likely to continue to expand for the foreseeable future.