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date: 17 October 2019

Democratic Norms and Religion

Summary and Keywords

In research on religiosity and support for democratic norms, two major debates stand out: The first concerns whether some religious traditions, such as Islam or Orthodox Christianity, are inherently undemocratic, and hence whether supporters of these traditions have antidemocratic orientations. The second debate is about whether religious orientations beyond religious identification foster or hinder support for democratic norms. Both debates may be resolved by conceptualizing both individual religiosity and support for democratic norms as multidimensional orientations. At the individual level, religiosity consists of belief, behavior, and belonging dimensions. Support for democratic norms consist of overt approval of democracy as the ideal system of governing the country and intrinsic support, which refers to an understanding of democracy as being primarily associated with liberal-democratic norms and institutions such as popular sovereignty, political equality, civil rights, and free elections. Religious belief is negatively associated with over support, and religious social behavior is positively associated with overt support. Yet, there is some evidence that the effect of religious social behavior on intrinsic support for democracy may not be positive. Recent scholarship is also interested in identifying the psychological mechanisms through which different religiosity dimensions affect support for democratic norms, as well as establishing the causal effects of religiosity dimensions by experimentally manipulating different facets of religiosity.

Although the multidimensional approach to religiosity provides a general framework that explains the effect of religiosity on support for democratic norms, there is still substantive variation across time and different contexts to be explained. Avenues exist for future research in terms of theorizing and identifying the moderating effects of different factors, most obviously the religious context and the influence of religious elites and social networks.

Keywords: religious belief, religious social behavior, religious belonging, religious denominations, support for democracy, intrinsic support for democracy, democratic norms, piety, religious commitment, democratization, politics and religion

Religion and Support for Democratic Norms: Two Major Debates

The third wave of democratization brought about a lively debate among scholars with regards to the role of religion and religious orientations in democratization. Two major disagreements in the field stand out. The first is with respect to the role of religious traditions in influencing a democratic political culture. Huntington’s famous clash of civilization thesis (aka “the compatibility thesis”) maintained that some religious traditions such as Protestantism have strong pro-democratic elements, whereas Islam, Confucianism, and Eastern Orthodoxy have inherently authoritarian characteristics (Huntington, 1996). Echoing the arguments made by Huntington, Fukuyama (1992) and Kedourie (1992) also contended that Islam fostered antidemocratic attitudes, as democratic norms and institutions such as popular sovereignty, rule of law, or civil society were alien to Muslim political tradition (Kedourie, 1992). These arguments stood in sharp contrast with perspectives emphasizing the role of institutions and structural factors. In one of the most important contributions to the democratization literature, Linz and Stepan (1996) argued that, notwithstanding the role played by the Roman Catholic Church in countries like Poland, Chile, and Brazil in the struggle against authoritarian regimes, religious culture is not a key explanatory factor for democratization.

The implication of the compatibility thesis from the perspective of public opinion studies was whether supporters of some religious traditions had antidemocratic beliefs and values. A second major debate, about the relationship between religion and support for democratic norms, concerns the effects of individual-level religiosity. Whereas seminal works pointed to the fact that religiosity is associated with orientations incompatible with democratic norms, such as political intolerance and extremity (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950; Gibson, 1992; Hunsberger, 1995; Karpov, 2002; Stark, 2001), others viewed it as potentially contributing to the development of civic skills by means of religious social activities (Neiheisel, Djupe, & Sokhey, 2008; Norris & Inglehart, 2004; Putnam, 2000). Based on Putnam’s work on social capital, many authors suggested that religious social activities can have a positive effect on electoral turnout, party membership, and political activism as well as support for democratic norms (Norris, 2002; Norris & Inglehart, 2004; Meyer, Tope, & Price, 2008).

Given the plethora of mixed results and viewpoints regarding the effect of religion on support for democracy, empirical and theoretical scholars alike noted the political ambivalence of religion (Appleby, 2000; Philpott, 2007). The implication of this debate within the context of democratization was clear: the mere process of democratization could foster a return of religion to the public sphere by allowing for religious freedom and encouraging religious political organization and participation. It is thus crucial to know whether allowing for religious freedom and religious participation is a double-edged sword in which democratic regimes encourage antidemocratic values among their citizens.

Viewing religiosity through psychological lenses, current scholarship suggests that a multidimensional conceptualization of both democratic preferences and individual religiosity is necessary to explain the relationship between religion and support for democratic norms (Ben-Nun Bloom, 2013; Ben-Nun Bloom & Arikan, 2012, 2013a, 2013b). Although the literature on the effect of religiosity on different types of orientations related to democracy is extensive and involves religion’s effects on tolerance (Ben-Nun Bloom, Arikan, & Courtemanche, 2015; Carkoglu & Kalaycioglu, 2009; Eisenstein, 2006; Karpov, 2002; Milligan, Andersen, & Brym, 2014; Spierings, 2014, 2018) and political participation and civic engagement (Arikan & Ben-Nun Bloom, 2018; Campbell, 2004; Hoffman & Jamal, 2014; Jamal, 2005; Putnam & Campbell, 2010; Sarkissian, 2012), this article is restricted to the discussion of religion’s relationship to support for democratic norms as citizens’ declaration of general endorsement of democratic form of government and their understanding of democratic regime principles. It first discusses the multidimensionality of support for democratic norms and individual religiosity, and then reviews the empirical findings concerning the major debates.

The Multidimensionality of Support for Democratic Norms

Classic works view support for democratic regime principles as a key requirement for democracy and democratic consolidation. These works distinguish between different dimensions of support for democratic norms: Diffuse or overt support for democracy as a regime on the one hand, and more specific endorsement of particular elements of the democratic system on the other (Easton, 1965; Muller & Jukam, 1977; Norris, 2011). At the very basic level, support for democracy involves “abstract” or “overt” support, that is, citizens’ declaration of general endorsement of the democratic regime and of deeming it desirable for their country (see Inglehart, 2003; Klingemann, 1999; Norris, 2011; Welzel, 2007). This type of support is usually captured with survey questions tapping the extent to which citizens prefer a democratic political system and reject authoritarian alternatives such as having a strong leader, or having military rule. Other common measures of overt support capture the extent to which individuals believe democracy is a well-functioning system by asking them to indicate their level of support with statements such as “Democracies are not good at maintaining order;” “In democracy, the economic system runs badly;” “Democracies are indecisive and have too much squabbling.”

While overt support for democracy is often viewed as critical for the thriving of democratic culture (Almond & Verba, 1963; Dalton, 2004; Diamond, 1999; Easton, 1975; Inglehart, 2003), it does not necessarily manifest a genuine support for the democratic creed (Schedler & Sarsfield, 2007). Rather, citizens may equate democracy to an efficient regime, and may therefore utter support for the democratic regime in the hope that it will bring about beneficial outcomes, such as lower crime, state aid, or economic prosperity. In other words, support for democracy may be “instrumental” in nature, rather than being “intrinsic” (Bratton & Mattes, 2001). In addition, some researchers suspect that “paying lip service to democracy” may have become common among citizens as democracy has become a universal aspiration (Dalton, 2004; Inglehart, 2003). Respondents may provide favorable assessments of democracy due to social desirability and without even knowing its real content in terms of procedures and values (Inglehart, 2003; Klingemann, 1999; Norris, 2011; Schedler & Sarsfield, 2007). Thus, overt support for democracy does not fully capture to what extent citizens endorse liberal democratic ideals or whether they think of democracy as being essentially instrumental in terms of delivering material benefits and/or law and order.

Therefore, scholars identified another dimension support: Intrinsic support for democracy is substantive support for principles and normative values upon which democracy is founded. It consists of procedural understanding of democracy—a conception of democracy as being primarily associated with liberal-democratic norms and institutions, rejection of authoritarian interpretations such as religious leaders interpreting laws and military taking over, and non-instrumental understanding of democracy whereby support is not be contingent on beneficial outcomes such as economic growth or social order (Schedler & Sarsfield, 2007). Accordingly, measures of intrinsic support for democracy often include both a positive dimension, the endorsement of democratic procedures and norms such as free elections, civil rights, gender equality and freedom of speech as well as a negative dimension, by which citizens reject authoritarian interpretations as well as instrumental outcomes that are not integral to liberal democracy, such as economic prosperity, relative security, lower crime levels and redistribution of wealth, and by that accept that their endorsement of the regime is not necessarily contingent on its performance (Norris, 2011; Schedler & Sarsfield, 2007).

International surveys such as the World Values Survey (WVS) or ArabBarometer have been increasingly including measures of intrinsic support for democracy. Still, to date, most research on religion and support for democratic norms has largely considered overt support for democracy, with some recent works paying attention to procedural and non-instrumental understandings of democracy as well. Thus, most works discussed in this article focus on the relationship between religiosity and overt support for democracy.

Individual religiosity is also often conceptualized as being multidimensional. Therefore, “The Multidimensionality of Individual Religiosity” considers the different dimensions of religiosity and briefly discusses their relevance to democratic norms.

The Multidimensionality of Individual Religiosity

The literature commonly views religiosity as a multidimensional phenomenon that consists of belief, behavior, and a sense of belonging, dubbed the 3Bs approach (Guth et al., 1988; Layman, 2000; Smidt, Kellstedt, & Guth 2009; Wald & Smidt, 1993; Wald & Wilcox, 2006). First, the belonging dimension refers to identification with a particular organized denomination and/or a religious movement or trends within a denomination. Belonging could be conceptualized and measured as congregational (Djupe & Gilbert, 2006, 2009) or sectarian (Carkoglu, 2005) affiliation, as well as affiliation with a major religious tradition, such as Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, or Islam (Ben-Nun Bloom et al., 2015). Much of the research on the relationship between religion and democratic norms focused on this latter dimension and tested whether belonging to certain religious traditions is associated with higher or lower levels of support for democracy. Some works examined the link between religious affiliation and support for democratic political system at the aggregate level (Al-Braizat, 2002; Norris, 2011; Norris & Inglehart, 2004), whereas the majority of works looked at the extent to which belonging to certain religious traditions was associated with the likelihood of supporting democratic norms.

Even if they identify with the same religious tradition, individuals may differ in their intensity of religious beliefs and their level of engagement with the religious community. At the same time, individuals belonging to different traditions can otherwise resemble each other in their strength of belief and frequency of practice. Although the lion’s share of the debate on religion and democratic norms focused on the effect of religious belonging on support for democracy, the strength of religious belief and variation in religious social behavior are two other dimensions of individual religiosity linked to democratic support. In fact, some authors argued that understanding the effects of these two dimensions is crucial to resolve the major debate concerning the “political ambivalence of religion” in support for democratic norms.

The belief dimension of religiosity encompasses the set of fundamental beliefs, values, and symbols associated with an understanding of the divine and humanity’s relationship to it, and may entail belief in God, heaven and hell, life after death, or the tendency among people to characterize themselves as religious (Layman, 2000). Religious belief is associated with traditional values and authoritarian orientations (Schwartz & Huismans, 1995; Wald & Smidt, 1993) that are seen to be incompatible with democratic expectations such as open-mindedness and tolerance for diverse worldviews (Ben-Nun Bloom & Arikan, 2012, 2013a, 2013b; Canetti-Nisim, 2004; Canetti-Nisim & Beit-Hallahmi, 2007). The behavior component consists of private practice such as prayer or reading of the holy texts, and social practice, which involves participation in religious networks and communities and attendance at places of worship. Most works in the literature focus on the social aspect of religious behavior, which influences political attitudes and behavior via fostering in-group attachment that increases the salience of group interests and the development of civic skills (Djupe & Gilbert, 2009; Jelen & Wilcox, 2002; Norris, 2002; Putnam, 2000) that have consequences for various political attitudes including attitudes toward democracy.

The Compatibility Hypothesis

From the perspective of public opinion research, the compatibility hypothesis implied that belonging to a specific religious tradition was crucial in predicting support for democracy at the individual level (Anderson, 2004). The centrality of the debate coupled with the increasing availability of cross-national survey data, and most notably WVSs led various researchers to test whether members of some religious traditions hold attitudes and orientations that are hostile to democracy. Although a number of works focused on the compatibility of Eastern Orthodoxy (Anderson, 2004; Hoffman, 2004; Radu, 1998) and evangelical identity (Shah, 2004), a large number of works focused on Islam’s compatibility with democracy (Al-Braizat, 2002; Bratton, 2003; Ciftci, 2011, 2013; Gu & Bomhoff, 2012; Hoffman, 2004; Jamal & Tessler, 2008, 2012; Rose, 2002; Spierings, 2014; Tessler, 2002a, 2002b). Most of the studies testing the compatibility hypothesis use similar measures of overt support for democracy, as well as comparable religiosity indicators, but rely on different analytical strategies. In many of these studies, the focus is on Islam perhaps “in response to the observation that the Muslim-dominated regions of the world have proved particularly resistant to democratization” (Anderson, 2004:, p. 201).

To examine Huntington’s seminal Clash of Civilizations hypothesis, a body of research relied on the comparison of Muslim identifiers to non-Muslims (usually Catholics and Eastern Orthodox) in select regions or countries. These studies showed no significant differences in mean levels of overt support for democracy between Muslims and non-Muslims (Bratton, 2003; Gu & Bomhoff, 2012; Rose, 2002), although with regards to some indicators, Muslims were found to be more supportive of democracy as an ideal, compared to Eastern Orthodox identifiers (Hoffman, 2004).

A second line of works relied exclusively on Muslim contexts and tested whether more religious Muslims are less supportive of democracy than less religious ones. These studies used different dimensions of religiosity as independent variables, along with additional control variables including demographics, social capital variables (interpersonal and political trust, associational involvement), attitudes toward gender equality, and education, to predict overt support for democracy in selected Muslim-majority countries. In line with some of the previous findings, religious belief (Al-Braizat, 2002; Ciftci, 2011; Spierings, 2014; Tessler, 2002b) and religious social behavior (Jamal, 2006; Tessler, 2002a) were not found to have consistent effects on support for democracy among Muslim identifiers, although some differences across contexts emerged (see “Religious Context”).

Outside of the 3Bs framework, researchers also considered another indicator, political Islamism as potentially influencing support for democracy among Muslim identifiers. Political Islamism is measured by the extent to which survey respondents want public officials to be pious and/or approve the influence of clergy over the decisions of government. Whereas some scholars found no consistent effects of this variable on support for democracy (Spierings, 2014; Tessler, 2002a, 2002b), Ciftci (2011, 2013) found it to be associated with lower levels of overt support for democracy and higher levels of support for sharia. Still, Ciftci argues that the substantive effect of political Islamism is much smaller than variables such as political trust, perceptions of gender equality, and education as well as satisfaction with one’s personal financial situation. In addition, he suggests that supporters of democracy “are able to find the middle ground between Islamic values and democracy” (Ciftci, 2013, p. 790; also see Norris, 2011). These assertions are supported by Jamal (2006), who suggests that those who embrace political Islamism do not necessarily reject democratic institutions. In fact, both supporters and opponents of political Islam seem to have similar levels of openness to diverse political ideas and racial tolerance, and support for equal job opportunities for women, suggesting that elements of democratic political culture are also shared by political Islamists as well (Jamal & Tessler, 2008; Tessler, Jamal, & Robbins, 2012).

Although empirical tests of the compatibility hypothesis with regards to other religious traditions has been relatively limited, in his analysis of Catholic and Protestant identifiers in Chile and Argentina, Patterson (2004) found that support for democracy was slightly higher among devout Catholics and that Catholics generally supported democracy more than Protestants. Still, as was the case with Muslim respondents, it was factors other than religious affiliation, such as education and socioeconomic status, that consistently predicted support for democracy (Rose, 2002; Tessler, 2002a, 2002b; Tezcur & Azadarmaki, 2008). In even more comprehensive analyses that use a larger set of countries, no difference between identifiers of different religious traditions in terms of overt support for democracy emerged (Al-Braizat, 2002; Fish, 2011; Norris & Inglehart, 2004). Thus empirical analysis generally found insufficient support for the compatibility thesis, at least when examining overt support for democracy by different religious groups.

Whereas these results join Linz and Stepan’s (1996) and Halliday’s (1996) in suggesting that religious traditions, and particularly Islam, are not consequential for democracy, there is some evidence that intrinsic support may differ across identifiers of religious traditions. For example, in his study of democratic orientations in sub-Saharan African countries, Bratton (2003) found Muslims to be more likely to associate democracy with instrumental goals such as equality and justice, compared to non-Muslims. Such instrumental support for democracy among Muslim populations was also confirmed by Tessler et al. (2012), with half or more of survey respondents in Arab/Muslim countries stating that economic characteristics such as redistribution are most essential in defining democracy. Again, in Arab nations, personal piety measured with the frequency of Quran reading was associated with greater support for instrumental democracy (Doherty & Mecellem, 2012).

Figure 1 shows mean levels of overt and intrinsic support for democracy among members of different religious traditions. Data come from Wave 6 of the WVSs collected between 2010 and 2014 from Algeria, Azerbaijan, Argentina, Australia, Armenia, Brazil, Belarus, Chile, China, Taiwan, Colombia, Cyprus, Ecuador, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Iraq, Japan, Kazakhstan, Jordan, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. Major religious traditions are coded following the guidelines in Arikan and Ben-Nun Bloom (2018). Overt support for democracy is an additive index combining the extent to which respondents embrace democracy as an ideal and reject authoritarian alternatives (namely, having a strong leader, having the army rule, and having experts make decisions). Intrinsic understanding of democracy is a summative index that captures the extent to which respondents endorse a procedural understanding of democracy (i.e., associate democracy with democratic procedures such as free elections, political equality, and civil rights) while also rejecting authoritarian decision-making (religious rule and military leadership) and dissociating democracy from instrumental benefits such as redistribution and state aid. All measures were recoded to vary between 0 and 1. Note that 95% confidence intervals are very small and thus almost invisible due to large number of observations for groups with the exception of Jewish identifiers.

As can be seen from Figure 1, mean levels of overt support for democracy are highest among Protestant identifiers. The difference in mean levels of support among Protestants and other religious groups is statistically significant. Protestants are followed by Buddhist and Jewish identifiers in terms of their support for democracy. Although members of both traditions in this data set come from a large number of countries, the number of Jewish respondents is very small (n = 178), so these results should be interpreted with care. Catholic and evangelical identifiers have almost identical levels of overt support and are followed by Orthodox, Muslim, and Hindu respondents, respectively. The mean differences between these groups are all statistically different from zero.

Democratic Norms and ReligionClick to view larger

Figure 1. Religious belonging and support for democratic norms.

Data source: World Values Surveys, Wave 6. All indices were coded to vary between 0 and 1.

Findings presented in Figure 1 also show that there are substantive differences in levels of overt and intrinsic support for democracy across members of all religious traditions. Members of all religious traditions included in the data set have significantly less intrinsic support for democracy compared to overt support. Mirroring the findings for overt support, Protestants as well as Jewish respondents have the highest level of intrinsic support. These groups are followed by Catholic, evangelical, and Buddhist respondents. The lowest levels of intrinsic support are observed among Orthodox, Hindu, and Muslim identifiers. Thus, at the aggregate level, there is some evidence that support for democracy is lowest among Muslim and Orthodox respondents as well as the Hindu. It should be noted that 88% of Hindu respondents in the data set come from India, and therefore these findings are largely representative of the Hindus living in India.

It is not obvious from such aggregate analysis whether the differences across traditions can be explained by theology itself or whether they are attributable to differing levels of religious belief and religious social behavior among the identifiers of different traditions. For example, at the aggregate, Muslims have the highest levels of religious belief, and Protestants have the highest levels of religious social behavior. A more detailed analysis of the relationships between religiosity dimensions is necessary to understand how religious identification influences support for democratic norms across members of different religious traditions. Belonging to a certain religious tradition, such as Islam or Christian Orthodoxy, also entangles a variety of relevant contextual elements. For instance, for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which the Muslim respondents in the data set mainly come from being Muslim equals being a religious majority member as well. Thus, there are many factors that may explain the variance in levels of support among members of different religious traditions that could be dependent on contextual factors.

To test the compatibility thesis, researchers generally considered whether religious affiliation or related aspects such as political Islamism were associated with antidemocratic regime preferences. More recent studies also consider other dimensions of individual religiosity, such as the strength of religious beliefs or the frequency of religious involvement (Ben-Nun Bloom & Arikan, 2012, 2013a, 2013b; Canetti-Nisim, 2004; Meyer, Tope, & Price, 2008). In fact, these studies suggest that such an approach could provide useful insights into the compatibility debate as well as helping to settle the debate concerning the ambivalence of religion.

The Ambivalence of Religion

The second major debate in the literature concerns the arguments that religion can be a source of undemocratic values but also foster the development of democratic norms and practices (Appleby, 2000; Philpott, 2007). Indeed, an extensive literature presents conflicting arguments and empirical findings with regard to the link between religion and democratic norms. Starting with Adorno et al. (1950), some scholars argued that religion is related to undemocratic orientations such as prejudice and political intolerance (Altemeyer, 1996; Gibson, 1992; Hunsberger, 1995; Karpov, 2002) and that religious beliefs and values clash with democratic values such as skepticism, individuality, openness, and diversity (Ben-Nun Bloom, Zemach, & Arian, 2011; Roccas & Schwartz, 1997; Saroglou, Delpierre, & Dernelle, 2004; Schwartz & Huismans, 1995). However, others stress the importance of religious social activities for the development of civic skills (Neiheisel et al., 2008; Norris & Inglehart, 2004; Putnam, 2000), which can have a positive effect on electoral turnout, party membership, and involvement in other civic organizations (Norris, 2002; Norris & Inglehart, 2004), as well as support for democracy (Meyer et al., 2008).

A way of reconciling conflicting findings lies in considering religiosity as a multidimensional phenomenon and examining the differential effects of belief and social behavior dimensions beyond religious identification (Ben-Nun Bloom, 2013; Ben-Nun Bloom, & Arikan, 2012, 2013a, 2013b). Theological, psychological, and sociological perspectives on religion, as well as empirical works, all suggest that established religious traditions share common values and norms regardless of religious orthodoxy (Saroglou et al., 2004; Schwartz & Huismans, 1995). First, almost all major religions promote a belief in the transcendence of material concerns and require submission to transcendental and other authority; emphasize the need for preserving prevailing social norms and structure; and encourage the acceptance of the social order (Jost et al., 2014; Roccas & Schwartz, 1997; Schwartz & Huismans, 1995). Second, established religions also reduce uncertainty and anxiety by providing explanations for or answers to fundamental questions such as those concerning life, death, and injustice, thereby implying that religious belief is also related to security values (Jost et al., 2014; Norris & Inglehart, 2004). Thus, regardless of belonging to a specific religious denomination, religious belief is associated with tradition, conformity, security, and certainty values that are associated with opposition to change, desire for order, and certainty, which are often incompatible with democratic principles such as free speech and equality and tolerance for diverse viewpoints or lifestyle choices (Ben-Nun Bloom & Arikan, 2013a, 2013b). At the group level, however, religion serves as a social institution that promotes group interests and mobilizes the community, encourages discussion and deliberation (Djupe & Calfano, 2012; Wood & Bloch, 1995), thereby contributing to the development of civic skills and trust, which positively influence support for democratic norms. Indeed, using data from the fourth wave of the WVS for 45 democratic countries, Ben-Nun Bloom and Arikan (2012) showed that religious belief is associated with lower levels of overt support for democracy, whereas religious social behavior is positively associated with it. In addition, when the effects of these two dimensions were considered, religious belonging was generally found to be inconsequential for support for democracy, which is in line with studies that did not find much difference in democratic support among members of religious traditions.

The multidimensional approach provides an understanding of the ambivalence of religion and also explains some of the conflicting findings in the literature. Some studies combine belief and behavior components in a single religiosity measure. Because the substantive effects of these two dimensions are similar but in opposite directions, this practice often leads researchers to come up with null effects for religiosity. In addition, researchers consider either religious belief or religious social behavior in their analysis, yet label them under the broad title of religiosity, which leads to conflicting conclusions. This approach also attempts to explain the psychological mechanisms underlying the effect of religiosity dimensions, which is discussed in the next section.

Identifying the Mechanisms and Testing for Causal Effects

Recent scholarship also considered identifying the micro-mechanisms underlying the differential effects of religious belief and religious social behavior on overt support for democracy. As discussed above the negative effect of religious belief on support for democracy is suggested to be traditional, authoritarian, and security-seeking orientations. The positive effect of religious social behavior, on the other hand, is hypothesized to be mediated by social capital promoted by religious organizations and networks.

Canetti-Nisim (2004) and Canetti-Nisim and Beit-Hallahmi (2007) tested the assumption that the effect of religious belief on support for democracy is mediated by authoritarian orientations and found this to be the case. Whereas these works were restricted to Jewish respondents in Israel and to a single dimension of religiosity, Ben-Nun Bloom and Arikan (2013a) relied on a much larger data set from the WVS to show that the negative effect of religious belief on democratic attitudes is to a large extent mediated by traditional and security values, whereas the effect of religious social behavior is mediated by the generation of social capital in the form of political interest and trust in institutions. Using two different data sets from the United States, Eisenstein and Clark (2017) also showed that the effect of religious social behavior works through increasing trust, whereas the negative effect of religious belief is mediated by dogmatism.

These comparative studies confirm that different dimensions of religiosity differentially affect support for democratic norms via different psychological mechanisms. Still, they rely on survey data and correlational studies in which causal relationships between variables cannot be reliably tested. Therefore, some recent studies turned to experimental methods to establish the causal effect of religious belief and religious social behavior on support for democracy. For example, Ben-Nun Bloom and Arikan (2013b) used a questions-as-treatment priming framework to test the causal effect of religious belief and religious social behavior on overt support for democracy among Turkish Muslims and Israeli Jews. In the religious belief condition, participants were first presented with a battery of religious belief questions, then immediately asked about the items related to the support for democracy; whereas in the religious social behavior condition, participants answered questions on their religious social practices first, then on their support for democracy. In line with the findings of correlational studies, priming religious belief led to a lower degree of overt support for democracy, whereas the religious social behavior prime led to an increase in overt support for democracy when compared to the no-prime group (Ben-Nun Bloom & Arikan, 2013b), thus providing evidence for the causal effect of religiosity dimensions to support for democracy. Still, more research is needed to better understand the effects of different religiosity dimensions on both overt and intrinsic support for democracy. In fact, mechanisms underlying the relationship between religiosity and different types of democratic support may be different, as discussed in “Adding to the Complexity: Mechanisms Underlying Overt Versus Intrinsic Support for Democracy.”

Adding to the Complexity: Mechanisms Underlying Overt Versus Intrinsic Support for Democracy

Although religious social behavior increases overt support for democracy, it may not necessarily contribute to a more liberal, procedural understanding of democracy. Participants of religious social networks may be more supportive of democracy if they believe that greater representation would serve their group interests (Ben-Nun Bloom & Arikan, 2013a). If the devouts’ democratic support is merely instrumentally oriented toward group benefits, then one can expect religious social behavior to increase overt support, but not necessarily intrinsic support. Therefore, the proposed psychological mechanisms mediating the effect of religious social behavior could be different for intrinsic support.

To exemplify the potential complexity of the mechanisms underlying the effect of different dimensions of religiosity on different elements of democratic support, Table 1 shows results from multilevel path analysis for overt support for democracy (Model 1a), as well as for intrinsic support for democracy (Model 1b). The intrinsic support variable is further decomposed into procedural support (Model 1c), non-instrumental support (Model 1d), and rejection of authoritarian alternatives (Model 1e). Data come from the fifth wave of the WVS. The table presents the decomposition of the effect of religiosity on support for democracy variables for total, indirect, and direct effects, where total effects include the direct effect of religiosity and its indirect effects via the specified mediators. Religious belief is an additive index of two items tapping whether the respondent considers him- or herself as a religious person and the importance of God in the respondent’s life. Religious social behavior is an additive index of the frequency of attending religious services and whether the respondent is a member of a religious organization. Rational (vs. traditional) values indicate greater preference for openness to change and individual autonomy, and self-expression (vs. survival) values refer to greater orientation for individual choice as opposed to traditional hierarchies. Both variables are measured following Inglehart and Welzel (2005). Confidence in institutions is an additive index of confidence in the parliament, civil services, government, and political parties, and interest in politics is a four-category item. All measures are recoded to vary between 0 and 1.

Table 1. Total, Direct, and Indirect Effects of Religiosity on Democratic Support

Model 1a

Model 1b

Model 1c

Model 1d

Model 1e

Overt support

Intrinsic support (composite scale)

Procedural support

Non-instrumental support

Rejection of authoritarian alternatives

Total effect of religious belief

–0.037 (0.009)**

–0.037 (0.005)**

–0.035 (0.005)**

–0.009 (0.003)**

–0.035 (0.006)**

Total indirect effect of religious belief

–0.044 (0.009)**

–0.029 (0.005)**

–0.027 (0.005)**

–0.006 (0.002)**

–0.029 (0.006)**

Specific indirect effects via:

Rational vs. traditional values

–0.018 (0.005)**

–0.010 (0.003)**

–0.009 (0.003)**

0.001 (0.001)

–0.013 (0.004)**

Self-expression vs. survival values

–0.025 (0.006)**

–0.019 (0.004)**

–0.018 (0.003)**

–0.006 (0.001)**

–0.015 (0.003)**

Direct effect of religious belief

0.007 (0.007)

–0.008 (0.003)*

–0.008 (0.003) *

–0.003 (0.003)

–0.007 (0.005)

Total effect of religious social behavior

0.018 (0.007)**

–0.005 (0.004)

–0.003 (0.003)

0.009 (0.003)**

–0.017 (0.006)**

Total indirect effect of religious social behavior

0.004 (0.002)*

0.000 (0.001)

–0.000 (0.001)

0.000 (0.001)

–0.001 (0.001)

Specific indirect effects via:

Confidence in institutions

0.001 (0.001)*

–0.002 (0.001)**

–0.002 (0.001)**

0.000 (0.000)

–0.003 (0.001)**

Interest in politics

0.002 (0.002)

0.002 (0.001)*

0.002 (0.001)*

0.001 (0.000)

0.002 (0.001)*

Direct effect of religious social behavior

0.014 (0.007)*

–0.005 (0.003)

–0.002 (0.003)

0.009 (0.003)**

–0.016 (0.005)**

Model fit indices:

χ‎2

272.200

227.536

227.46

222.962

209.154

TLI

0.946

0.988

0.967

0.972

0.979

CFI

0.982

0.965

0.989

0.991

0.936

RMSEA

0.032

0.031

0.031

0.031

0.031

AIC

9,869.615

–27,670.571

–3,0645.180

–4,1125.414

–9,198.471

BIC

10,130.197

–27,414.906

–3,0389.515

–4,0869.749

–8,945.075

Number Level-1 Units/Level-2 Units

3,3053/36

2,6214/31

2,8205/33

2,8205/33

2,6214/31

Table entries are unstandardized parameter estimates for the total, direct, and indirect effects of religiosity variables and their standard errors in parenthesis.

(*) p < 0.05,

(**) p < 0.01 (2-tailed).

The total effect of religious belief on overt support for democracy is negative and statistically significant, whereas the total effect of social religious behavior is positive and statistically significant (Model 1a), replicating past findings (Ben-Nun Bloom & Arikan, 2012, 2013a). As expected, the negative effect of religious belief on overt support for democracy is to a large extent mediated by traditional and survival values, whereas the positive effect is at least partially mediated by social capital in the form of institutional confidence (Model 1a). Although religious belief retains its negative effect on all indicators of intrinsic support, religious social behavior holds no statistically significant effect on this variable (Model 1b). To further examine this finding, the composite scale of intrinsic support was decomposed into its three components (Models 1c–1e). Results show that although religious social behavior is associated with a greater non-instrumental understanding of democracy (Model 1d), it also decreases the rejection of authoritarian interpretations of democracy and does not significantly influence support for liberal regime principles (Model 1c). The total effect of religious social behavior on non-instrumental support is positive and statistically significant, but neither confidence in institutions nor interest in politics emerge as statistically significant predictors of this relationship (Model 1d). These preliminary results suggest that the relationship between religion and intrinsic support for democracy is highly complex and depends on both the dimension of religiosity and the dimension of democratic support being studied.

Conclusions and Future Directions

The greater availability of large-scale surveys made it possible to put some crucial arguments to test, and experimental studies provided further evidence concerning the causal effects of religiosity dimensions. There are still a number of important research questions that future studies could consider. In addition to identifying how religiosity dimensions relate to a deeper, intrinsic understanding of democracy and the mechanisms underlying these effects, other potentially important areas include the moderating influence of religious context and religious elites (but see Djupe, 2015, for tolerance), and understanding the influence of religiosity on ambivalence in democratic attitudes (but see Ben-Nun Bloom & Arikan, 2012; Ben-Nun Bloom, Zemach, & Arian, 2011).

Religious Context

Large-n studies have been successful in establishing some general relationships between religiosity dimensions and support for democracy; however, there is still meaningful variation to be explained across different contexts. For example, religious social behavior is found to be positively related to overt support for democracy in cross-national samples (Ben-Nun Bloom & Arikan, 2012, 2013a). Yet there is evidence that this relationship may vary across contexts. For example, Tezcur and Azadarmaki (2008) and Tezcur, Azadarmaki, Bahar, and Nayebi (2012) find religious social behavior to be positively correlated with a religious-political worldview that favors clerical rule, state enforcement of Islamic norms, and rejection of democracy among survey respondents in Iran. The authors argue that the fusing of religion and state in Iran creates an environment where the more devout and the more religiously involved are more satisfied with the existing regime, and thus are less supportive of democracy. Politicization of Friday prayers in the Iranian context means religious social behavior is actually an indicator of support for the Islamic regime.

Thus, the extent to which individual religiosity is compatible with support for democracy may be dependent on religious context, and particularly the institutional and informal arrangements between religion and the state. In authoritarian regimes where religion is suppressed by the state, religious groups, and thus those with higher levels of religious belief and religious social behavior, may desire democracy because it would provide avenues for their representation (Spierings, 2014). To the contrary, if religion is allied with the authoritarian regime, greater democracy would constitute a threat to the political status of the devout. Accordingly, we may expect a negative relationship between individual religiosity indicators and support for democracy in such contexts. For example, Anderson (2004) notes that, from the 1930s through the 1960s, authoritarian regimes in Latin America protected the institutional interests of the Catholic Church, which provided little incentive for the religious elites to mobilize their followers against oppression and demand greater democratization. In line with this logic, Spierings (2014) shows that political Islamism is associated with greater support for democracy in Egypt and Morocco, where the authoritarian regimes prohibited and suppressed Islamic parties. In contrast, in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, where Islam and authoritarianism were fused, political Islamism is negatively associated with support for democracy, as in the case of Iran (Tezcur & Azdaramaki, 2008).

Existing findings concerning the moderating influence of religious context mostly considered overt support for democracy. Yet, in authoritarian regimes where political authorities suppress religious freedoms, more religious respondents may be more likely to develop a procedural understanding over instrumental aspects of democracy because free and fair elections, civil liberties, and political rights would bring about greater representation of the devouts’ interests. More systematic tests of this hypothesis could be made by utilizing large-n, cross-national data sets and merging them with indicators of religion–state relationships, such as government regulation of religion.

Another potentially interesting moderator may be the nature of religious competition in a country. Leaders of majority religions are opposed to religious freedom and diversity when their hegemony is threatened by competing religious groups (Gill, 2008), and this could extend to opposition to democratic norms and procedures (also see Kunkler & Leininger, 2009). Therefore, members of majority religious traditions, especially in settings where democracy is not consolidated, may be more opposed to democracy as a result of religious elite influence. To the contrary, minority religious groups demand greater levels of religious freedoms (Gill, 2008), and therefore minority religious groups and their members may be more supportive of democratic norms. Thus, the effect of especially religious social behavior may be substantively moderated by religious competition.

Public demand for democracy is especially important in authoritarian regimes and in regimes under transition, as it may affect whether an open democratic society will develop or whether a setback into a more authoritarian mode will occur (Merkel & Croissant, 2004; Rose & Shin, 2001). It is therefore important to understand how religious context moderates the effects of religious belief, behavior, and belonging on support for democracy. Thus, future studies could adopt more complex comparative designs, taking into account individual-level facets of religiosity, elements of the religious and political context, and their interactions, with conscious choices of the studied facets of democracy.

Religious Elites and Networks

Mass opinion is largely shaped by exposure to elite messages (Zaller, 1992). In addition to religion–state arrangements, religious elite messages may be another significant moderator of the relationship between religiosity and support for democracy. The teachings and beliefs of religious traditions are generally open to different interpretations, and their influence on political attitudes and behavior is often conditional on how a religion’s leadership interprets these teachings and beliefs (Philpott, 2007). Religious organizations and leaders may adopt different sets of principles that may inspire or depress political activity or support or oppose democracy at different times or in different contexts (Philpott, 2007; also see D’Espinay 1969; Gill, 1998). The clergy may thus shape the followers’ orientations to democracy by communicating messages regarding the desirable relationship between religious authorities and the state, as well as the obligations of the devout toward the political authority (e.g., Philpott, 2007). Thus, the effect of religious social behavior on support for democracy may be dependent on the informational environment within which the individual is located.

Religious elites may act to intensify the conflict between religion and democracy—either because they perceive a value conflict between the two belief systems, or for strategic reasons—and as a consequence their followers may become more likely to oppose democracy. Alternatively, religious elites may try to eliminate the conflict by stressing that democracy and religion go hand in hand, and by that contribute to democratic support of their adherents. State-level political arrangements such as state regulation of religion or religious competition may also affect clergy’s support for democracy. Whether the effect of religiosity on democratic attitudes is positive or negative, then, may be affected by elite messages regarding the conflict between religion and democracy.

Some recent studies have successfully used experimental manipulations of religious messages and tested their effects on candidate choice, policy preferences, and political participation (Djupe & Calfano, 2013; McClendon and & Riedl, 2015), as well as tolerance and treatment of minorities in the society (Djupe, Burge, & Calfano, 2016). Future studies could apply similar approaches to the study of democratic norms in order to test the moderating role of communication from religious elites (see, for example, Djupe, 2015).

Ambivalence in Democratic Attitudes

Religious belief and religious social behavior may also hold differential effects on the ambivalence around democratic norms. As a belief system, religiosity induces a value conflict with democratic norms, which results in value-driven ambivalence (Ben-Nun Bloom & Arikan, 2012). As a social institution, religion supplies abundant opportunities for political discussion (Djupe & Gilbert, 2006), yet this dialogue typically occurs between politically like-minded people, making the religious social network relatively attitudinally homogeneous (Mutz & Mondak, 2006). The literature demonstrates that as social networks increase in homogeneity, network members may be more confident and less ambivalent about their attitudes (Mutz, 2002; Huckfeldt, Mendez, & Osborn, 2004). We may therefore expect individuals who are members of homogeneous religious networks to be less ambivalent toward democratic norms.

Of course, not all religious communities are totally homogenous given that religious constituencies vastly differ and that clergy often disagree and voice their disagreement from the pulpit (e.g., Djupe & Calfano, 2012). Thus, another contribution could be to take into account the role of religious social network heterogeneity on ambivalence in democratic attitudes. Individuals tend to assess the correctness of their attitudes by comparing them to those held by the people around them (Festinger, 1954). Attitudinal heterogeneity in their social network decreases their confidence in their correctness and augments their ambivalence by decreasing the confidence that they have in the accuracy of their attitudes. Individuals therefore become more motivated to re-examine and change their attitudes to conform to those of others in their network. Indeed, research demonstrates that network heterogeneity reduces attitude stability, decreases resistance to persuasion (Visser & Mirabile, 2004), increases political ambivalence, and raises consumption of external information such as news (Mutz, 2002; Huckfeldt et al., 2004). On the other hand, as social networks increase in homogeneity, individuals may be more confident and less ambivalent about their attitudes. Thus examining the relationships between religious network heterogeneity and ambivalence in democratic norms could be another avenue for future research.

Although the differential effect of religious belief and social religious behavior on ambivalence in democratic support was statistically examined using heteroskedastic models (Ben-Nun Bloom & Arikan, 2012), such tests have the disadvantage of inferring ambivalence from variance in attitude rather than measuring it directly. Future studies could use experimental methodology to directly test the causal effects of religiosity dimensions on ambivalence in democratic attitudes. Such studies could also use direct measures of ambivalence by directly asking respondents to state their ambivalence toward an issue and their difficulty in constructing the appraisal, and by counting and weighting negative and positive thoughts on democracy (e.g., Lavine, 2001).

Variance Within Religious Traditions

More nuanced work still needs to be done concerning the effect of religious belonging on support for democratic norms. Cross-national research usually conceptualizes and operationalizes this dimension as identification with major religious traditions, and ignores diverse viewpoints within each tradition, mostly due to limitations of existing data sets. Yet there are highly diverse worldviews within each religious tradition, and we can expect the way social religious behavior affects attitudes toward democracy to depend on the congregation and sect that the individual belongs to. For example, there is a great deal of variation in the social composition and political tendencies of Protestant congregations (e.g., Wald, Owen, & Hill, 1988). Similarly, Muslim sects such as Sunnis and Alevis may differ in the emphasis they place on democratic deliberation and tolerance (Sarigil & Karakoc, 2017). Thus, the interesting variance within major religious traditions cannot be taken into account in most comparative studies, which requires a different approach to collecting data on religious affiliation.

Variance can be found not just within religious traditions, at the sect or cult level, but also at the atomistic level of the congregation or the religious social network (e.g., Djupe & Gilbert, 2009; Jelen, 1992; Wald et al., 1988). Religious communities differ in the information and messages they receive from their religious leader and discussion partners, in their informal practices and values, and in their level of group diversity and heterogeneity, each a potential determinant of democratic support. Case studies of congregations can unpack the mechanisms responsible for overtime fluctuations in democratic support, and comparative works at the congregational level can pinpoint the informational and normative paths to democratic norms.

To sum, future works should revisit the relevant aspects of religiosity with regards to the study of democratic support, offering even more nuanced models to capture the complex relationships between different dimensions of religiosity and democratic norms. Still, the existing body of work has already moved away from the simplistic view that considered religion as the enemy of all things democratic.

Further Reading

Anderson, J. (2004). Does God matter, and if so, whose God? Religion and democratization. Democratization, 11(4), 197–217.Find this resource:

Ben-Nun Bloom, P., & Arikan, G. (2012). A two-edged sword: The differential effect of religious belief and religious social context on attitudes towards democracy. Political Behavior, 34(2), 249–276.Find this resource:

Ben-Nun Bloom, P., & Arikan, G. (2013a). Religion and support for democracy: A cross-national test of the mediating mechanisms. British Journal of Political Science, 43(2), 375–397.Find this resource:

Ben-Nun Bloom, P., & Arikan, G. (2013b). Priming religious belief and religious social behavior affects support for democracy. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 25(3), 368–382.Find this resource:

Eistenstein, M. E. (2006). Rethinking the relationship between religion and political tolerance in the US. Political Behavior, 28(4), 327–348.Find this resource:

Fish, S. M. (2011). Are Muslims distinctive? A look at the evidence. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Norris, P. (2013). Muslim support for secular democracy. In L. Z. Rahim (Ed.), Muslim secular democracy: Voices from within (pp. 113–140). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.Find this resource:

Philpott, D. (2007). Explaining the political ambivalence of religion. American Political Science Review, 101(3), 505–525.Find this resource:

Tessler, M. (2002). Do Islamic orientations influence attitudes toward democracy in the Arab world? Evidence from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Algeria. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 43(3–5), 229–249.Find this resource:

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