Religion and Politics: the influence of religious actors on democratization

Religion is often believed to hinder democratization and democracy. However, little systematic research has been undertaken that examines the influence of religious authorities and organizations on the erosion of authoritarian regimes, on the success of transitions to democracy and on the stability and consolidation of democracy. This project aims at analyzing the role of religious actors in processes of democratization and democratic decline.

Julia Leininger

Mirjam Künkler, PhD, Assistant Professor, Princeton University

2010 - 2013 / Abgeschlossen


I. The multi-faceted role of religious actors in democratisation processes: empirical evidence from five young democracies

This project comparatively investigated the role of religious actors in the democratisation processes of five ‘young’ democracies from the Catholic, Protestant, Christian-Orthodox and Muslim world: West Germany after World War II (1945–1969), Georgia and Ukraine post-1987/9, Mali (post-1987), and Indonesia from 1998. The analysis provides an overview of the roles religious actors played in the erosion of authoritarian rule, the transition to democracy and subsequent democratic consolidation processes, as well as de-democratisation processes. Three paired comparisons, including one in-country comparison, show that the condition which most affected the role of religious actors in all three phases of democratic transitions was the de facto autonomy they enjoyed vis-à-vis the political regime as well as the organisational form these actors took. Their aims, means, and the political significance of their theology were highly dependent on the extent to which they benefitted from de facto autonomy within the state.

II. The role of religious actors in Muslim democracies

This project investigated the role of religious actors in the democratisation processes of the five Muslim democracies Albania, Indonesia, Mali, Senegal, and Turkey.

It aimed at answering the following questions:

  • Did religious actors in these five societies support or impede the erosion of authoritarian power, the transition to a democratic order or the consolidation of democratic politics?

  • Has the extent to which they could politically impact these processes hinged primarily on their legal and financial independence from the state? If not, what were other factors conditioning their influence on processes of (de-)democratisation?

The comparative analysis of five in-depth case studies of international authors provided an overview of the role of religious actors in processes of (de-)democratisation and identify common patterns and factors that have prompted religious actors to support or obstruct these processes.


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