Chapter 3: Religion and Politics
Modernization theorists view organized religion as an impediment to political and economic
development. Many social scientists were convinced that as societies modernize, the role of religion in
politics would diminish, just as it has in the West.
However contrary to those expectations, Third world religions have been resilient, growing political
forces that have withstood the onslaughts of modernization. Many third world nations have experienced
religious resurgence, which has intensified the role of religion in the political arena. For example
religious leaders now use videotapes, radio, internet etc to preach.
Nowhere is this change more apparent than in the Middle East and parts ofAfrica andAsia where
Islamic fundamentalism (Islamism).
Examples of Islamic fundamentalism: Seizure ofAmerican hostages in Iran, Lebanon, and Iraq, the
bombing of U.S embassies in EastAfrica, terrorist assault on U.S air forces and 9/11 attacks.
The Meeting of Church and State
American accept a constitutional separation between the church and the state as the normal state of
affairs. This formal barrier however does not exist in in lots if industrialized and LDCs.
For example in England the Church of England is the official state religion and the monarch serves as
its “supreme governor. Italy's Catholic church was closely linked to the Christian Democratic party
and was the nation's dominant political party for nearly 50 years.After WW2.
Religion is more firmly embedded in many third world cultures, and its impact on politics is
correspondingly more pronounced. Indeed it is so central to traditional values that we ofetn identify
national ore regional cultures by their predominant religions.
Examples included Buddihist culture in China, Hindu culture in India,Catholic culture in LatinAmerica
and Islamic culture in Middle East.
The blending of religion and politics is more apparent in theocratic states (political systems dominated
by religious leaders and institutions. For example : Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Islamist states like
Great Religions of the Third Word
Four of the world's “great religion” predominate in Third World.
1. Catholism, the only religion found extensively in both industrialized democracies and the
developing world. Preeminent in LatinAmerica and Phillipines.
2. Islam, second largest religion found inAsia (pakistan) to middle east and NorthAfrica.
3. Buddhism: EastAsia, SoutheastAsia.
4. Hindusim: India and Nepal. Religion, Modernity and Secularization
Economic modernization does not necessarily reduce religious observance, at least not in the short run.
What about the effects of religion on modernity? Some scholars say that religious institutions may
inhibit development in some respects while encouraging it in others.
For example, all of the great religions have legitmized the state's authority at some point in their
history, a necessary step for state building.As nation's modernize their political systems, religious
authorities or groups may oppose important aspects of change.
The argument that political modernization requires secularization has two bases: one empirical and one
Empirical component notes that as western societies modernized, their political systems almost
invariably become secular. It was anticipated that as third world nations modernized they too would
The normative argument holds that secularization is not only a common trend, but it is desirable
because it increases religious freedom, reduces the likelihood of state persecution of religious
minorities, and permits states to make more rational decisions free of religious bias.
For sure modernization has induced secularization in many nations such as Turkey and Mexico. But
elsewhere it has not altered church-state relation, in fact, modernization frequently has led to religious
backlash when modernization pursued too quickly. For example in Iran where emperors imposed
westernization it only resulted in destablizing society and increased radical islamic revival.
Structural and theological bases of church-state relations
Th extent to which religions influence political attitudes and behaviour vary.
Two factors help define a particular religion's political involvement:
1. Its theological views regarding the relationship between temporal and spiritual matters
2. Degree to which its clergy are hierarchically organized and centrally controlled.
Donald smith distinguishes between two different types of religio-political systems:
1. Organic system: Relatively unorganized as a institution and are therefore have less influence on
country's political leaders. Examples of organic system include buddhism.
2. Church relgio-political systems on the other hands have well organized strutures and have great
influence on leaders. Examples include catholic church and islamic clergy.
Religious Fundamentalism and Islamism
Revivalism:Attempts to revive traditional religious practices and, sometimes, to revive the role of
religion in politics.
Scholars prefer to use revivalism instead of islamic fundamentalists. No expression of religious influence on third world politics has attracted more attention or inspired
more fear then islamic fundamentalism.
Religious Fundamentalism: Atheological doctrine that seeks to preserve a religion's traditional
worldview and to resist any efforts by religious liberals to reform it. It also frequently seeks to revive
the role of religion in private and public life, including dress, lifestyle and politics. Used
interchangeably with “revivalism”.
In the developing world, fundamentalism appeals particularly to people who are disgusted bu the
inequalities and injustice in their country's political and economic systems.
Example: Lebanon's radical Hezbollah grew out of shia's resentment against economically powerful
Radical fundamentalists also tend to be nationalistic or chauvinistic, rejecting “outside” influences that
they feel challenge or pollute their culture and their true faiths. For example islamists view Western
cultures as particularly insidious.
Indeed many analysts argue that the most powerful force behind radical Islamic fundamentalism, even
more than religious faith, has been nationalism and resentment against the Western-backed
Fundamentalists: Radical and Conservative
Any analysis of revivalism must distinguish between radical and conservative fundamenatalism.
Radicals, inspired by a “sacred rage” feel they are conducting a “holy war” against enemies that
threaten to corrupt their fundamental religious values. Indeed, contemporary Islamism first arose from
resistance to 19 / 2oth centurey western intrusion into the Muslim world.
For example Osama bin laden declaring jihad on U.S. (the great satan).
Such radical militancy contrasts the views and behaviour of nonviolent fundamentalism, such as
Hasidic Jews who do not see themselves in such a battle. These nonviolent fundamentalist groups also
wish to protect their religion from other unwanted outside influence. However they do not view
adherents of other religions or nonfundamentalist members of their own faith as mortal enemies.
The Iranian Revolution: Radical Islamism as a reaction to Western-Style Modernization
** What factors have led to the resurging of Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan, Iran and
other parts of the Muslim world?
Westerners view Iran's Islamist regime as the greatest threat to global stability. It is a concern that has
revived of late as Iran seems to be developing a nuclear weapons capability.
The origins of Iranian revolution can be traced the early decades of the 20 century, and the Muslims
clergy's resistance to a government program of secular modernization imposed by the royal family.
Military, political and economic intervention by a series of foreign powers – Czarist Russia, Britain and US turned the country into a “virtual protectorate” and made the ruling Shas (emperors) appear to be
tools of the great powers. Years later, resentment against foreign domination became an important
component of Islamic revolution.
Starting with the modernization reform implemented included unveiling of women, mandatory western
dress and transferring control over various economic, educational and political resources from the
clergy to the state. This “white revolution” expanded women's right, increased literacy, promoted land
reform of islamic institutions to the peasants and increased Iran's GDP.
However the gap between poor and rich increased , widespread government corruption alientaed
population. Because of his close ties to the U. S government many saw the Shah as American
Many devout Muslims objected the secularization of society abd intrusion of western values and
customs. Thus a tension between the government and the mullahs intensified. In 1947 with support of
urban population theAyatollah overthrew the Shah.
Three interrelated developments set the tone for the Islamic revolution.
1. The merger of the country's religious and political leadership. The “islamic republic” was “the
government of God”.
2. Revival of traditional Islamic observances. : Women must be veiled in public.
3. Iran's radical revivalism has embraced an aggressive foreign policy that has supported kindered
Islamist groups abroad ex Lebanon's Hezbollah and Palestine's Hamas – and has been highly
antagonistic toward countries that are perceived as enemies such as Israel and U.S.
Al-Qaeda and Militant Islamism
Origins of terrorist networks, its relations to islamic religious beliefs and its level of support within the