Religion and the State: Europe

views updated May 11 2018

Religion and the State: Europe

In order to discuss religion and the state, the demarcation between the two must be clear, which leads to the postulation of distinct and potentially conflicting purposes. For most of the world's cultures at most times, a separation of political and religious goals was simply unimaginable. In social systems such as ancient Egypt's and Japan's, where the supreme leader was accorded the status of a deity, the fusion of the religious and the political was seamless. Obedience to the divine and to the ruler could not meaningfully be distinguished, and a heavenly mandate alone determined who should command. Likewise, in urbanized polities such as the classical Greek polis or the Roman Republic, performance of one's public duties included a clearly religious dimension, and priestly offices were civil in origin and nature. When Socrates (469399 b.c.e.) was tried and convicted by an Athenian jury in 399 b.c.e. on the charge of "not recognizing the gods that the city recognizes," this was an overtly political crime inasmuch as disrespect to the local deities meant undermining the traditional arrangements that characterized Athenian civil order. To "invent new gods," as Socrates was further accused of doing, violated the shared bases of citizenship.

The historical division between religion and politics that leads to the problem of their proper ordering and relation emerges only in coincidence with the phenomenon of divine revelation, and hence only with the so-called Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Religions that rest on a direct relationship between individual human beings and a deity effectively circumvent the monopoly of spiritual authority claimed by the state and its authorized priestly agents. Hence God's revelation may contradict or contravene political commands, generating a conflict that requires resolution. One solution to the dilemma is for the state to adopt some form of tolerance for the revelation claimed by members of a religious group. An alternative is to engage in widespread persecution and repression of religious communities that assert the precedence of God's word over earthly legal command. Another alternative might be the complete co-opting of the religion by the state, which then claims divine right.

Rome and Revelation.

Rome, during its history as an imperial power, adopted all three strategies in relation to revealed religion, depending on circumstance. In general, when Rome conquered a territory, it stipulated that the new provincials sacrifice to the approved Roman deities in addition to their own godsa relatively unproblematic request to pantheist or pluralistic religions. In the case of Judaism, however, this approach was unacceptable. The Jews had a long history of living and thriving within non-Jewish civilizations in both the Eastern and Western worlds, while nonetheless maintaining their own religious and cultural identity. Rome accommodated the Jews by tolerating non-worship of its cult provided that the unbelievers were prepared to pray to their own God for the sake of the Roman imperium. Although the Roman establishment was by no means fond of the beliefs and rites of Judaism, the religion's antiquity and venerability earned its adherents the respect and forbearance of authorities.

By contrast, the relation between Christianity and the Roman state was considerably more fraught. The early Christianity of Roman antiquity is commonly imagined to be a persecuted religion. This statement requires qualification, however. Although persecution of Christians occurred prior to the Christianization of the Roman Empire, it was seldom conducted on a systematic basis coordinated by imperial authorities (the Great Persecution of 303312 was exceptional in this regard). Rather, persecution of Christians happened in a sporadic and localized manner, and was sometimes even discouraged by imperial officials who sympathized with persons accused of holding Christian beliefs. Perhaps the most troublesome aspect of Roman persecutions was the nature of the charge: merely to be Christian, rather than to commit some definite offense, was sufficient to be prosecuted for a capital crime. This harshness stemmed from the very odd character of Christian belief when judged by pantheistic Roman standards: it was universalistic and exclusivist. That is, Christians claimed the validity of their faith for all people at all times and in all places and were unwilling to accommodate other deities or the public rites associated with the Roman cults. Indeed, Roman society regarded Christianity to be atheistic in the sense that its adherents refused to "pay cult to the gods."

The landscape changed dramatically during the fourth century, as Christianity moved rapidly from a proscribed faith to an officially protected and subsidized sect. In the wake of Emperor Constantine's extension of support, the Christian church became an institutionalized wing of the Roman government and, with the exception of the reign of Julian the Apostate, at least nominal membership within the Christian community was expected of imperial magistrates. In turn, the emperor was transformed into the acknowledged head of the visible church (a doctrine known as Caesaropapism). This meant that the emperor enjoyed broad responsibilities for ensuring the unity of the faith and directing imperial resources toward essentially religious ends. A synthesis of state and religion resulted from the Christianization of Rome.

Yet the public privileging of the Christian religion did not lead to a state-sanctioned imposition of strict orthodoxy on the lands under the control of the Roman Empire. Beyond the myriad practical problems involved with eliminating paganism and heretical Christian movements, Christianity's universalistic and exclusivist elements were tempered by biblical teachings about charity, patience, nonviolence, and the like. Jesus had advocated preaching and example as the appropriate techniques for disseminating his message. The employment of Church-endorsed state compulsion in order to enforce Christian conformity fit uncomfortably with scriptural lessons that advocated personal free choice and commended turning the other cheek in response to one's enemies. Thus, at the end of the fourth century, St. Augustine of Hippo (453426) grappled with the issue of whether he should call upon the armies of the Roman state to suppress heresy. Although Augustine ultimately embraced persecution and intolerance as the only practicable solution, he did so only as a last resort, after nearly a decade of promoting less extreme measures. In his initial view, at least, the role of the state should be strictly limited to the protection of peaceful persons from religiously motivated attacks, a function essentially consistent with publicly approved toleration.

The Islamic Caliphate.

The relationship between religion and the state in the lands that came under Islamic control during the spread of the Muslim faith charted a somewhat different, although not entirely unfamiliar, path. Following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, his successors (caliphs) took up the mantle both of the pure word of God contained in the Koran and of the creation of a common Arab civilization. Although the actual power of the caliphs declined during the eighth and ninth centuries, the ideal of a single imperial office maintaining the unity of religion and civilization remained strong throughout the Middle Ages.

The caliphate was not precisely a religious office in the sense of having a priestly status; although the caliph was understood to be a "shadow of Allah on earth," his ordained function was primarily a military one: he was to protect the faithful and spread the words recorded by the Prophet by means of conquest and conversion. Moreover, once shari'a (Islamic law) was compiled in the ninth and tenth centuries, the caliph and other Muslim rulers were deemed to be subject to it, just like any other member of the faithful community (umma ). Strictly speaking, neither the Koran nor shari'a dictated or legitimated any political system whatsoever. If every Muslim were to follow the teachings of the Koran and the dictates of religious law, then no political authority would be necessary. Indeed, some medieval Islamic authors promoted a doctrine that modern scholars have labeled anarchism.

Muslim government was also relatively mild in its treatment of those who subscribed to the other Abrahamic religions. In the Muslim-dominated Iberian Peninsula and in parts of the Middle East where Christian and Jewish communities existed, the caliphs and their successors extended the status of protected persons to believers. Protection came at a cost: special taxes were due to Muslim rulers, and adherents to other confessions did not enjoy equal legal rights. But recognition that Jews and Christians prayed to the same God as Muslims, even if their doctrines were misguided, yielded a climate of relative tolerance. This was to remain the case through the long period of the Ottoman Empire.

Christian Europe: The Middle Ages.

The collapse of the Roman Empire in the West left the Christian church as the major source of trans-European political, cultural, and social unity, and thus Christianity learned to persevere without a meaningful state to depend upon. Indeed, the institutional church, with its authority increasingly centralized in the papacy and the episcopal and diocesan systems, superceded the state entirely, using a combination of spiritual suasion and socio-economic power to control the fragmented and decentralized lordlings who amounted to local strongmen under the feudal structure. Despite attempts on the part of certain dynasties to revive the imperial ideal and extend centralized political controlCharlemagne and his successors are especially noteworthythe church alone managed to bridge the chronological period between late imperial Rome and emergent Europe.

Thus, the Christian church was left in an unusually powerful position in relation to state authority when consolidation of the social bonds of the feudal nobility, and with it political centralization, recommenced after the year 1000. On the one hand, the church's legal, judicial, and administrative system provided a ready model for temporal governance, and the class of literate clergy that it trained afforded a pool of staff for aspiring monarchic states. Yet on the other hand, the church's monopoly over the state of souls, justified by its claim to have inherited from the Petrine commission the keys determining entrance into heaven, translated into assertions of universal supremacy in all affairs, earthly as well as spiritual. Advocates of the pope's superior station proposed a "plenitude of power" (plenitudo potestatis ) inhering in the office of the Roman bishop that permitted him, at least in cases of emergency, to exercise "two swords," that is, both corporeal and otherworldly forms of authority. If not quite amounting to theocratic government, the Roman church sought for itself a wide jurisdiction in determining the arrangement of secular rule.

This situation was reflected in the political ideas typical of medieval Europe. Such mainstream thinkers as John of Salisbury (1115 or 11201180) and St. Thomas Aquinas (12241274) viewed secular government as directed toward two goals, one natural, the other supernatural. The former involved the promotion of virtue and justice among subjects; this could be attained by any political society, whether Christian or pagan. The latter demanded the promotion and diffusion of the true religion of Rome; only a Christian ruler could achieve this goal, and only when guided by and deferential to the Roman church and its leaders.

Christian Europe: The Reformation.

During the sixteenth century, Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther (14831546) and John Calvin (15091564) challenged the Roman Church's monopoly over the interpretation of Christian doctrine and its maintenance of clerical obedience. The Reformation generated waves of violent persecution and the suppression of religious dissent as well as forceful resistance by the oppressed confessions. Catholic princes and cities burnt reformers of all stripes; Protestant rulers and communities did the same to Catholics as well as to members of other reforming sects. The state as an agent of confessional enforcement only reinforced the impression that effective use of coercion and violence (even if in the name of the salvation of souls) were the real qualifications for political leadership.

The controversial role of religion in public life in turn spawned major reappraisals of the relationship between religion and the state. Authors began to argue in favor of tolerating differences of conviction and rite. Sebastian Castellion (15151563) argued that coercion is an inappropriate tool for effecting a change of religious views since Christian belief must be held with sincere conviction; hence clerics and magistrates must refrain from persecution of convinced Christians who cling to doctrines that do not coincide with official teachings. Major figures in European philosophy weighed in on the side of religious toleration. Baruch Spinoza (16321677) claimed a broad application for the right to liberty of thought and belief without inference from a sovereign power's (or a church's) determination of the truth or falsity of one's ideas. Pierre Bayle (16471706) asserted that persecution of religious diversity encouraged hypocrisy and eroded social order and that an erring conscience, if it be held in good faith, deserves as much protection as a correct onea principle he extended even to atheists. Perhaps the most famous, although by no means the most original, proponent of toleration, John Locke (16321704), advocated toleration for most Christian (and perhaps some non-Christian) rites in his Epistola de Tolerantia (1689). For Locke, the role of the state should be confined to the maintenance of public tranquility and the defense of individual rights rather than the care of the soul.

Locke's Two Treatises of Government (1690) also stood at the culmination of another important line of early modern thought concerning the rights of populations to refuse obedience to tyrannical rulers, especially in matters of religion. Reforming Christians of a Calvinist persuasion led the way in articulating a theory of resistance to illegitimate applications of power. Initially, John Knox (15051572) and other British exiles propounded the view that government has a responsibility to God to eliminate all forms of idolatry (by which he meant Catholicism). If the ruler refuses to act on this duty, then lesser magistrates and even the common people must step in to suppress idolaters and their sympathizersthat is, Catholic priests and their royal protectors. The Huguenot reformers of France transformed this basic insight into a general account of resistance. According to them, a regime that aids, abets, and even guides the violent persecution of religious minorities may be licitly resisted. Authors including François Hotman (15241590) and Theodore Beza (15191605) produced a sizeable literature combining traditional Christian prohibitions against popular rebellion with the view that so-called intermediary magistratesofficials in service to a princeare obliged to repel and contravene commands by their superiors that require religious persecution.

Finally, some thinkers of an Erastian bent wished to place religion entirely under the command of secular rule precisely in order to eliminate the conflicts that it seemed perpetually to engender. Intimations of this idea can be discovered in medieval authors such as Marsiglio of Padua (c. 1280c. 1343) and Christine de Pisan (1364c. 1430), for whom the priesthood constituted nothing more than a branch of temporal society under the control of the ruler. But the most robust statement of the secular position may in found in the Leviathan (1651) by Thomas Hobbes (15881679). Hobbes, who identified the maintenance of peace and order as the sovereign state's principal function, singled out religion as an especially fertile source of political disruption. To remedy the divisiveness of religion, he offered a rather extreme solution in the second half of Leviathan: strictly limiting the autonomy of ecclesiastical officials and offices and reinterpreting Christian theology in a manner consonant with his conception of political sovereignty.

Later Developments.

The basic issues concerning religion and the state that emerged during late classical, medieval, and early modern times framed later debates in those parts of the world (such as the Americas, the Middle East, and Africa) where revealed religions enjoy a considerable following. Specifically, one sees recurrent concern with whether political power is a hindrance or a boon to the spread and maintenance of religion, as well as whether the state should remain neutral to competing confessions. The early history of these discussions demonstrates that the dual questions of the role of religion in politics and politics in religion have always been settled in many different ways. There is no grand narrative of human progress in matters of religion, no progression from persecution to toleration or from unity to plurality or from superstition to secularity.

See also Secularization and Secularism ; Toleration .


Black, Antony. The History of Islamic Political Thought: From the Prophet to the Present. New York: Routledge, 2001.

Morrison, Karl F. Rome and the City of God: An Essay on the Constitutional Relationships of Empire and Church in the Fourth Century. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society new series 54, pt. 1. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1964.

Nederman, Cary J. Worlds of Difference: European Discourses of Religious Toleration, c.1100c.1550. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.

O'Donovan, Oliver, and Joan Lockwood O'Donovan, eds. From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999.

Southern, R. W. The Making of the Middle Ages. New York: Hutchinson's University Library, 1953.

Walzer, Michael, Menachem Lorberbaum, and Noam J. Zohar, eds. The Jewish Political Tradition. 4 vols. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000.

Cary J. Nederman

Religion and the State: Africa

views updated May 08 2018

Religion and the State: Africa

The modern African state system is a new political concept that came about from the struggle for independence. These states are organized in the matrix of the two great religious traditions: Islam and Christianity. The secular hegemonic nature of the founding of these states brings into play the political meaning of these religious traditions. Religion in Africa is projected as a part of a continuum in the debate about the "national question": Who shall rule, and how shall the state be governed? Several historical conjectures indicated that religion would have a say in addressing the question of governance. These historical conjunctures include:

  1. The institution of apartheid in South Africa with the blessing of the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa.
  2. The Africanization of the leadership of the Christian Church at the same time that African nationalists were replacing the European colonial governors.
  3. The rise of modern anxieties, culture of crime, and graft and corruption in the political arrangements of the new states, causing life in many of these states gradually to become vulgar, morally degraded, depraved, and spiritually vacuous.
  4. The official formation of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in Rabat, Morocco, in 1969, the formation of the Islamic Development Bank in 1975, and the successful establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran after the revolution in 1979 led by Ayatollah Khomeini, combined with subsequent influences of Wahhabi Islam originating from Saudi Arabia and the al-Qaeda factor, especially in East Africa, all increased the climate of Islamic zealotry.
  5. Liberal democracy and economic prosperity, which African nationalists promised their masses in the 1960s and 1970s, were not achieved; rather, all the inescapable realities of lack of human dignity and economic assurances, with a deepening gap between rich and poor and rising ethnic frictions, broke down the social contract between the state and its citizens. African religious leaders with faith in their belief systems counter that religion should be the keystone in both the personal life and the fulfilling of state obligations; that, measured against the majesty of God's work, the state is subsumed under that majesty.

African states, then, in their earlier stages were conflicted in the interaction with the two great religious traditions in their midst. There was initially a love-hate relationship between the state and the two great religious traditions. Sometimes the politicians cracked down on the religious leaders or their organizations; at other times they tried to appease them. Nasser and the Ikhwan al-Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood) in Egypt, Gadhafi and the Sanusiyya brotherhood in Libya, Nimeiri and the National Islamic Front in Sudan, all experienced a love-hate relationship. There was a period of appeasement in the relationship between state and religion, but by the 1980s, powerful Islamic and Christian movements came to be seen as threat to the very existence of the state. In such situations, the confrontations between state and religion took a different turn.

South Africa, with its "state theology," came under serious scrutiny. The Muslim community and a counterreligious consciousness among Black liberation theologians initiated a powerful ideological attack on the ideology of apartheid. Liberation theologians came to see apartheid as a form of "structural sin" and sought to persuade the religious community (the South African Council of Churches, the World Lutheran Federation, the World Council of Churches, and, more important, the World Alliance of the Dutch Reformed Church) of this. The extraordinary role of the members of the religious community (both Christian and Muslim) in mobilization of the oppressed in South African and the international communitythat finally came to see apartheid as heresy and apostasycontributed immensely to the collapse of the apartheid system.

In other parts of Africa, Christian leadership produced Pastoral Lettersa rare, frank critique of African dictatorships in Idi Amin's Uganda, Hasting Banda's Malawi, Mengistu's Ethiopia, Abacha's Nigeria, and, more recently, Mugabi's Zimbabwe. On the other hand, African political leaders who were Christian did not shy away from proclaiming publicly their Christian faith; notice the born-again Christian president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, and the building in 1989 of one of the largest Roman Catholic churches (the Basilica in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast) in modern Christianity in Côte d'Ivoire by its Christian president Felix Houphouet-Boigny.

African Muslims who see the state as a sacred entity under the rule of Allah exhorted the leadership of the secular states for an Islamic dispensation as the politicians go about creating new political formations. The various Islamic organizations in varying degrees encountered problems. In Morocco, the Islamic group Justice and Welfare was ordered to disband in 1990; Algerian "Salafists" who wanted to return to pristine Islamic ideals came under great pressure from the government. The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was legalized in 1989. It won the elections of that year, but the Algerian government canceled the second round of elections, jailed most of the FIS leaders, and in 1992 banned the organization. Tunisia never legalized the Ennahda (Renaissance) Party, repressed its members, and closed down its newspaper. The Libyan government disrupted the Islamic movement in that country, and by the early twenty-first century the movement was unstructured, with many of its leaders imprisoned. The Islamic Party in Kenya was summarily denied official recognition during the presidency of Daniel arap Moi. But in states such as Tanzania and Uganda, Islamic organizations were encouraged to form and acquire government patronage. The Egyptian experience with the radical Islamic group "Jihad," which was implicated in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, was very instructive to many African politicians.

The Islamic code of shari'a, which regulates the Islamic community, has received special attention in Africa. Strict Islamic lawssuch as the imposition of amputation or death by stoning for transgressions such as theft, adultery, or fornication and the banning of prostitution, gambling, and consumption of alcoholare elements embedded in the shari'a. These are elements of Islamic law that African secularists deemed too harsh.

Sudan introduced the shari'a in 1990 (although in 1983, Colonel Nimeiri had introduced the "September Laws," which recognized the shari'a as the basis of state law, it was alleged that he did so to serve his own political agenda, not as a sincere application of the shari'a ). The civil war that raged in that state from 1957 pitched the north, which is Muslim, against the south, which is predominantly Christian and traditional religionists. With the introduction of the shari'a by the government, the south, under the leadership of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army, began challenging the Islamization of the state and its extension to the south. But the Islamization program of the Hassan al-Turabi and Omar Hassan al-Bashir governments took root. Peace negotiations were in progress in 2004 to bring the north and south together, but the south was reluctant to accept the political control of an Islamic republic.

Nigeria, on the other hand, came out of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war in 1971 with the dictum "No victor, no vanquished" under the leadership of a Christian military leader, General Gowan. Yet from 1971 the southern and Middle Belt Christians were continuously victimized, and militant Muslims in Northern Nigeria killed thousands. This religious bloodletting was exacerbated with the introduction of the shari'a, first by the state of Zamfara but subsequently practiced in eleven northern states. The Amina Lawal court case, in which Amina Lawal was prosecuted for illegal sex and pregnancy out of wedlock, received national and international attention. International outrage, particularly the outrage of women's rights groups nationally and globally, and the intervention of the secular state of the Federation of Nigeria, along with a brilliant defense team saved Amina Lawal from the capital punishment authorized by the shari'a.

In addition, Muslim political leaders, in a secretive process, applied for Nigeria membership in the Organization of Islamic Conference. All these actions by the Muslim leadership led to the formation of the Christian Association of Nigeria, whose agenda aimed at putting a stop to further Islamization of the Nigerian state. The Nigerian state, however, presented itself as a mediator in Muslim/Christian relations. The state funded the building of a Christian cathedral and mosque in the federal capital of Abuja, funded pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem for Muslims and Christians, respectively, and also created a Ministry of Religious Affairs.

In both states, Nigeria and the Sudan, the tendency was for religious vigilante groups to form and keep an eye open for any transgressions of shari'a regulations. The Sudan People's Liberation Army and the Christian Association of Nigeria opposed such intrusion of religious oversights in the body politic of their respective states. Unlike the Sudan, where a real war was waged to settle the matter, in other parts of Africa, including Nigeria, a religious "cold war" operated in the context of a constitutional truce.

To anyone who has looked closely enough, the religious leaders of Africa and their beliefs and faith, plainly enjoy a strength. Arguably the greatest strength of all, something truly imposing, is their ability to threaten the state. Their positions and beliefs have broader historical roots than the African states. They are not only popular, wealthy, and global in the sense that they are well connected, they are also institutionally sophisticated. Their ideas appeal to many African citizens who are poised to challenge the state whenever possible. Christians and Muslims alike in Africa should see themselves as effective intermediate civil societies that lie between the state and the household. In this sense, then, they exist to protect and advance their religious interests and values in a plural society. African governments, on the other hand, should be encouraged to look at African religious leaders and their faith as autonomous intermediaries between the state and its citizens. The role that these religious leaders have played in dislodging African dictatorships, apartheid, corruption, and social justice and their implementation of compassionate charities to help bridge the deep gap between the rich and the poor on the African continent is highly commendable. The state governments, however, have in many instances cracked down on the religious leaders and their followers in the pursuance of the dictum of political realism when they felt that the state was threatened.

Three major concerns in the relationship between state and religion in Africa can be deciphered from historical occurrences of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. First, in the genocidal activities that raged in Rwanda in 1994, certain Roman Catholic priests were said to have participated in the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutus. The inability of the church to forestall this genocide is troublesome. Second, the recent linkages between al-Qaeda activities and some religious organizations in Africa have foreboding consequences. The intricate web of front companies and individuals in Africa who were associated with the al-Qaeda movement, allowing al-Qaeda operatives to trade in African gold, diamonds, and other gemsthus providing the economic resources and networks that led to the bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam and the possible assistance given to those who shot down the U.S.. Black Hawk helicopter in Mogadishuand al-Qaeda's presence in Sudan are all indications of serious problems for African state/religious relations. Third, Christians and Muslims in Africa are gradually accepting the electoral system as the moderating instruments to affect change in their states, but when the states are unable to accept the electoral victories of religious parties, political instability of the African states becomes inevitable.

In one sense, neither religion nor state may claim the high ground in any assessment of instability of African political culture. Yet both should strive to use their powerful influence to illuminate African lives in order to fulfill the promise of the majesty of God's/Allah's work. The genius of modern liberal education in Africa in the early twenty-first century is the pragmatic compromise that many African citizens are learning; religion has a place in pursuing the aim of social justice and freedom. Many Africans would love to have the freedom to choose for themselves how they ought to live. Their devotion to God's law and their devotion to the secular state are sometimes conflicted. But these should not be judged trivial when measured against the majesty of God's/Allah's work.

The recent use of the phrase "African Renaissance" by such leaders as President Mbeki of the Republic of South Africa once again reminds African citizens that the ideals and spirit of enlightenment that both the state and African religious leaders are exposed to could be helpful in promoting coexistence. In trying to define "African Renaissance," both the state and religious leaders in Africa should aim at reconciling God and freedom, political liberty, and pragmatic compromise. As the states in Africa mature, there is the hope that the deepest believers in Islam and Christianity will tone down their rhetoric and devise ways to coexist with the state rather than prepare for a possible showdown with the state. The African states, with all their failures, still provide the one political-legal framework that can transcend all the manifold differences between the religious traditions, can accommodate their various belief systems and ways of life, and can serve as a normative basis for their coexistence and cooperation.

See also Islam: Africa ; Religion: Africa ; State, The .


Ahanotu, Austin Metumara, ed. Religion, State and Society in Contemporary Africa: Nigeria, Sudan, South Africa, Zaire, and Mozambique. New York: Peter Lang, 1992.

. "Religion and the Problem of Power: South Africa." In The Terrible Meek: Essays on Religion and Revolution in Cross-Cultural Perspective, edited by Lonnie O. Kliever, 217250. New York: Paragon Publishers, 1987.

Borer, Tristan Ann. Challenging the State: Churches as Political Actors in South Africa, 19801994. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998.

El-Affendi, Abelwahab. Turabi's Revolution: Islam and Power in Sudan. London: Grey Seal, 1991.

Falola, Toyin. Violence in Nigeria: The Crises of Religious Politics and Secular Ideologies. New York: University of Rochester, 1998.

Gifford, Paul. African Christianity: Its Public Role. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Levtzion, Nehemia, and Randall L. Pouwell, eds. The History of Islam in Africa. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000.

Ludwig, Frieder. Church and State in Tanzania: Aspects of Changing Relationships, 19611994. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1999.

Okulu, Henry. Church and Politics in East Africa. Nairobi: Uzima Press, 1982.

. Challenge to the Church: A Theological Comment on the Political Crisis in South Africa: The Kairos Document. Braamfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa: Kairos Theologans, 1985.

Shahin, Emad Eldin. Political Ascent: Contemporary Islamic Movements in North Africa. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997.

Usman, Yusufu Bala. The Manipulation of Religion in Nigeria 19771987. Kaduna, Nigeria: Vanguard, 1987.

Word, Kevin. "'The Arrival of the Lord': Christianity, Rebels and the state in Northern Uganda 19861999." Journal of Religion in Africa 31, no. 2 (2001): 187221.

Austin M. Ahanotu

Religion and the State: Middle East

views updated Jun 11 2018

Religion and the State: Middle East

The relationship between religious and political domains in Islam is extraordinarily complex and is rooted in a rich conceptual and a long (although conflicting) institutional tradition. Koranic verses clearly endorse the prophet Muhammad's spiritual and temporal authority. Muslims agree that he was the sole transmitter of the divine message, the most qualified person to decide the meaning and application of that message, and the ultimate authority in applying that message. Several Koranic verses, for example 3:32, 3:132, 4:42, 4:80, and particularly 4:59, call Muslims to obey Muhammad and his appointees. The first Muslim commonwealth, the city-state of Yathrib, which was later called Madinat al-Nabi (the "City of the Prophet"), was established on the conceptual basis of this unified authority. The prophet led the Friday prayers, acted as a judge, was the supreme commander of the Muslim forces, and appointed governors and ambassadors. A sovereign exercising both temporal and spiritual authorities remained ideal to a number of Muslim medieval political theorists such as al-Farabi (d. 950), who at the same time recognized the difficulty of finding a legitimate contender for such a position.

The Shia-Sunni Controversy

While the sources for reconstructing the early history of Islam leave much room for contention, it appears that a crisis of authority took place immediately after Muhammad's death (632 c.e.). Faced with the task of finding a successor to the Prophet, Muslims (at least according to later views) were divided into two main camps. The first grouplater referred to as the Sunnisdecided that a successor should be elected by the highest-ranking Muslim leaders. These Muslims elected Abu Bakr, an old ally of Muhammad and one of his fathers-in-law, as his successor or "caliph." A second group argued that the matter of succession had already been decided by God and revealed by the Koran and the Prophet. This group believed that the legitimate successor was Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law 'Ali. The members of this group were referred to as the shia (partisans) of 'Ali, or simply the shia (or shii ). To them, 'Ali and certain of his offspringto whom they refer as imamshave been designated by God to rule the Muslims. According to most Shia, including those in contemporary Iran, imams have access to knowledge not available to any other human being, and they are free from sin. Because of these extraordinary characteristics, they are qualified to succeed the Prophet as the holders of both religious and political authority. The majority of Shia in the early twenty-first century believe that the last of these imams (the twelfth imam, al-Mahdi) went into hiding to avoid persecution at the hands of the Sunnis in the late ninth century. He remains in occultation today, but at some point will return in order to bring peace and justice to the world.

The majority of Muslims refer to the first four caliphs after Muhammad's death, including 'Ali (who was widely regarded as the fourth caliph), as the "Righteous" or "Rightly Guided" caliphs. While there is no question of their having wielded prophetic authority, prophethood having come to an end with the death of Muhammad, they nonetheless hold both religious and political authority. Later caliphs, however, were not able to keep these authorities unified. Over the course of the early medieval period, the ulema (religious scholars, literally "those who have religious knowledge") gradually staked for themselves the claim to have inherited the Prophet's religious authority. Moreover, by the late ninth and early tenth centuries, even the caliph's secular authority was reduced substantially, as local princes (emirs or, later, sultans) successfully usurped the caliph's temporal power and effectively reduced him to the position of figurehead of Sunni unity. Meanwhile, a sovereign exercising both temporal and spiritual authorities remained ideal to a number of Muslim medieval political theorists such as al-Farabi, who at the same time recognized the difficulty of finding a legitimate contender for such a position. During the early medieval period, a number of explicitly Shia states were also established, in several of which the leaders claimed to rule as imams or in the name of the imams. In these states (the Nizari state in Iran and the Fatimid state in Egypt, for example), the unity of authority was better preserved, as the rulers claimed direct or indirect link to 'Ali's family (and thus to Muhammad), and so exercised both spiritual and temporal powers.

The Early Modern Islamic States

The Mongol invasion and the fall of Baghdad (1258) put an effective end to the caliphal system. Religious authority was officially separated from and formally subjugated to the political authority. The underlying tension between religious and political authority has, however, remained a central problem of modern Islamic history. By the early modern period, the Ottoman state, which owed its legitimacy to engagement in jihad against the Byzantine Empire, effectively renewed the caliphal tradition. The Ottoman sovereign was referred to as both the sultan and the caliph, and while the term "caliph" was sometimes used simply as a generalized marker of supreme authority, the Ottoman sultan also staked a claim to a degree of religious as well as political power. However, by the mid-seventeenth century, the Sunni religious establishment (the ulema) had also established itself as a formidable temporal power, and was, for example, at the center of the alliance that removed Sultan Ibrahim from the Ottoman throne (1648). In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Ottoman state remained a source of inspiration for Muslim political activists who wished the return of an Islamic empire similar to that which existed under the Righteous Caliphs. Among those who articulated such inspirations was Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (c. 18381897), an early modern advocate of Pan-Islamism, who also engaged in political intrigues and propaganda in Egypt and India in the name of Islam.

Shortly after the establishment of the Ottoman Empire, the Safavids (15021736), claiming to be the offspring of 'Ali, established their Shia state in Iran. Safavid shahs (kings) initially declared themselves to be either the deputies of the last imam or, in the more extreme formulation of their claims, the imam himself, and therefore the legitimate holders of both the spiritual and temporal authorities. But in this case, too, a religious establishment with rapidly growing influence began to appear soon after the empire was established. Thus, toward the end of the Safavid period, the leading cleric of the early seventeenth century, Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (16271698), enjoyed a degree of authority in temporal affairs only second, if not equal, to that of the shah.

During the eighteenth century, a third modern Muslim state was formed on the Arabian Peninsula. This was the result of an alliance between a Sunni religious scholar, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (17031792), and a local prince, Muhammad ibn Sa'ud. Abd al-Wahhab considered his movement an attempt to return to pure and genuine Islamic society, arguing that Muslims other than his followers had abandoned the principles of Islam. The alliance between Abd al-Wahhab and ibn Sa'ud led to the creation of an army of zealous Muslims. Following this alliance, the Saudi princes claimed the title of imam in order to unify spiritual and temporal authority in the Arabian Peninsula. The Wahhabi-Saudi alliance proved to be resilient and successful in unifying the peninsula and in providing the Saudi monarchs with substantial legitimacy. But again, one must not discount the influence of the ulema, who demonstrated their power in the abdication of King Saud (1964).

From Secularization to Islamic Revivalism

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Muslim world in the Middle East witnessed a general turn toward secularization. Ottoman reform movements in the nineteenth century (the Tanzimat and, later, that of the Young Turks) and the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (19051911) were examples of attempts to duplicate European models of building modern states, with separation of religious and secular authority adopted as at least an implicit principle. This trend reached its height with the rise to power of Kemal Atatürk (Turkey, 1923) and Reza Shah (Iran, 1925). They reduced the influence of the ulema significantly and made the separation principle an explicit cornerstone of their reforms.

Ironically, the early twentieth century also witnessed the birth of contemporary Islamic Revivalism, especially in Egypt, where the state failed to take radical reform initiatives similar to those of Turkey and Iran. In response to various national and international challenges and the failure of both traditional and liberal (Wafd party) establishments in meeting these challenges, the Egyptian schoolteacher Hasan al-Banna (19061949) established the first modern political party, the Muslim Brotherhood (founded 1928). The Muslim Brotherhood advocated an exclusively Islamic ideology and a radical platform not only to reeducate individual Egyptians in Islam, but also to transform Egypt into an explicitly Islamic society with a self-consciously Islamic state. Another relevant event during the first half of the twentieth century was the birth of what was eventually called the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, a state that from the beginning justified its existence based on Islam. Pakistan was also the birthplace of another important ideologue of contemporary Islamic Revivalism, Abu l-A'la' Maududi (19031979).

Al-Banna and Maududi opened the road for other, often more radical, advocates of reviving Islamic societies, which would be ruled by Islamic states and according to the Islamic laws. Sayyid Qutb (19061966) of Egypt and (in a very different context) Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini (19021989) of Iran are among such figures. Maududi and Qutb contributed significantly to a new shift in radical Islamic political thought by developing the concept of jahaliyya, according to which Muslims in the contemporary world find themselves living in a state of "ignorance" similar to that confronted by Muhammad and his earliest followers. The concept accused contemporary Muslims of being ignorant of Islam and its laws, or ignoring those laws as the sole legitimate guidance for action in both public and private domains. Al-Banna, Maududi, Qutb, and Khomeini challenged Muslims to re-create the genuine Islamic state, whose principal characteristics could be traced to the prophet Muhammad's experience in Medina.

In Pakistan, after General Zia al-Haq seized power in a military coup (July 1977), attempts were also made to revive an Islamic state, particularly through a program known as Nizam-i Islam. However, it was in Iran that the principal contemporary Islamic state was created in 1979. Coming to power by mass revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini and his associates articulated a new and radical interpretation of an older Shia doctrine, that of the "Guardianship of the Jurist of Islamic Law" (velayat-e faqih ). According to their interpretation, during the continuing absence of the twelfth Shia imam (al-Mahdi), the only legitimate political authority is that exercised by the qualified jurists of Islamic laws. Consequently, the Iranian Constitution places supreme authority in the hands of a cleric (referred to as the "Supreme Guide" or "Leader of the Revolution"). Thus, in Iran spiritual and temporal authority have once again become unified, albeit in a very modern (and also explicitly Shia) form.

Soon after the revolution in Iran, attempts to build an Islamic state in the Sudan were initiated. Similarly, Afghanistan witnessed the creation of an Islamic state with the fall of the socialist government of President Najiballah (1992), and the establishment of the Taliban regime in 1996. The Taliban ("students" in Persian) movement took root among young Afghan refugees in Pakistan, trained in schools with Islamic curriculums during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Upon coming to power, the Taliban government strictly enforced its version of Islamic law, in yet another attempt to create an Islamic State based on the principles of Prophet Muhammad's commonwealth in Medina.

See also Islam ; Religion: Middle East .


Abu Rabi', Ibrahim M. Intellectual Origins of Islamic Resurgence in the Modern Arab World. Albany: SUNY Press, 1996.

Al-Farabi, Abu Nasr. On the Perfect State. Translated by Richard Walzer. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Algar, Hamid. Wahhabism: A Critical Essay. Oneonta, N.Y.: Islamic Publications International, 2002.

Black, Anthony. The History of Islamic Political Thought: From the Prophet to the Present. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Brown, Carl L. Religion and State: The Muslim Approach to Politics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

Crone, Patricia, and Martin Hinds. God's Caliph: Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Esposito, John L., and John O. Voll. Islam and Democracy, New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Esposito, John. Islam and Politics. 3rd ed. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1991.

Imber, Colin. Ebu's-Su'ud: The Islamic Legal Tradition. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997.

Khomeini, Ruhollah. Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini. Translated by Hamid Algar. Berkeley, Calif.: Mizan Press, 1981.

Lewis, Bernard. The Political Language of Islam. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Momen, Moojan. An Introduction to Shi'i Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shi'ism. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985.

Nizām al-Mulk, Abu 'Ali al-Hasan. The Book of Government; or, Rules for Kings: The Siyāsat-nāma or Siyar al-Mulūk. Translated by Hubert Darke. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1960.

Qutb, Sayyid. Social Justice in Islam. Oneonta, N.Y.: Islamic Publications International, 2000.

Rubin, Barry, ed. Revolutionaries and Reformers: Contemporary Islamist Movements in the Middle East: Essential Writings of Abdolkarim Soroush. Albany: SUNY Press, 2003.

Soroush, Abdolkarim. Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Tamimi, Azzam, and John Esposito, eds. Islam and Secularism in the Middle East. New York: Yale University Press, 2000.

Weiss, Anita M., ed. Islamic Reassertion in Pakistan: The Application of Islamic Laws in a Modern State. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1986.

Cyrus Masroori

Religion and the State: United States

views updated May 21 2018

Religion and the State: United States

Citizens of the United States quite properly regard the ideas and practices relating religion to the state in their nation as being sharply distinguished from those that prevailed in Europe at the time of the national founding. The sources of these ideas were European as opposed to African, Asian, or Native American. They arrived in America through literary imports and in the minds of colonists chiefly from the British Isles between 1607, when settlers arrived in Virginia, and 1787, when the U.S. Constitution was written in Philadelphia. The specific forms these ideas took on American soil, however, differed significantly from patterns that originated east of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Ideas Behind a Liberal Polity

What emerged in the United States in connection with these ideas was a form of liberal polity and practice. Whatever else this style of liberalism includes, it depends on reason, which means that participants are expected to argue their political cases on rational grounds without privileging religious warrants. Second, such a liberal state encourages or at least allows for a considerable expression of individual freedom. A third feature is the recognition that such a state cannot thrive if the majority of its citizens do not practice considerable degrees of tolerance in respect to the religious and philosophical commitments of others.

In the longer history of the West, religion had been a force that in many ways militated against these three expressions. In almost all cases, the founders came with preconceptions that related specifically to Christendom, which was the political realization of Christianity as a set of both ideas and institutions.

Judaism was the ancestor of such Christianity, and in respect to thought about the state, most Christian founders at the time when the Constitution was being written drew as much on the Hebrew Scriptures as they did on the New Testament. Their "Old Testament" included many provisions for government, including the Decalogue, which remained highly influential in official European Christianity. The New Testament texts, while they included celebrations of government in several instances, were much more colored by apocalyptic thinking. When these were written, the world was expected to end soon, so there were not many reasons for believers to be concerned with how to govern the state.

Religious Establishment

One cluster of ideas in the experience of Christendom colored everything done in its name. This was the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century. The division of the Christian Church into Roman and Eastern factions by the eleventh century in no way led to legal disestablishment. For the most part the Reformation of the sixteenth century that issued in Anglicanism and various forms of European Continental Protestantism also did not change this significantly. There were, of course, small dissenting groups such as the Quakers and Anabaptists, just as there had been marginalized groups in medieval Catholic times, but these suffered harassment and persecution.

Establishment meant that only one form of religious faith was given legal status, privilege, and the mandate to support the state. Almost all colonists came from European nations and territories that authorized and depended upon the sanction of only one religious expressionfor example, Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, or Presbyterianism. Even most of the dissenters who arrived from the British Isles, notably Puritans, set up established churches when they arrived in New England after the beginnings of the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1630.

Establishment Christianity did not imply that Christians were enemies of reason. It did prescribe, however, that revealed religion was to be honored. Thus "the divine right of kings" was a typical element of the system that the colonists had to counter when they declared independence from England in 1776. In 1787, however, in nine of the thirteen colonies they still drew upon the Bible and church authority to undergird the state and determine much of their own political argument.

Similarly, while the Constitution assured religious freedom in all colonies as they became states, in the new nation the Christian majority could appeal to many strands of biblical and ecclesiastical thought to legitimate individualism. Yet most Christians assigned priority to community expression. Individualists like Roger Williams (1603?1683), Anne Hutchinson (15911643), and others were dissenters who always had to struggle for their rights.

As for tolerance, establishment Christians were not always poised with the sword to punish dissent in the harshest of terms, yet it was expected that one set of ideas should have a monopoly or at least privilege. Dissent was recognized only grudgingly.

The National Period: Disestablishment Favoring Religion

Despite these establishment predilections, within a fifty-year period after 1787 the vast majority of Christians in the United States came to embrace government of the state based at least theoretically and legally in nothing but rational discourse. Religious institutions paradoxically prospered when their advocates had to bid for public attention among people, many of whom did not assent to their sacred dogmas.

Second, not only did the religious leaders accept the concepts of individual freedom that much of Christendom had long inhibited. They began to claim that they had possessed a patent on them and were the main custodians of citizen rights. And while the religiously serious did not all assent to doctrines that made room for or depended upon tolerance, through the many decades after 1787 most people found ways to combine personal conviction and institutional truth claims with at least practical support of toleration in the face of religious diversity.

The Enlightenment and Evangelicalism

One set of leaders who helped make possible the drastic changes were advocates of an American version of the Enlightenment. Another were the new-style religious evangelicals, who were "awakeners" or revivalists, who made direct intuitive appeal to the minds of the public. In the process, they began to under-cut establishments. In contrast to the anticlericalism of much of the European Enlightenment, in America the celebrators of reason and rational religion tended to be friendly to faiths. Many of the advocatesGeorge Washington (17321799), John Adams (17351826), and otherspraised the contribution of religion to the morality and virtue on which the free state depended. Even those who were the most strenuous advocates for disestablishment and religious freedom, among them James Madison (17511836) and Thomas Jefferson (17431826), who could be quite critical of much religious authority in their day, did much to help assure freedom for formerly established as well as dissenting churches and, of course, with them, for individuals.

Before long the revivalists and evangelists attracted followings and these outpaced those in establishment Congregationalism and Anglicanism (Episcopalianism). Their appeal to citizens to make religious choices did much to enhance the concept of individualism.

While the U.S. Constitution in Article 6 demonstrated the influence of the advocates of religious freedom, it also reflected the practical situation of colonists who knew there could not be a national union if Congress arranged for an established church. So that article ruled out all religious tests for holders of office. In the First Amendment (1789) the drafters were more specific and sweeping: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The wording referred only to Congress; the drafters could not have gotten assent to the law had they insisted on disestablishment in the various colonies, now states. But by 1833 the last establishments fell and after 1941 the U.S.. Supreme Court set the precedent for incorporating all the legal terms of religious freedom nationally into the judicial rulings of the states.

Separation of Church and State

The term most citizens, including their legislators, executives, and jurists, have favored for their polity is "separation of church and state," a phrase used by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Connecticut Baptists in 1802. This is accepted as constitutional dogma by many, though it is not mentioned in the Constitution and in practice it has not meant the drawing of a radical line between what James Madison called "religion and civil authority." Thus the fact that religious institutions are ordinarily exempted from taxation, that legislatures pay chaplains, and the like, suggests that extreme and pure separation has never existed.

The terms in which the Constitution is interpreted by the U.S.. Supreme Court and other courts and by the public change regularly in the light of changed circumstances and changing Court personnel. Persistently, American majorities have indicated that they prefer policies friendly to religious institutions and expressions. Most of them withhold consent, however, when such policies verge too explicitly toward establishing a religion, or religion in general, when privileging one religious group over another, or privileging religion over nonreligion.

While these majorities insist that they are free to advocate for specific political outcomes on the basis of their interpretations of sacred texts such as the Bible or church dogma, most know that to be effective they cannot expect the nonreligious citizens or members of other religious groups to be swayed by their own interpretations and claims. The Enlightenment ideas have endured alongside dissenting Christian expressions to counter too aggressive religious movements.

In the Federalist Papers No. 10, James Madison, when he was trying to win support for the ratification of the Constitution, contended that the security of the republic lay in the multiplicity of interests, including religious ones. There have always been and there remain controversies over policy contention based on explicit religious claims of some versus those of others who would appeal chiefly to rational argument. However, in general, American religionists have bought into and support the liberal state.

The favor most Americans show religion and religious groups has been returned in kind throughout most of American history. During the Civil War southern religious leadership provided warrants for the ideas and military acts of the Confederate States of America while the northern clerics and lay articulators supported the ideas of the Union. At the same time, what scholars call civil religion, public religion, or the religion of the republic has tended to draw support of the members of religious organizations. While the voice of dissent has never been completely stifled, for the most part religious voices have been nationalistic, supportive of the military in the nation's wars, and confident that the American state is "a nation under God," even if there is no Constitutional base for the claim.

Non-Judeo-Christian Religions

While over eighty percent of the people of the United States identify themselves with what has come to be called the "Judeo-Christian" religion, there have always been inhabitants who did not belong to that tradition. Most notable have been Native Americans or American Indians, many of whom did convert to Christianity, but others, down to the present, have retained their own rituals and traditions. They have often represented anomalies to the courts. In one of the most celebrated instances, for example, the United States Supreme Court in Employment Division v. Smith (1990) ruled against two Native American drug rehabilitation counselors who were fired because they ingested peyote during ritual observances.

Some of the founders anticipated a day when citizens from a variety of religious heritages would test the boundary of the biblical tradition. Already during the debates over religious freedom in Virginia in the 1780s, Thomas Jefferson argued that the legislature was trying to protect, and should protect, "the Jew and Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination." Through the next two and a half centuries "Mahometans" and "Hindoos" were few in number. After the U.S. Congress changed the immigration laws in 1965, however, great numbers of immigrants came from Asia, Africa, and especially nations where Muslims predominated.

Some came from places where religious practices were proscribed, but others had the experience of polities in which religion and regime had never been separated, as is the case with most areas dominated by Muslims. Their views on "religion and the state" did not awaken much curiosity until a number of terrorist acts, especially the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, and the increasing involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts, as between Arabs and Jews, led many non-Muslim citizens to be suspicious and to resist efforts by Muslim populations to have some of their controversial practices protected by law.

The presence of the varieties of immigrants from other than Europe and the increase in both pluralism and in the demands for personal freedom led to many testings of the conventional boundaries of "church and state" in law and in custom. Not all the tensions among citizen groups resulted in legal battles, but across the spectrum from neighborhoods surrounding mosques to high governmental administrators and strategists, Muslims found themselves having to demonstrate that they were full participants in the American complex.

Given the suddenness of the arrival of new immigrants and the global conflicts reflected among American citizens, one might have expected that confrontations would have become menacing and even bloody. Yet gross violations of citizen rights were few, and most of the new Americans, whether or not they felt themselves to belong to the longer tradition called "Judeo-Christian," adapted to their new environment. As is often the case with converts to a cause or new arrivals to a culture, most went out of their way to advertise their attachment to the United States, even when and perhaps because its legal tradition and culture worked to keep Madison's line of distinction between religion and civil authority clear. And, like so many before them, they came to affirm America's "civil religion," were ready to sing "God Bless America," and to recite the Pledge of Allegiance concerning "one nation, under God."

See also Americanization, U.S. ; Assimilation ; State, The ; Toleration .


Hamburger, Philip. Separation of Church and State. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Miller, Robert T., and Ronald B. Flowers. Toward Benevolent Neutrality: Church, State, and the Supreme Court. 4th ed. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 1992.

Noll, Mark A. America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Noonan, John T., Jr. The Believer and the Powers that Are: Cases, History, and Other Data Bearing on the Relation of Religion and Government. New York: Macmillan, 1987.

Wilson, John F., ed. Church and State in America: A Bibliographical Guide. Vol. 1: The Colonial and Early National Periods ; Vol. 2: The Civil War to the Present Day. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1986, 1987.

Martin E. Marty

Religion and the State: Latin America

views updated May 08 2018

Religion and the State: Latin America

Church-state relations in Latin America since the arrival of the Spanish in 1492 and then the Portuguese can be discussed in four periods: (1) evangelicization and orthodoxy, 1492c.1750, (2) the secular state, c.17501892, (3) Rerum Novarum, 1892 to 1962, and (4) Vatican II, 1962 on. The Roman Catholic Church has been the dominant religious institution and Catholics remain a majority in the region. The events of each era resulted from the interplay between secular and religious authorities. Civil authorities initiated the first two periods, and clerical leaders the second two periods. Church-state relations have become more complex in the past 50 years with the rise of Protestantism, the growth of African-based religions such as Macumba, and the increase of faiths brought by immigrants, including Hindu and Islam. Jews arrived with the first European expeditions, although they were forced to conceal their faith throughout the colonial period.

The Evangelical and Orthodox Period, 1492c.1750

Once Europeans discovered the Western Hemisphere and church leaders determined that its residents were indeed human beings, both Spanish and Portuguese monarchs justified their claims to colonies and commercial monopolies in terms of bringing Christianity to the heathens. The monarchs codified this rationalization in the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas that divided the non-European world between them for commerce, colonization, and religious conversion. Pope Alexander VI confirmed the treaty. For roughly the next three centuries, evangelization dominated church activities and church-state relations. The monarchs provided financial and political assistance. Conversion, often no more than baptism and mandatory weekly masses, was largely the work of Franciscan, Dominican, and later the Company of Jesus (the Jesuits) missionaries. During colonization of the Caribbean, Bartolomé de Las Casas (1474?1566), one-time conquistador turned missionary, became the blistering critic of Spanish practices. In his political tract A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, he described the conquest as the sadistic brutality, torture, enslavement, or murder of indigenous peoples. He called on the king to restrain the conquest, reverse Indian slavery, and regulate Spanish-Indian relations. Spain's colonial rivals (e.g., England) and rebellious dominions (e.g., the Dutch) widely reprinted the book, often with Albrecht Dürer's (14711528) fanciful and terrifying engravings to mobilize popular opinion against the Spaniards. As Protestant northern Europe gained ascendancy over the Catholic south in global geopolitics, the influence of this text continued to grow, and its negative portrait of Spaniards and the church still colors popular perceptions in the twenty-first century.

Religious leaders undertook efforts to restrain the conquistadors and colonists and to impose religious orthodoxy by instituting the Inquisition in Spain's possessions. Because they were felt to have an incomplete understanding of religious doctrine, Indians, except in cases of bigamy and cannibalism, were not subject to the Inquisition. In its efforts to evangelize the Indians, and the arriving African slaves, the church utilized its most powerful symbols, frequently announcing new martyrs, saintly behavior, and miracles. The most famous of these, the 1531 apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico, created an indigenously Mexican mythology in which an Indian, Juan Diego, was chosen by the Virgin to carry her message to a Spanish bishop. Doubters saw in this tale a ploy by church leaders to assist the evangelization process. Albeit initially violent and only intermittently successful, these conversion strategies aimed at African and Indian populations, and the partially successful campaign for orthodoxy among the settlers did result in a continent that was, for the most part, fervently Catholicalthough Catholicism itself was transformed in the process, as it integrated symbols, rituals, and imagery from pre-Colombian and African sources, and from New World ecologies.

Church-state relations in Latin America changed fundamentally under Spanish King Charles V (15161556), an enlightened monarchy who intended to establish a secular, efficient empire. The best-organized and funded challenge to his authority was led by members of the Jesuit order. In response, the king acted decisively to expel all Jesuits from Spain and its possessions in 1767. This provided a preview of the often-bitter anticlerical policies of government leaders influenced by the Enlightenment and the French Revolution over the next century. The Latin American colonies for the most part had achieved independence by 1824, and nearly all new regimes, whether republics or monarchies, attempted to restrict church influence in secular life by deamortizing church properties, limiting religious holidays, and abolishing clerical control of the civil registry, cemeteries, and separate courts. Until the last decade of the century, Popes especially Leo IX (10491054) urged Catholics to reject these secular campaigns as threats to the church. In each of the Latin American nations, efforts to separate church and state resulted in civil strife, and often civil war. In Mexico, it provoked the War of the Reform (18581861) won by Benito Juárez and the Liberals, but the clerics made a final effort by helping inspire the French intervention and the empire of Maximilian and Carlota. Warfare continued from 1862 to 1867, when Juarez's armies defeated the French, executed the emperor, and separated the church and state. Similar if less violent struggles took place throughout the region.

The Papal Degree Rerum Novarum in 1892 represents a reversal of the Roman Catholic Church position on the struggle with national governments and modern society. Pope Leo XIII decreed that the church should protect the local nature of religion, and support individuals against the social homogenization and economic exploitation of modern life that destroyed faith. This decree inspired a re-evangelization campaign, and initiated the organization of Catholic unions and political parties, many of which, such as the Christian Democrats in Chile, remain powerful in the twenty-first century. Priests and members of religious orders now tried to control the programs of civil government rather than trying to dominate government. At times, the social activism resulted in bitter struggles, for example the Cristero Rebellion in Mexico (19261929) over the role of religion in a revolutionary society. Rerum Novarum also inspired what became splits within the church itself. The Pope encouraged social activism, but by the 1920s and 1930s the militancy among some priests had become a revolutionary fervor. Colombian Father Camilo Torres, for example, went into the highlands in the 1960s to join revolutionaries and was later killed by counterinsurgents.

Pope John XXIII called the bishops to meet in 1962 in Vatican II. Beset by challenges of the world's economic inequities, the rise of communism, and the increase of revolution, the church fathers initiated changes. One result was the rise of liberation lheology, with local parish programs for social welfare called Christian Base Communities (CBCs). These community action programs confronted needs unmet or ignored by civil authorities. The CBCs constituted an indirect challenge to government officials, and often provoked direct confrontation with governments to obtain basic necessities for the poor. These CBCs became especially important in Brazil during the years of the military dictatorship and served as a form of grassroots organizing. In other countries, Guatemala, for example, the failure of both government and church leaders to assist the indigenous population provided an opening for Protestant and Morman missionaries. Conversion to these faiths provided a new support network for rural Guatemalans. The church-state experience, of course, varies by country, from leadership in challenges to dictatorship in El Salvador, to organization of indigenous peoples in Chiapas, to struggle to survive in antireligious Cuba. The rise in conversion to Evangelical Protestantism is another complicating factor, with some governments reacting with hostility and suspicion to a movement led by foreigners, while in other casesnotable Guatemalaconservative Protestants have become heads of state. In the twenty-first century, the relationship between church and state remains in flux.

See also Anticolonialism: Latin America ; Authoritarianism: Latin America ; Colonialism: Latin America ; Religion: Latin America .


Garrand-Burnett, Virginia, ed. On Earth as It Is in Heaven: Religion in Modern Latin America. Wilmington, Del.: SR Books, 2000.

Gutiérrez, Gustavo. A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation. Maryknoll, N.Y.: The Maryknoll Press, 1973.

Mecham, J. Lloyd. Church and State in Latin America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966.

Schwaller, John F., ed. The Church in Colonial Latin America. Wilmington, Del.: SR Books, 2000.

William H. Beezley

Religion and the State

views updated May 29 2018


This entry includes five subentries:

Latin America
Middle East
United States

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Religion and the State