A love-hate relationship between religion and democracy

A love-hate relationship between religion and democracy October 4, 2012

According to a new analysis by Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom and Gizem Arikan, political scientists at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, religious believers don’t think much of democracy.

However, they found that religious behaviour (belonging to a religious group and participating in group activities) was linked to increased support for democracy. The reason for the difference is that both these factors are linked to more fundamental social attitudes, and that these are the real influencers on support for democracy

What they found was that strong religious belief was linked to a rejection of secular/rational values, in favour of traditional values, and also to rejection of self-expression, in favour of ‘survival values’ (a hotch-potch of insecurity, desire for hierarchical authority, and intolerance). These, in turn, lead to a rejection not just of overt support for democracy, but also a rejection of the values that make democracy work (things like civil rights and support for democratic procedures).

Social religious behaviour, on the other hand, increases both interest in politics and confidence in institutions. Although religious participation doesn’t seem to increase support for democratic procedures, nor does it dampen it. Overall, strong religious networks contribute to increased trust in institutions and thereby more support for democracy.

Now, the data they had available didn’t allow them to decide which effect was stronger with much certainty. However, they did conclude that, all other things being equal, “the total negative effect of religious belief on support for democracy is stronger than the positive effect of religious social behavior,” and that “the effect of religious belief on values is typically the strongest in the models, while the effect of religious social behavior on confidence in institutions and political interest is relatively weaker.”

Overall, religion is bad for your democratic health.

What’s more, they found a similar effect regardless of the religious tradition. On the face of it, this conflicts with other research showing that Catholics and Muslims want democracy – but for different reasons. However, this discrepancy might be explained if, for example, Muslims have stronger religious beliefs.

Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom, & Gizem Arikan (2012). Religion and Support for Democracy: A Cross-National Test of the Mediating Mechanisms British Journal of Political Science : 10.1017/S0007123412000427

Creative Commons License This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

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