Does Religion Shape The Nature Of Democratic Development?

1753 words - 7 pages

All but four countries in the world claim to be democracies. While this statistic is demonstrative of democracy’s widespread appeal, it fails to articulate the extreme differences in the level of democracy that is experienced in these countries. Many states are merely democratic in name. Others began the democratization process but have failed to progress toward a true democracy. Scholars identify religion as a source of promotion or hindrance to democratic development. They argue that some religions are predisposed to liberal forms of democracy while others are a few steps shy of theocracy. Certain religious-based societies are not willing to incorporate all the elements of democracy, thus hindering democratic development. According to the Dahl and Linz-Stepan criteria listed in chapter eleven of Arguing Comparative Politics, the tenants of democracy are: “(1) freedom to form and join organizations; (2) freedom of expression; (3) the right to vote; (4) eligibility for public office; (5) the right of political leaders to compete for support and votes; (6) alternative sources of information; (7) free and fair elections; (8) institutions for making government policies depend on votes and other expressions of preference;” (9) the presence of a written democracy that respects fundamentals of liberty; and (10) a government that operates within the constraints of the constitution. These parameters help evaluate the impact of specific religions on their government, and will identify which groups obtain true democracy. Christianity, Islam, and Confucianism will be compared to determine their impact on democratic development within a state. When determining whether religion shapes the nature of democratic development, we must first understand if these three religions are politically compatible with democracy?
The Western nations of Europe and the United States are examples of Christianity-based democracies. Additional nations such as the Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom, and Germany have strong established Christian churches. Samuel P. Huntington believed that the success of Western culture is largely attributed to their inherent separation of church and state. Nations like Germany allowed local governments to decide how religion would be incorporated into their governance and education system. The central government remained detached from religious affiliation even though the nation remained predominantly split between Catholicism and Protestantism. Many Christian-based nations initially took issue with the separation; however, “political activists… found, and mobilized, doctrinal elements within their religion to help them craft new practices supportive of tolerance and democratic struggles.” This successful separation experiences little if any conflict today. As a result, all Western nations adhere to the tenants of democracy, and Christianity did not hinder their democratic development.
Confucianism, while not a religion,...

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