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Exploring interplay between religion and politics

Groundbreaking study may challenge widespread theories of secularization
October 17, 2011

Concordia Theological Studies professor and department chair Lucian Turcescu joined forces with political scientist Lavinia Stan (from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia) to explore the interplay between religion and politics in 10 former Communist countries that are now part of the European Union (EU).

The result of their interdisciplinary research project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, is the book entitled, Church, State, and Democracy in Expanding Europe, published by Oxford University Press in 2011.

In this groundbreaking study, which is bound to challenge widespread theories of secularization, the authors argue that in most of these countries people have shown themselves to remain religious even as they embrace modernization and Western-style liberal democracy.

Turcescu and Stan outline three major models of church-state relations based on political representation for church leaders: governmental subsidies; registration of religions by the state; and, religious instruction in public schools.

In the church-state separation model, encountered in the Czech Republic and to a large degree in Slovenia, religion and politics are treated as distinct areas of human endeavour. The government remains secular, religion is a private matter, no denomination is funded by the public purse, and no religious instruction is offered in public schools.

The pluralist model, found in Hungary, Bulgaria and Latvia, has society made up of complementary autonomous spheres —education, the family, religion — each worthy of recognition and support from the state. The state treats all religions equally, or recognizes a large number of religious groups as “historic religions” important for the country. Religion is not part of public school curricula, but students may enrol in extra-curricular, religious education classes.

Under the dominant model, found in predominantly Catholic Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, chiefly Eastern Orthodox Romania, and Estonia (where a large Lutheran community exists but the majority of people claim no religious affiliation), government authorities informally maintain privileged ties to the religious majorities. By sheer number and historical precedent, the churches within these nations command the loyalty of political parties, have a greater presence in public schools, and receive larger contributions from the public purse.

All three models allow for progressively closer ties between church and state. If the first model maintains separation between church and state, the second model brings them closer, while the third model allows for considerable mutual influence between the two.

As American political scientist Chris Soper noted in his foreword to the volume, “Religion is rising phoenix-like, from the ashes of communism throughout Eastern Europe.” This was not supposed to happen if one is to believe the prediction made 150 years ago by Karl Marx in his Communist Manifesto. Yet, it has happened, despite decades of Communist domination in the region, numerous state-sponsored anti-religious campaigns, and claims by some social scientists that modernization and westernization would inevitably lead to secularization.

Related links:
•  Concordia Department of Theological Studies
•  Church, State, and Democracy in Expanding Europe


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