Religion, Politics, and War

The Peace of Westphalia (1648) marked the end of the Thirty Years’ War and the beginning of the modern European state system. The development and evolution of the principles laid out in the Westphalian treaties made the territorially defined independent sovereign state the dominant political unit for managing and governing populations. Those principles also led to recognition of the state as the primary unit for interaction (including the ‘‘interaction’’ of war) between territorially bounded populations. By the end of the twentieth century, the state system had encompassed the entire globe.

An understanding of the relationship between religion, politics, and war begins with an analysis of regimes (Swanson 1967). A state governs a population by means of a regime. A regime is responsible for maintaining peace and securing justice within the territorial bounds of a state. A regime acts by exercising its own autonomous powers and by implementing and enforcing laws. Regimes take many forms, including (but not limited to) absolute monarchy (France under Louis XVI), personality-centered dictatorship (Hitler’s Germany), government by cabinet embedded in a constitutional monarchy (the United Kingdom), an executive presidential system linked through a division of powers to legislative bodies (United States of America), and rule by a single party (People’s Republic of China).

The autonomous powers of a regime are, in principle, unlimited, and they include the legitimate use of force. The powers of a regime and a regime’s performance can be (and usually are) constrained and directed by laws and limitations such as traditional rights, even where the regime is a monarchy or dictatorship. In that regard, a major question in the analysis of the state pertains to the relationship between a regime and a society’s political system or body politic. Can interests (including religious interests) be legitimately organized and expressed within a political system in ways that effectively influence a regime’s actions? Answers to this question can be framed within answers to another fundamental question. What is the direct relation between a regime and the religious institutions of a society, the relation that is not mediated through an aggregation of interests in civil society and their expression in a political system? This question defines the church-state problematic.

Church and State

Although the categories ‘‘church’’ and ‘‘state’’ are products of the history and experience of the West, they can be applied to the analysis of religion, regimes, and politics across the contemporary world (see Martin 1978). Two ideal-type models and their variants specify the range of relations between religion and the state. The interpenetration model assumes a high degree of church-state (or religion-regime) congruence and the effective unity of religious and political action. Important variants of this model include theocracy and caesaropapism. Where theocracy exists, the authority of religion is decisive for the state. In the case of caesaro-papism the tables are turned and the state dominates religion.

The separation model posits institutional autonomy for both religion and the state. Variants include the two-powers and the strict separation subtypes. The two-powers subtype recognizes the distinct jurisdictional domains of the state and religion within a framework of church-religion– state-regime accommodation that may include church establishment (the official recognition and support of a church by a state) but also may encompass mutual suspicion, struggle, and crossinstitutional interference. Strict separation eliminates all traditional, legal, and organizational bonds and most forms of accommodation between the state and religion. Each institution is not only autonomous but also ‘‘out of bounds’’ with respect to the other.

Contemporary examples of the interpentration and separation models include the Islamic Republic of Iran (theocratic), Russia (caesaro-papist), Poland (two powers), and the United States of America (strict separation). The 1979 revolution in Iran led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini imposed Twelver Shi’a Islamic law and tradition on the Iranian state. This move invigorated the Iranian masses and was hailed as progressive in many parts of the Muslim world. It also led to tension between the development of Iran as a modern state and the application of Islamic rules, principles, and laws as the authentic seal of the revolution (Arjomand 1993). The lawmaking power of the state dominates the law finding power of the traditional Shi’a jurists in Iran. Nevertheless the country can be classified as a theocracy because the resolution of disputes is constitutionally in the hands of those who have been trained in Islamic religious jurisprudence. As well, lay citizens may serve in lower offices including the Majlis (parliament), but only clerics (religious jurists) can occupy high political, administrative, or judiciary positions in Iran.

The reforms of Peter the Great, czar of Russia from 1682 to 1725, transformed the administration of the Russian Orthodox Church into an office of the state and, thereby, instituted a caesaropapist regime. All religious activities were governed by regulations promulgated by the czar. The church was the state’s instrument for controlling and educating the population. It remained so until the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the foundation of the Soviet state. Under Communist Party rule, with Marxism as the official ideology of the regime, Russian caesaro-papism became a negative, eradicating, secularizing force. Church property was confiscated. The church was sheared of all nonreligious functions. Religious practice was strictly controlled.

After the collapse of the Soviet state (1989– 1991), a liberal constitution guaranteed freedom of expression and practice for all religions. No provision was made for an established church. Subsequently, however, the Russian Orthodox Church was recognized by the state as the preeminent church in Russia, thus formally linking the Russian state to the Russian church once again. In the former Soviet Union, the autocracy of the Communist Party replaced the autocracy of the Russian czar. In both cases there was a caesaropapist relation between a regime and religion, a relation that persists in the recognition of the preeminence of the Russian Orthodox Church by the liberalized, post-Soviet Russian state.

Unlike the Russian Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church in Poland has never acceded to nor successfully been forced into a caesaropapist relation with the state. The two-powers variant of the separation model has always prevailed,even during the period of Communist rule (1948–1989).

Religion by numorous

Figure 1: Religion by numorous

In the early modern period, Poland did not develop a state controlled by an absolute prince. A protodemocratic republic of nobles resisted state autocracy and, thereby, prevented control of the church by a powerful, centralized regime. In the nineteenth century, Polish national identity was fused with Polish Roman Catholicism. Thus, the stage was set for the church to serve as the defender of the interests of the nation when those interests were at risk during the period of Communist rule.

Identified with the Polish nation, the Polish church stood against the Polish state in a twopowers relationship during most of the Cold War. The opposition of the church in Poland to the Communist regime made an important contribution to the downfall of communism in the Eastern bloc of European states. As one of the most powerful actors in the civil society of post-Communist Poland (having long organized itself as a hierarchic weapon in defense of its own interests), the Polish Roman Catholic Church now faces the challenge of dealing with the tendency ‘‘in victory’’ to become a quasitheocratic actor, a role that is inconsistent with the Vatican’s position that national churches should be institutions with interests and not would-be hegemons in contemporary liberal democratic societies (Casanova 1994).

Where Poland exemplifies the two-powers variant of the separation model, the United States is the primary example of strict separation. Constitutionally guaranteed free religious practice and a constitutional provision forbidding the establishment or state sponsorship of any religion underwrite the autonomy and differentiation of religion and the state in a historically exceptional pattern. Unlike the case of Russia, for example, where the post-Communist state recognized the Russian Orthodox Church as the preeminent national religious body, no part (legislative, executive, or judicial) of any American government (local, state, or federal) can grant legal privileges to a religious organization. By the same token, American governments can neither limit nor curtail religious practice, as happened in the former Soviet Union, nor can they pass and enforce laws that impose religious norms and rules on a population, as is the case in Iran.

Unlike Poland, where the post-Communist liberal constitution has not prevented the government from granting funds to the Roman Catholic Church in support of church-sponsored education, no church or religious body could successfully petition any government in America for material support. On the other hand, American churches and religious organizations are not taxed by governments unless they are, in effect, business organizations within the meaning and application of the law. Thus, although the state neither interferes with religious institutions nor provides recognition and material support for them, there is a pattern of passive accommodation in America whereby the state allows religious organizations to operate as untaxed nonprofit corporate bodies. Where strict separation holds, the state is not anticlerical, nor is it a direct, overt benefactor of religion.

The examples adduced above do not exhaust the range of historical detail and local variance that will be discovered where the fit of the interpenetration or separation models to a particular state is assessed. The models, themselves, however, do exhaust the range of possibilities for the regime-religion relation and, thus, can be used to classify any state and organize the history of its intercourse with religion.

Religion, Regimes, and Polotical Systems

The analysis of the church-state relation focuses on links between the governing center of a society (a regime) and religious groups and institutions in a society. The analysis of religion and political systems, on the other hand, addresses questions pertaining to the organization and expression of interests in a society. Variation in the form of political systems and the relations between political systems and regimes affects the organization of interests in a society and the impact that interests including religious interests can have on regimes.

Do most of the members of a society have a role in determining who controls the society’s regime? Do most of the members of a society have a role in selecting those who make the society’s laws? For most of human history, the answer to both questions has been no. Kings, queens, emperors, military despots, dictators, patriarchs, oligarchs, leaders of single-party states, religious autocrats, petty tyrants, and the like—those who attain office without the broad-based consent of the people whom they dominate—were the rule, not the exception, until well into the twentieth century. Today, the democratic election of state leaders and lawmakers is a global norm, although there are many departures from it in practice (see Meyer et al. 1997).

The extent to which religious interests in a democratic society are organized and expressed in the society’s political system is conditioned on the regime-religion (church-state) relation. As well, the organization of democratic political systems varies in ways that are independent of the regimereligion relation and that can affect the political expression of religious interests. Also, the properties of a society’s population can have an impact on the political expression of religious interests. Finally, a state and its society may face external conditions that influence the internal relation between religion and politics.

Canada, the United States, and Israel, for example, are all modern democratic societies, but there are significant differences between them regarding religion and politics—differences that reflect variations in the regime-religion (churchstate) relation, the organization of political systems, the populations, and external conditions. An examination of these variations illustrates the range of linkages between religion and politics in contemporary democracies. A substantial majority of the population of Israel is Jewish. Where religious matters are politically salient in Israel, controversies and conflicts often reflect sharp differences between secular and observant as well as Zionist and non-Zionist Israeli Jews. Most Israelis do not identify themselves as religiously observant in a strict sense, although only about 20 percent of the population eschew all religious observance. The state was founded (in 1948) and continuously governed for many years by a social-democratic party (Labour) whose members were for the most part secularized Jews of eastern European origin. Immigration added a significant component of observant oriental Jews to the Israeli population. Notwithstanding the secular origins of the state and the persistent secular orientation of many Israelis, religion is highly salient in Israeli politics today (Liebman 1993).

The State of Israel does not have a written constitution. Thus, the relation between religion and the state is not formally defined in a constitutional sense. No legislative or administrative acts either separate religion and the state or establish a particular variant of Judaism as the religion of the state. This means, among other things, that the resources of the state can be allocated on an ad hoc basis to religious organizations, including schools and welfare organizations that are controlled by religious groups. In this circumstance, religious groups have formed political parties to obtain state support for their organizations and to secure political goals linked to religious ideologies.

Representation in the Israeli parliament (Knesset) is based on proportional voting for parties. Proportional voting enables small parties to win seats. This feature of the Israeli electoral system plus the absence of legal or constitutional provisions either specifying or restricting the use of state resources in support of religion have encouraged the development of religious political parties in Israel. In recent years both large secular parties (socialist Labour and Likud) and smaller religious parties have received enough votes to claim seats in the parliament, but no single party has secured enough seats (a majority) to form a government. In that circumstance a government is formed by bargaining between parties. The leader of the party with the most seats negotiates with other parties to form a majority coalition. Cabinet positions are the important bargaining chips in the process.

By entering into agreements with large secular parties when they need votes to form a government, some religious parties in Israel have secured cabinet portfolios. The electoral successes of some religious parties have enabled them to pursue interests and goals that in some cases are at considerable variance with the sensibilities and inclinations of secular Israelis, especially with regard to territorial settlements and peace, but also in matters pertaining to religious observance and the public presence of religion in Israeli life.

Israel, then, is a qualified variant of the theocractic model of religion-regime relations in the sense that there are no constitutional restrictions on the implementation of politically salient derivations that could flow from the ideology of a governing party. No religious party in Israel has succeeded, so far, in becoming a governing party, but were that to happen, there is no constitutional limitation that would, in principle, prevent a religious governing party from imposing its prescriptions and practices on the population of Israel.

Both Israel and Canada are parliamentary democracies, but the presence of religion in the contemporary political life of Canada is subdued in comparison with its visibility in the Israeli public arena. Reasons for this difference include the form of the constitutionalization of the churchstate relationship in Canada, the organization of the Canadian political system, the secularization of cleavages or political fault lines in Canada, and the religious composition of the Canadian population.

The constitution of Canada underwrites a ‘‘soft’’ version of the caesaro-papist subtype of the interpentration model of church-state relations. There is both a guarantee of free religious practice and the recognition of a form of religious establishment whereby public funds flow in support of primary and secondary schools affiliated with some churches. As well, hospitals and other health care organizations owned by religious groups are publicly funded.

Where education and health care are constitutionalized provincial responsibilities, there are variations between provinces regarding patterns and levels of funding for church-related schools. Also, provinces are free to expand support beyond constitutionally required levels or to withdraw support in some circumstances. Thus, until 1999 Roman Catholic secondary schools in Ontario were not funded at the same level as public high schools. Following a provincial referendum in Newfoundland, church-related school boards were abolished in 1999, although public funds continue to support religious instruction in all schools in the province.

Constitutional and legal provisions pertaining to the church-state relation in Canada circumscribe the possibilities for political action by religious actors. The state will not provide material support to any religion for the asking, although it does provide funds in support of the educational and health care activities of designated churches, of which the Roman Catholic Church is the most notable example. This pattern has roots in the accommodation of Roman Catholic francophone Canada and Protestant anglophone Canada and the political balancing act that has kept Canada together since the founding of the Canadian state in 1867. Essentially, federal governments act in ways that are designed to ensure continuing accommodation between divisive political actors. The form that the constitutionalization of the church-state relation has taken in Canada enables governments to control the fissiparous tendencies of religiously oriented political actors through quasi-establishment (the funding of religiously affiliated schools and health care facilities) and caesaro-papist policies that, in effect, limit the public, political expression of divisive religious views (Simpson 1985).

The organization of the Canadian political system also encourages the containment of religious expression as a form of political action. The electoral rule of ‘‘first past the post’’ (a plurality of votes) makes it unlikely that the candidates of small parties will win seats in the federal House of Commons. This is unlike, say, the case in Israel, where the proportion of votes obtained by a party provides small parties with an opportunity for representation in the Knesset. Views on issues including religious views that lack a broad base in the Canadian population are not likely to be represented in government.

A Canadian government is formed by the appointment of a cabinet of ministers (who are the government) by the leader of the party with a majority of seats in the House of Commons. (Not every member of parliament is a member of a government.) Once formed, a government (as is the case in any parliamentary system) can work its will without bargaining with other parliamentary parties—assuming that it is a majority government, meaning that it has a majority of seats in the House of Commons. Typically, matters related to the country’s economy and the unity of Canadian confederation dominate federal elections in Canada and, thus, rise to the level of government policy making, where they obscure other issues, including those that have a base in sectarian religious sensibilities.

The pattern of church-state articulation and the mechanics of the electoral system work against a simple, direct relation between religion and politics in contemporary Canada. As well, there has been shift in the last forty years in the nature of the cleavage that divides Canada into the nation of Quebec and the rest of Canada, a shift that has had implications for the tie between religion and politics. The rapid institutional secularization of Quebec in the 1960s and parallel movements in Anglophone Canada transformed the religion-language duality of Canada into a culture-language duality. Culture burst the bounds of religion and church control (see Borduas 1948). By the 1970s, Canada was officially defined as a bilingual and bicultural society, an understanding that was constitutionalized in 1982 along with provisions that, in effect, recognized rights pertaining to cultural maintenance and expression for all groups in Canada.

By moving the ‘‘game’’ of Canada to the politics of language, culture, and national expression and away from the politics of the religion-language link that was associated with Anglo dominance and the power of the Roman Catholic clergy in Quebec (a pattern that had been in place since British ascendance in the 1760s), the secularization of Canada in the post–World War II period gradually pushed religion out of the central place it had once occupied in the Canadian political system (Simpson 1988). While religion is no longer in a commanding position, its voice is not dead in the contemporary Canadian public arena. The Roman Catholic Church, mainline Protestant denominations, and Jewish organizations provide a public conscience in matters related to economic and social justice, and they engage the political system with pursuant representations that are underwritten by the pattern of elite accommodation that typifies the Canadian political system (Simpson and Macleod 1985).

In recent years, a number of highly charged issues pertaining to abortion, homosexuality, pornography, prayer in the schools, and extramarital sex have been thrust into the American political arena. While some of these matters have public visibility in Canada, they have not generated the same level of public attention and scrutiny that they have in the United States, nor have they been a source of sustained conflict and serious divisiveness within the political arenas of Canada. Why?

The sociomoral issues that have been politicized in America have a base in the moral practices of conservative, sectarian Protestants as well as those of Roman Catholics to some extent. The reincorporation of sectarian Protestants into the American presidential electoral party system in the late 1970s brought sociomoral issues into the American public domain with force (Simpson 1983). A comparison of the religious demography of the Canadian and American populations suggests why these issues, once they were defined as public concerns, have had more prominence in America than in Canada.

About 45 percent of Americans are conservative Protestant Christians, whereas less than 10 percent of the Canadian population falls into the same category. Mainline Christian churches (including Roman Catholic) account for about 65 percent of the Canadian population and 40 percent of the U.S. population (Simpson 1988; Kosmin and Lachman 1993). There are far fewer sectarian Protestants in Canada than in the United States. Canada, then, lacks the population base for generating, supporting, and sustaining a politics of sociomoral issues. In the United States, on the other hand, a substantial portion of the population resonates with sociomoral issues that provide a public presence for everyday moral sensibilities anchored in conservative Protestant beliefs and practices.

More than religious demography underwrites the presence and tenacity of sociomoral issues in the American political system. Once thematized as politically relevant, issues have staying power that can be traced to the organization of the American system of government and, for religiously anchored sociomoral issues, to the constitutionalization of free religious practice and no establishment of religion. Regarding the latter, practices in civil society that are approved by many but have been legally undone because they are not constitutionally valid (for example, prayer in public schools) may be a source of political agitation. A sense of unresolvable grievance arises where unfettered religious practice in the circumstance of no establishment leads to voluntaristic integrity, strength, and, even, militance in pursuit of outcomes that can only be achieved by violating the rule (no establishment) that underwrites and sustains the integrity and strength of religious practice in the first place. Unresolvable grievances are the stuff of primordial political mobilization. A politician signals that she or he is ‘‘onside’’ and wishes that something could be done but that it cannot because it is unconstitutional. Where the principle of no establishment is constitutionally moot, as in Israel or Canada, for example, a sense of unresolved grievance pertaining to issues linked to religion is less likely to persist, since a problem can be solved, at least in principle, by political action that entangles religion and the state.

Issues including politically relevant sociomoral issues also persist because there are three centers of political authority in the American form of government: the president, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. Each center is elected separately, and law can be made only where there is agreement among them. In this circumstance, politicized issues have lives in multiple electoral jurisdictions that encompass local, state, and national publics.

Although the majority party organizes the business of the American House of Representatives and the Senate, it does not form a government as a majority party does in a parliamentary system (for example, Canada or Israel). A government in a parliamentary system does not need the agreement of other centers of political authority to make law since a parliamentary majority guarantees that the political will of the majority party leader and her or his cabinet can become law without external advice or consent. In parliamentary systems a politicized issue tends to have a‘‘half-life’’ that is as long as the attention span of the leader of the government and her or his cabinet of ministers. Where the electorate, itself, is not attuned to issues by virtue of its demographic characteristics—as is the case in Canada regarding religiously linked sociomoral issues—it is unlikely that issues will rise to the level of serious consideration by a government, and even if they do, a government may not pay much attention to them. In the U.S. system, on the other hand, there is a tighter fit between what is on the public mind and the exercise of political authority. As long as an issue persists in the media, it has a guaranteed hearing in multiple centers of political power at the federal level.

Variations in the links between religion and politics in modern democratic systems have been illustrated above with an analysis of Israel, Canada, and the United States of America. The analysis could be extended to other democratic states and, as well, to political systems that are not democratic— for example, to the People’s Republic of China where single party, top-down government has imposed a strict caesaro-papist pattern of control on religion. In any case, an analysis will examine the social forms and properties that inscribe the details of the relationship between religion and politics: the religion-regime linkage, the organization of a state’s political system, and the religious demography of a state’s population.

Religion and War

The state system that emerged from the treaties ending the Thirty Years’ War in 1648 led to the contemporary global international system. In this system, a state and its regime are the elementary units of interaction. Diplomacy, trade, and war are the fundamental forms of international behavior.

By the time of World War I (1914–1918), the international system was a mix of nation-states and imperial powers with nation-state cores. Western nation-states and imperial powers controlled nearly all the inhabited world. World War I dissolved the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. World War II (1939–1945) led to the rapid decline and breakup of the British Empire. Italso led to the bipolar Cold War that pitted the West against the Soviet Union and its client states. The bipolar system came to an end in 1989.

The outcome of each of the major wars in the twentieth century, including the Cold War, led to the decline or collapse of imperial and international structures. Each such decline or collapse, in turn, led to the formation of nation-states. Typically (but not always), states were constructed from the pieces of an imperial or a neo-imperial structure (the bipolar system of the Cold War). Thus, Turkey emerged from the Ottoman Empire and Hungary from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the wake of World War I. India, Pakistan, Burma, and Indonesia were devolutions from the British Empire and the Dutch Empire, which were broken up following World War II. The end of the Cold War led to the formation or revival of nation-states that had been parts of the Russian empire constituted as the Soviet Union and the client states of the Warsaw Pact. They include (but are not limited to) the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan.

London Protest

Figure 2: London Protest

The history of state formation in the twentieth century demonstrates a clear tendency for a nation— that is, a people who share territory, language, and religion—to form or seek to form a state in which the leash of imperial control or regional control with imperial-like features slackens or disappears. When the Cold War global structure collapsed, for example, so did the forces that were the basis for the integration of the former Yugoslavia, a regional, quasi-imperial power from the immediate post–World War II period to the end of the 1980s.

War and state formation in the former Yugoslavia followed the path of ethnoreligious differences. Slovenia (Roman Catholic) and Macedonia (Orthodox) were more or less peaceful devolutions. Serbs (Orthodox) and Croats (Roman Catholic) fought before the state of Croatia was secured. Serbs, Croatians, and Bosnians (Muslim) fought in Bosnia-Herzegovina prior to a Western-imposed settlement. Having receded to the Orthodox provinces of Serbia and Montenegro, Serb-dominated Yugoslavia attempted to drive out the ethnic Albanian (Muslim) population from the region of Kosovo (a part of Serbia) before the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) intervened in 1999.

Beyond the former Yugoslavia there are other contemporary armed conflicts that are also rooted in ethnoreligious differences. These include sporadic border fighting between India and Pakistan, and armed civil conflicts of one variety or another— guerrilla war, terrorism, state military suppression— in the Philippines, Northern Ireland, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. In the Middle East, religiously oriented militant factions of Muslims and Jews have complicated the pursuit of peace. The successful testing of nuclear weapons by both India and Pakistan has fortified the division of the world along ethnoreligious lines.

Huntington (1996) argues that contemporary patterns of conflict in the world provide evidence that the ideologically based political divisions of the Cold War have been replaced by a set of differences that are grounded in the congruence of religion, language, and territory. These differences support, encourage, and sustain action that is rooted in collective and individual identities. At the global level, identities are embedded in civilizations, and civilizations, according to Huntington, are the key to understanding international order and disorder in the twenty-first century.

Analysis of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia provides a sense of the developing pattern of global tension as envisioned by Huntington. Ethnoreligious divisions within collapsing Yugoslavia were replicated in the religious identities of the sources of support for the divisions in the outside world. Orthodox Serbia received economic, military, political, and diplomatic support from Orthodox Russia Germany and, in particular, the heavily Roman Catholic state of Bavaria supported Roman Catholic Croatia. Bosnians and ethnic Albanians received sympathy and aid from sources in the Muslim world.

Jumping to the global level, Huntington argues that divisions in the world will increasingly congeal along civilizational lines. The central civilizational players (and their core states) in the intercivilizatonal global system of the twenty-first century, according to Huntington, include Orthodox civilization (Russia), Confucian civilization (China), Hindu civilization (India), Japanese civilization (Japan), Islamic civilization (no core state), and Western civilization (a consortium of core states consisting of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the United States). International conflicts and wars will tend to occur along civilizational fault lines with core states leading and/or abating intercivilizational hostilities.

If Huntington is right, conflict and war at the intercivilizational level in the twenty-first century will resemble the European wars of religion (Roman Catholics versus Protestants)—the so-called Thirty Years War—that ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. In each case, ethnoreligious or cultural identities have been the basis for the cross-state attribution of lethal patterns of ‘‘us versus them.’’ Whereas the modern state emerged from the seventeenth-century European wars of religion as the dominant political unit for governing and managing populations, it remains to be seen whether new forms of political organization will arise from the intercivilizational tumults of the twenty-first century.

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