The Impact of Religious Thought on Political Practice

Marina Ottaway November 17, 2004 Washington, D.C.
Summary
The Carnegie Endowment sponsored an event to discuss the resurgence of political movements rooted in religion doctrine and its impact on democratization.
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Presenters:
Stephen Ellis, Senior Researcher, the African Center, the Netherlands
Gerrie Ter Haar, Professor of Religion, Human Rights and Social Change, the Institute of Social Studies, the Netherlands
John Voll, Director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University
Luis Lugo, Director, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life

Moderator:
Marina Ottaway, Senior Fellow, the Carnegie Endowment

Stephen Ellis1 discussed the changing relationship between religion and politics in the context of Africa. He first asserted that spiritualism has deep historical roots in the region and has always played an important role in governance. However, the interplay between religion and politics has been recently restructured as a result of two phenomena. First, in much of Africa, there has been a failure of the secular political enterprise. The vision of "development" in Africa that began to emerge in the late 40s has ultimately not delivered social and economic prosperity to the region. Second, changes in the international climate have provided the space for global growth in the importance of religion. Traditional African religions have globalized and now transcend boundaries to reach an international audience. Religious affiliation serves as a global network that Africans can easily access. Also, the trend toward democratization has created a political venue for African religious movements to influence the public sphere. Therefore, Ellis concludes with his finding that Africa’s reconnection with its political roots is also invariably a reconnection with its historical roots.

 

John Voll analyzed the evolution of the debates on secularization and modernization theory. He argued that it is critical to look at the changed meaning behind the vocabulary used in the discourse of these contested models. If religion is conceptualized in its traditional sense, as a construct of an "imagined community," then the growth of politic-religious movements does not undermine secularization theory. Religion in the traditional conceptualization is disappearing. But the meaning, role, and operation of religion has changed over time, especially in the context of globalization. The new movements reflect the needs of modern political communities. Voll argued that this sensitivity to meaning needs to be incorporated in the discourse on religion and politics. He also mentioned that the debate on modernization theory is similarly afflicted by a changed conceptualization of words.

 

Luis Lugo focused his discussion on the role of the Evangelical community in shaping politics in the United States. In the recent 2004 presidential election, "moral values" played a significantly more important role in the outcome of the vote than in the previous election. (Moral values were defined to include social policy, religious and traditional values, and the personal character of the candidate). Lugo surveyed the results from polls that captured the perceptions of different American groups on political issues. The results showed that, following Jews, Evangelicals are the most "internationalist" group. They are also strong believers in U.S. exceptionalism, and the least multiliteralist of any group. Additional polling showed that Evangelicals support the war in Iraq, as well as a strong pro-Israeli stance. Given these findings, Logo argued that Evangelicals make up an important domestic constituency in the United States for a neoconservatist approach.

 

A general discussion followed.


1
Stephen Ellis spoke on behalf of Gerrie Tar Haar, as well as himself.


Synopsis prepared by Hania Kronfol, Junior Fellow with the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment.

 

About the Democracy and Rule of Law Program

The Carnegie Democracy and Rule of Law Program rigorously examines the global state of democracy and the rule of law and international efforts to support their advance.

 

About the Middle East Program

The Carnegie Middle East Program combines in-depth local knowledge with incisive comparative analysis to examine economic, sociopolitical, and strategic interests in the Arab world. Through detailed country studies and the exploration of key crosscutting themes, the Carnegie Middle East Program, in coordination with the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, provides analysis and recommendations in both English and Arabic that are deeply informed by knowledge and views from the region. The program has special expertise in political reform and Islamist participation in pluralistic politics.

 
Source carnegieendowment.org/2004/11/17/impact-of-religious-thought-on-political-practice/31dn

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