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Secularism and State Policies toward Religion


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  • Page extent: 334 pages
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Secularism and State Policies toward Religion
Cambridge University Press
9780521517805 - Secularism and State Policies toward Religion - The United States, France, and Turkey - By Ahmet T. Kuru


In the aftermath of the cold war, religion is playing an increasing role in politics across the globe. This trend has been a serious challenge to political scientists, who have generally left studies on religion and politics to legal scholars, philosophers, and historians.1 Especially in the United States, this issue is often confined to the “true meaning” of the First Amendment or the correlation between religious affiliations and voting preferences. Recently, a group of political scientists have conducted comparative analyses of state-religion relations, although their number is still limited.2 In addition to religion’s rising importance in world politics, the decline of two old impediments has been influential in this change.

The first impediment that distracted many political scientists from taking religion seriously was secularization theory. According to this theory, religion is a “traditional” phenomenon, which will eventually be marginalized by the modernization process, including industrialization, urbanization, and mass education.3 Pippa Norris and Ronald

Inglehart argue that economic growth, socioeconomic equality, and human development result in long-term changes in existential security, leading to the erosion of religious values, beliefs, and practices. In short, religion is doomed to wither away in developed societies.4 The number of secularization theory’s critics, however, is increasing. A competing theory is the religious market approach of Rodney Stark, Laurence Iannacconne, and Anthony Gill. They stress that individuals’ religious demands do not decline in response to the so-called secularization process. Instead, religious participation changes by the quality of the supply of “churches.”5 Other critics give credit to the valid parts of secularization theory. Jose Casanova stresses that the theory has failed in its predictions of (1) the decline of religion in terms of loss of faith and a decrease in religious participation and (2) the individualization of religion, with its waning public importance. The only valid part is its emphasis on the declining dominance of religion over other spheres, such as the political, economic, and scientific.6 According to Peter Berger, secularization theory has only two valid explanations. One concerns the secularization of European societies regarding their declining religious beliefs and participation. The other details the emergence of a global secular elite, who share a worldwide secular way of life, removed from local traditions.7 In sum, social scientists have become less bound by the secularization theory and more aware of religion’s significant public role.

The second source of distraction was the normative argument that religion should not play a substantial public role in a modern democratic polity. Philosophers such as John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas initially required that a public discourse be secular.8 They argued that people should participate in democratic deliberation by putting aside their religious doctrines, which impeded consensus due to their

dogmatic aspects. Some of these philosophers later rethought the role of religion in the public sphere. Rawls stressed that political liberalism should not be a comprehensive doctrine that challenged secular or religious worldviews.9 He developed the concept of “overlapping consensus,” which may open spaces to religious views in public debates.10 Charles Taylor went beyond Rawls by reinterpreting “overlapping consensus” as a way of coexistence for secular and religious discourses.11

Other thinkers have emphasized that religious discourses are not different from ideological arguments and, therefore, welcome the public sphere. Alfred Stepan emphasizes that all religions are “multivocal”; they may have both democratic and authoritarian interpretations. For Stepan, the sine qua non for democracy is not secularism but “twin tolerations” between the state and religions, as indicated by the presence of established churches in several Western European democracies.12 Casanova points out how religions have positively contributed to the public life by defending traditional values, questioning states and markets, and protecting the common good against individualist theories.13 The exclusion of religion from public debates is particularly problematic for political theorists, such as Nancy Fraser, who criticize the idea of a monolithic public sphere, which would become exclusionary at the expense of various religious, ethnic, and social groups. For Fraser, a truly democratic society should have room for multiple, alternative, and competing public spheres, which allow for cultural diversity.14 In sum, these scholars emphasize that it is normal for religion and politics to interact. Therefore, the proper question for the political scientists is “how religion and politics interact, not whether they should.”15

Even if certain political scientists are not influenced by secularization theory or by a normative view against public religion, they may still avoid making a comparative analysis of state-religion relations for two reasons. First, such an analysis is more difficult than, for example, a comparative economic study because of the lack of consistent

terminology. Among the three cases that I picked, the United States, France, and Turkey, only France is unanimously defined as a secular state. A major reason for the disagreement over the United States is its constitution, which does not literally include the concepts of “secular state” or “separation [of church and state].” Turkey’s problem of definition is the state’s control over Islam, which sounds odd for a secular state. I explain these puzzles throughout the book.

The second hurdle is the idea that each country has its unique conditions of state-religion relations, which makes a comparative analysis difficult.16 This problem is particularly valid for my cases because the United States, France, and Turkey are largely viewed as exceptional countries. America is perceived as “exceptional” because it is the only “Western” society with constantly vibrant church participation. It would be redundant to say that France is seen as exceptional. One could even say that “French” is synonymous with “exceptional.”17 France is the only Western European country that explicitly uses the term secular republic in its constitution. Finally, Turkey is regarded as an exception by being both Muslim and Western – a “torn country” à la Huntington.18 Despite these so-called exceptions, there are important similarities among the three cases to warrant comparison.19 The term secularism as defined in this book captures these similarities, while still highlighting the differences among them. Such a comparison has significant, generalizable consequences for the study of religion and politics. With its comparative politics perspective, the book differs from sociological works on societal and individual religiosity,20 philosophical works on secularism as a worldview,21 critical works on the deconstruction of secularism as a discourse and as power relations,22 and anthropological works on secularism as an everyday practice.23

The following theoretical chapter summarizes main puzzles and arguments, discusses case selection, explores the theoretical framework and its alternatives, explains the methodological tools and data sources, and defines relevant terminology. Then, two chapters focus on each of the three cases. One chapter is devoted to (1) current state policies toward religion, particularly in education, and (2) how ideological struggles shape the policy-making process. The second chapter in each set examines the historical origin and trajectory of current ideological conflicts. I counterintuitively chose to put the contemporary chapters before the historical ones because they explain both the dependent variables (policy trends toward religion) and explanatory variables (ideological dominance and struggles). The historical chapters then trace the genealogy of ideological dominance using an historical variable (ancien régime based on the marriage between monarchy and hegemonic religion). The conclusion includes a comparative review of the empirical chapters and their generalizable results.

1 Kenneth Wald and Clyde Wilcox analyzed the flagship journal of political science, American Political Science Review (APSR). From 1906 to 2006, the APSR published only twenty-one articles “with a religious term in the title” and “strongly concerned with religion.” Public law and political philosophy were the subfields that supplied about 80% of these articles. Wald and Wilcox 2006, 523–5.

2 Rare examples of comparative political analysis include Gill 1998; Monsma and Soper 1997; Fetzer and Soper 2005; Jacobsohn 2003.

3 Bruce 2002.

4 Norris and Inglehart 2004. See Kuru 2005b.

5 According to this approach, state regulation of religion makes religious markets inefficient and decreases religious participation (e.g., in Western Europe), whereas deregulation promotes pluralistic and competitive religious markets that efficiently satisfy diverse religious tastes and increase religious participation (e.g., in the United States). Stark and Finke 2000; Stark and Iannacconne 1994; Gill 1999; Young 1996. For a significant critique, see Norris and Inglehart 2004.

6 Casanova 1994.

7 Berger 1999, 10–12.

8 Rawls 1971; Habermas 1999; Habermas 1998.

9 Rawls 1996. See also Habermas 2006; Habermas 2004.

10 Dombrowski 2001; March 2007.

11 Taylor 1999.

12 Stepan 2001.

13 Casanova 1994, 228–9.

14 Fraser 1997, 69–98.

15 Cochran 1998, xiv (emphasis in original).

16 Mardin 1995.

17 “L’exception française: mythe ou réalité?” Sciences humaines, no. 46, September–November 2004.

18 Huntington 1993, 42–3.

19 The French Council of State issued a report on secularism in 2004. The only two non-EU countries analyzed in the report are the United States and Turkey. Conseil d’Etat 2004, 377–82.

20 Casanova 1994; Norris and Inglehart 2004.

21 Taylor 2007.

22 Asad 2003; Scott 2007; Hurd 2007.

23 Navaro-Yashin 2002; Özyürek 2006.

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