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Religion, State, and Democracy: Analyzing Two Dimensions of Church-State Arrangements

  • Michael D. Driessen (a1)


One of the essential characteristics of a democratic regime is the separation of Church and state. The elected governors of a democratic regime's institutions require sufficient autonomy in order to make policy that is within the bounds of the constitution and which cannot be contested or overruled by non-elected religious leaders or institutions. However, this requirement is often confused by scholars and politicians to mean that a democracy must also be secular. Therefore, the idea of an “Islamic democracy” for example, is often derided as a contradiction in terms. Using quantitative data from Grim and Finke (2006) and Fox (2006) on cross-national Church and state relationships, this article argues that once the core autonomy prerequisite has been fulfilled, further separation of Church and state is not necessarily associated with higher levels of democracy. In fact, the data indicate that there is a wide range of Church-state arrangements which gives religion the possibility of a central role in political life while maintaining a high quality of democratic rights and freedoms. Drawing on the statistical results of this analysis, the article concludes by rethinking about the possibilities and limits for “public” religion to strengthen democratization processes.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Michael D. Driessen, Department of Political Science, 217 O'Shaughnessy Hall, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556. E-mail:


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