Archive for August, 2016

Political Secularism, Religion, and the State

“Political Secularism, Religion, and the State: A Time Series Analysis of Worldwide Data” by Jonathan Fox. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 285pp.

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What role does religion play in government? What is the relationship between political secularism and religion? And, is the role of religion declining in the public and political sphere and the world becoming more secular? Jonathan Fox addresses these questions in his new book, Political Secularism, Religion, and the State. Drawing on from large-scale quantitative survey data from the round 2 of the Religion and State (RAS2) Project between 1990 and 2008 period, Fox argues that secular and religious institutions and actors are competing with each other for influence and it is in this competition that the religious forces are making significant inroads into the public and political life.

The book begins with Fox’s critical engagement with the much celebrated secularization theory of the 1960s, which predicted the decline and eventual death of religion in modern societies. According to Fox, while much of the debate has centred on either “for or against” the secularization theory, it has blinded us from a “third option” i.e. “whether it is possible to use elements of secularization theory to understand religion’s role in politics and society without accepting all aspects of the theory, especially the prediction of religion’s decline (p.16).” It is in this context, Fox introduces the concept of “political secularism” – defined “as an ideology or set of beliefs advocating that religion ought to be separate from all or some aspects of politics of public life (or both) (p.2)” – and discusses the competition between political secularism and religious actors – referred to as the competition perspective – to influence state-religion policy. Fox argues that understanding a state’s religion policy is vital as it demonstrates how a state deals with its religion. He identifies 110 religion policies through which states support, regulate and restrict religious practices and institutions. Based on a time series analysis of worldwide data, Fox concludes that state support for religion around the world is on the rise. Though this by itself does not disprove secularization theory, it shows that in the competition between secularism and religion, it is the latter one that is gaining significant influence in the public and political sphere.

The book provides innovative empirical and theoretical insights on the relationship between secularism, religion and the state. Readers will benefit greatly from the author’s skills on how to analyse large-scale datasets. The book has successfully combined empirical data with theoretical interpretations and will be useful to students and scholars of sociology of religion and comparative politics.

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Reviewed by Sarbeswar Sahoo (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi), Political Studies Review, Vol.15, Issue.2, pp.301-302.

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