Religion and Politics

Handleman challenges modernization theory by noting that religion and modernization are not necessarily contradictory. He cites as examples Confucian values of hard work and cooperation. On the other hand, secularization doesn't necessarily mean modernization. You can modernize within tradition, as in the case of Saudi Arabia, where modernization is carefully controlled to maintain the links between Islam and the state. Thus the relationship between modernization and religion is complex and involve the following options: (1) modernization within tradition (2) secularization of politics and of the legal system (3) religious revivalism as a reaction to change.

Modern sectors can be religious (religious intellectuals) and that religion and backwardness are not necessarily the same. Khomeini used technology to bring down the Shah of Iran.

Despite this caution, religious values are more firmly entrenched in the Third World and, therefore, the impact of religion on politics tends to be more overt and more pronounced (Hindu-Muslim conflict in India; Christian-Islamic conflict in Lebanon; Muslim-animist conflict in Nigeria). Also, there are conflict within religious traditions as between Sunni and Shi'ite muslims, conservative catholics and liberation theology catholics.

Relations Between Church and State- Handleman offers a structural analysis of church/state relations based on two variables: the relgion's view of the appropriate relations with the state and the degree of hierarchical structure of the religion. The more elaborate and organized a religion, the greatest its political potential. He gives examples from Islam, Bhuddism and Hinduism, and Catholicism.

Islam considers religion integral to the state and society with the boundaries between religion and politics blurred. Islam's emphasis on the faithful being a community (umma) in accordance with the Quran lends itself to pan-nationalist movements. But in practice there is variation with Turkey being a secular state; Saudi Arabia being an Islamic state that uses the Quran and the Sharia as Law; and muslim states that give recognition to Islam but give religion a less prominant and more limited role (Egypt).

The elaborate bureaucratic structure of Catholicism has allowed it to influence politics with its organization being a political resource. But even within Catholicism there are variations such as Liberation Theology that linked the Church to the poor, took a more active stance against economic and social exploitation, and lent active support to movements that sought fundamental change in Latin America (land reform, democractic rights, the end to militarism and to the use of torture as state policy).

In contrast, the low levels of bureacracy and low degree of hierarchy in Bhuddism and Hinduism as well as their ideological orientation away from political involvement reduces their political role.

Religious fundamentalism (revivalism) is activated under certain conditions:(1) when alternative channels for expression are closed (2) when there is revulsion against socioeconomic inequities and corruption and (3) when change, such as the introduction of western values, undermines existing social and or religious values.

All three of these conditions held in Iran where the pro-western shah ruled through the secret police (Savak) and threatened the religious clergy through land reform (the clergy owned land), granting more freedom to women, and increasingly secularizing society.

The first two conditions held in latin America where the Church served as a shield against repression during the period 1964-1988 when military dictatorships controlled most countries of the region. The Church resisted socioeconomic inequities and corruption.

The third of these conditions is the basis for the Bharatiya Janata Party struggles to convert India from a secular nation into a Hindu nation. The Hindu majority fears the increasing political mobilization of "untouchables" and their conversion to other religions. The Hindus also fear the increasing revivalism among other religions such as the Sikhs (seeking their own state of Khalistan in the Punjab region) and the Muslims.

Fundamentalism (religious revivals) can be a reaction to modernization's dislocations, to "failed development," to colonialism, to corruption, or to repression. The Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria has been fighting a military-backed government that has annuled elections won by the Islamic Party in 1992. More than 30,000 people have been killed in a civil war that involves wholesale slaughter of communities through the slitting of people's throats.