The sticky subject of religion: can it ever be the glue for a stable society?
Harris, Daniel W.
Olson, Melanie L.
Robinson, Glenn E.
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An assumption underpinning Western liberal democracy is that separation of religion and state always improves stability, and U.S. policy often encourages nations to move toward secular government structures. Yet, ethnically plural societies may need a common identity for the nation to gel and religion might be the glue that can hold a society together. Recent nation-building efforts signal a need for greater understanding of how best to employ religion as a cross-cutting tie for social cohesion. This thesis examines Israel, Iran, and Turkey; each has varying ethnic and religious compositions and has attempted to use religion for domestic stability. While Israel and Iran validate religion's cohesive power, all cases highlight the possible adverse effects of this approach. The findings of this thesis identify which political systems, religious contexts, population demographics, and/or political circumstances are most conducive for leveraging religion to aid domestic stability. We conclude that, while in many cases religion may increase volatility, in some circumstances religious glue may, actually, effectively bridge ethnic divisions to promote cohesion and stability. The most conducive conditions for this approach are when political systems protect minority rights and allow religion in the public sphere, but restrict the government from mandating religious practices.
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