Do democracies have separation of religion and state?

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While many argue that separation of religion and state (SRAS) is an essential element of democracy, others posit that religion is an essential element of democracy's moral underpinnings. This study examines the debate using data from the Religion and State (RAS) dataset, which includes 62 variables in six broader categories measuring different aspects of SRAS for all 152 states with populations of one million or more, as well as data on democracy from the Polity and Freedom House datasets. It also develops seven operational definitions of SRAS that can be constructed using this data. Overall, the results show that a clear majority of democracies do not have SRAS even when evaluating multiple operational definitions of both democracy and SRAS. However, democracies tend to have lower average levels of government involvement in religion (GIR) than do non-democracies. This is because, while most democracies do not have SRAS, there is an upper limit to the amount of GIR that is found in any democracy that does not appear to apply to non-democracies. All this indicates that the proper question regarding religion and democracy is not one of SRAS but rather one of how much and what types of GIR can democracies tolerate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalCanadian Journal of Political Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2007


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