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Separation of Religion and State in Stable Christian Democracies: Fact or Myth?

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This study compares separation of religion and state (SRAS) as it is conceived in theory with its realization in practice in 40 stable Christian democracies between 1990 and 2008 based on data from the Religion and State Round 2 dataset. There is no agreement in the literature on how SRAS ought to be conceived. Many scholars argue that SRAS is a necessary condition for liberal democracies. The present study examines four models of SRAS found in the literature, and a non-SRAS model that addresses the appropriate role of religion in democracies: secularism-laicism, absolute SRAS, neutral political concern, exclusion of ideals, and acceptable support for religion. The study analyzes three factors: (a) whether the state supports one or some religions more than others; (b) the extent of religious legislation; and (c) restrictions on the religious practices and institutions of religious minorities. The analysis shows that depending on the definition of SRAS used, between zero and eight of the 40 countries practice SRAS. Based on this finding, I conclude that either SRAS is not a necessary condition for liberal democracy or many states commonly considered to be liberal democracies are not.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Political Studies, Bar Ilan University, E-mail:


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