Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version

Originally, a form of direct governance by the citizens of a city (polis) in ancient Greece. In modern times, governance based upon representative institutions with officeholders chosen through popular election.

Attention to the relationship between religion and democracy has focused on, first, the historical role of religion in directly generating, opposing, and sustaining democratic nation-states and movements; second, the study of religious organizations as mediating institutions that strengthen civil society and thus reinforce democracy; third, the influence of democratic political authority upon religious traditions founded on other modes of legitimate authority; fourth, democratic and nondemocratic forms of governance within religious organizations; fifth, the long-term viability of religion and religious belief in modern democracies characterized by high levels of religious pluralism.

Many writers have focused on this last area, under the themes of secularization and the role of religion in the public realm. The former debate revolves around whether or not religious pluralism necessarily leads to a loss of religious social authority, the privatization of religious belief, and the erosion of religious faith. The latter debate asks what public role religions and religious language can appropriately play within religiously pluralistic democracies.

Thus the advent of democracy as the dominant form of governance in the world has raised a host of new problems, questions, and opportunities for religious leaders and social scientists alike.

See also American Religion, Politics and Religion

Richard L. Wood


R. N. Bellah, The Broken Covenant (New York: Seabury, 1975)

J. T. Duke and B. L. Johnson, "Protestantism and the Spirit of Democracy," in Religious Politics in Global and Comparative Perspective , ed. W. H. Swatos, Jr. (New York: Greenwood, 1989): 131-146

R. M. Glassman et al., For Democracy (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1993)

M. E. Marty, Righteous Empire (New York: Dial, 1970)

A. de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday: 1969 [1835]).

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