Religion and Democracy

Issue Date April 2009
Volume 20
Issue 2
Page Numbers 5-17
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In the American republic, religion and politics intermingle on the level of civil society in myriad ways. Religion is not established but nor is religious engagement with politics discouraged or forbidden. Other Western democracies have sorted out this matter in a variety of ways. But what about Islam? Elshtain identifies three positions within Islam in relation to democracy: there are those who are optimistic about this relationship; others who are more guarded but hopeful; and a third group that is disillusioned or even despairing that Islam might generate and sustain democratic impulses. Elshtain explores these positions critically, arguing that “solutions” to religion in relation to the state that drive a wedge between “religion” and “politics” will not work in Muslim majority countries. Here the American experiment is a better model than the model of French laïceté.

About the Author

Jean Bethke Elshtain, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School and Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Chair in the Foundations of American Freedom at Georgetown University, delivered the 2008 Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture on Democracy in the World (see box on p. 6). Her most recent book is Sovereignty: God, State, and Self (2008).

View all work by Jean Bethke Elshtain