Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on ReligionInstitute for Studies of Relgion
IJRR :: 2005 Volume 1 :: Article 1
2005 Volume 1, Article 1
The Political Origins of Religious Liberty

Author: Anthony Gill (University of Washington)

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Economists of religion have show a strong relationship between religious pluralism and religious vitality. Likewise, many scholars have associated the presence of religious pluralism in a country with the degree to which a government regulates its religious economy. A relatively free religious market enhances pluralism, which in turn promotes religious participation. But this begs a further question: Why do political actors choose to regulate or deregulate the religious economy? In other words, what political factors determine the level and nature of religious liberty? In contrast to explanations that see religious liberty arising from the natural progression of intellectual history, I argue that laws and regulations governing religious organizations are determined by variables that affect the political self-interest of government officials . Although there are often strong reasons why politicians would want to create regulations that favor a monopolistic church, political actors will liberalize the religious market when such action favors their political survival and ability to attract government revenue and/or enhances economic growth and trade. Moreover, religious deregulation is more likely to occur under conditions in which it is difficult to suppress natural religious pluralism. The development of religious liberty in the United States and in Latin America is offered as preliminary examples of how this deductive theory can be applied.

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