POLI 136: Religion and Politics

  1. Compare and contrast religious politics and political religion and illustrate with examples.


The concepts of religion and politics intertwine in that, they can both influence a state, or the population to adopt specific reform initiatives. It is common to witness church leaders make political comments in church, concerning their political views. However, given the expected neutrality of the church, concerning political matters, religious leaders making political remarks or statements often face controversy. It is important to recognize that, although subtle, political views from church leaders can result in a significant influence. Various similarities and differences are noticeable between religious politics and political religion as discussed below.

Religious politics

The concept of religion refers to the organized expression of fundamental belief. According to the analytic theme lecture notes, religious politics can be defined as the political belief and behavior that is shaped by faith. Based on lecture notes covered on 1-11-19, religious politics appears as based on a form of reasoning that is founded upon religion to develop political attitudes and behavior. Therefore, in religious politics, religion is the focal point for all decisions related to politics. According to Putnam and Campbell (343), it is evident to note that pastor Mac engages in religious politics, given his influence on how people behave during matters such as elections. The pastor attests that there is need to change the direction the country is headed, from a Christian’s perspective, to show that pastor Mac can influence the course of an election by a specific percentage, provided that his congregation follows his instructions.

Among the notable examples of religious politics in the modern day, society includes reasoning on matters such as abortion, war and peace and immigration. The concept of abortion refers to the termination of a pregnancy in its early stages. The church believes that abortion is killing and should not be tolerated, let alone be legalized. However, abortion has been legalized in some areas, encouraging people to get rid of unwanted pregnancies, so that they can proceed with their academic goals, among other reasons supporting abortion. Pastor Mac Hammond, as quoted by Putnam and Campbell claims that every human being has a right to life, and any legislation that is contrary to that statement is a moral concern or issue. Church-based organizations such as priests for life have openly criticized vital issues such as human cloning, and abortion, to show that religious politics exists. Social matters that can affect the outcome of a particular group of people can attract the interest of the church, based on the morality or justice clause. For instance, immigration policies that affect the legal status and well-being of the immigrants can trigger the religious organizations and leaders to offer their conservative political opinion.

The church supports peace, and as such will always discourage people from engaging in war, especially in war-torn countries. Still, on matters relating to religious politics, it is important to note that religious leaders often have the power to influence the reasoning of a significant amount of people in and out of their congregation. Reference has been made to the Torah story of David and Bathsheba, where Rabbi Knobel praises the Prophet Nathan’s courage for confronting David in his guilt, which signifies the critical role of religion to speak truth to power(Putnam and Campbell 361). The church, from such teachings, has an integral part to play to drive change where power seems to fail or trigger moral disputes. For instance, the involvement in the war in Iraq, interfering in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, abortion, xenophobia, and immigration are examples of situations depicting religious politics. Religion considers that war that results in the gain of power and territory is unjust and should be avoided.

Political religion

Political matters influence how the state designs and implements policies. For instance, in matters concerning the welfare of the citizens, politics can change the development of systems that support the abortion of unwanted pregnancies. However, since the church has a voice in the society, policies, and ideologies that are against the doctrines and teachings of the church will always face criticism from the church, based on whether the systems are right or wrong. Political religion refers to a project of social reform, which mobilizes religious belief and institutions (lecture notes 1-7-19). Political religion can also be seen as a fundamental project of political or social transformation, which makes use of the mass mobilization of religious organizations or institutions (lecture notes 1-11-19). The American population has diverse views concerning religion and politics and how the two influence the society. For instance, an estimated 72% of the American people believe that religion plays a critical role in dividing the country along religious lines (Putnam and Campbell 528). On the other hand, 97 percent of the American population believes that division in the country is brought about by political differences.

Among the known examples of political religion include the fall of communism as advocated for by the Catholic Church, the Industrial Revolution and the Political Protestant Reformation among other cases. During the cold war against “atheistic communism,” the church, through religion played a crucial role in promoting patriotism. Institutional terms such as the ecumenical movement emerged from religion. Despite having limited influence in past years, the rise of evangelicalism in the 1970s and the 1980s signified the vital role of evangelicals in politics. In distinguishing political religion and religious politics, it is seen that in political religion, politics had moved into the church, as opposed to the church involving itself on political matters. For instance, in religious politics, the church provides its reasoning on political issues, thereby illustrating that it is religion, which moves towards politics in a way. Another distinguishing factor between the two concepts under consideration is that in religious politics, the church and other religious institutions only provide their opinion, with the hope of swaying the congregation’s way of reasoning, to adhere to the values and teaching of the church. For instance, in the issues of voting in political leaders as well as taking a stand on crucial issues such as abortion legislation, religion only offers guidance, on how the public should act, but cannot guarantee a particular outcome. However, in political religion, the religious institutions are actively involved in bringing about actual and lasting changes in the society, such as is the case where the Catholic Church advocated for the fall of communism.

The main similarity that is noted between religious politics and political religion relates to the fact that the two concepts are somewhat involved in matters on the governance of people. On the one hand, religious politics appears as the voice that speaks the truth to people and institutions of power, while on the other hand political religion intervenes to ensure that such truth is achieved. Therefore, the two concepts are seen to intertwine, for the good of all, and the effective governance of the people. According to the lecture notes covered on 1-11-19, the concept of governance mechanism appears primarily in political religion, where the religious institutions are tasked with the responsibility of actual governance of the people. For instance, in the centralized Catholic Church, or Sunni Islam, the significance of placing men and women of God, or the religious people in offices of power can be seen (Putnam and Campbell 345). The Islamic religion can be seen to influence the establishment and enforcement of state laws, thus showing how religion can be political. In considering the role of the church during the industrial revolution, religious changes can be seen to have begun during this era, due to the movement of immigrants. Initially, Protestants dominated the political views, but with the beginning of industrial revolution, the Catholic populations began to increase, gradually changing social views on matters political.


Religious politics relates to political views and behavior, which is arrived at, through the guidance of faith. For instance, in choosing which leaders to elect, people’s opinions, and behavior during the voting process can be shaped significantly by faith, where they want to elect leaders who share similar religious values, especially on morality matters. On the other hand, political religion stands for social reforms that mobilize religious institutions and beliefs. For instance, the movement of immigrants during the industrial revolution attributed to the rise in Catholic institutions. The main similarity is that both concepts relate to governance, whereas the distinct differences relate to how each idea contributes to management.


Work Cited

Lecture notes 1-7-19

Lecture notes 1-11-19

Putnam, Robert D., and David E. Campbell. American Grace: How religion divides and unites us. Simon and Schuster, 2012.


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