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Impact of Religion on Contemporary Politics Essay

Amongst countless issues of the decade, an appealing dispute, that is persistent, is the significant impact of religion on contemporary politics and its perpetual distinction between the positive and negative influences that is associated with the effect. Religion has consistently been a resilient drive of change, development and settlement. Religion has been the core of several systems of human affairs that co-exist today including economics, welfare, law, philosophy, art and most importantly, politics.[1] However, according to historian Farhang Mehr, “… a realistic appraisal of the current impact of religion on the official policy and governmental structure of each country can only be made in its historical context: the record of the colonial rule in that country, indigenous conditions, cultural background, and people’s real and perceived grievances.”[2] Relevant examples consisting of the attitude of religion in the political affairs of Israel[3], the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in shaping the entirety of politics in Quebec[4] and the emergence of Islam as a political force in many countries like Iran[5], reveal that these events and many others throughout history are substantial catalysts in determining the intensity of the religious impact on modern-day politics.[6]

The impact of religion on politics cannot be seen with all its fierceness and intensity anywhere else in the world but in the Middle East as it highlights the Arab-Jewish wars in the region that have been going on and off for almost the past 60 years.[7] Religion is of utmost importance in the Holy Land (Israel) and hence, religious disputes are a commonality to the Israeli crowd which is a combination of religious (observant) and non-religious (secular) Jews.[8] The arrangement creates an environment where either party has harsh demands and even though, neither group ends up winning; it always leads to frustration on either side.[9] The role of state-supported religion is usually studied as the issue that is responsible for the problem in the relationship between religion and politics.[10] Despite the fact that the major monotheistic religions namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam take pride in originating in the Holy Land of Israel, the population of Israel comprises of 80% Jews; of which approximately one-fifth consider themselves to be “religious” or in other words, wholly or partially observant of Jewish law.[11]

The vast remainder of the Jews still pursue the path of their ancestors by practicing the traditions and sacraments of Judaism but persevere to maintain a ‘Jewish state’ by standing on secular ground.[12] All be it, whilst the virtually divided Jews were found surviving the disputes between the two groups, the aspiration of a Jewish state led to the encouragement that public policies of the nation should replicate its Jewish nature and be a stronghold for Jews all around the world.[13] From religious texts and proven findings, it is well recognized that the land that is called ‘Israel’, currently, is considered the ‘Promised Land’ – the land that they have always been promised by God. Due to various historical incidents that included invasions, battles and conquests, the Jews were spread across different parts of the Middle East and some parts of Europe. The followers of the Zionist movement (support of establishment of independent, separate Jewish State in Palestine)[14] pressed for a Jewish State and after plenty of bruises and broken bones, Israel was recognized and formed in 1948.[15]

The very purpose of the formation of a Jewish state alone shows that it has more to do with the religion than with simply a group of people wanting a country and therefore, it is clearly evident that religion has played a major role in the shaping of the politics of Israel. The only essential conclusion is that decisions in modern-day politics in Israel usually comes down to two religious groups than two political groups due to diverse interpretations of the religious teachings and traditions, and the excessive popularity of secularism in most parts of the world. The fundamental religious values ‘affect the complex of power and search for national goals that shape the contemporary Israeli political horizon.'[16]

Similarly, the dominant presence of the role of the ‘Church’ in aligning communities to live in peace and harmony and to be subject to law and order through the aspect of politics is extremely evident as is seen in the case of the Roman Catholic church in Quebec, Canada. The province of Quebec is fashioned upon religious intentions and till date, these ideals uphold grand authority in organizational decision making of the government’s law and regulations. Two major factors indicate the impact of the Church in the making of Quebec, of which includes primarily, the assistance offered by the government (comprised of passionate Roman Catholic, French officials) in the settlement of French Roman Catholic immigrants that arrived in Canada post-1639.[17] During this period, a member of the royal council of Louis XIII of France, Cardinal Richlieu,[18] vigorously promoted the emigration of Roman Catholics to France’s colony, ‘New France’ (Quebec) because he believed that Quebec, like France, was destined to be a purely homogeneous group of people – the idea of ‘one religion, one language, and loyalty to one monarch.'[19]

Quebec is spectacularly distinctive in the ‘North American continent’ as it stands as the only ‘political unit’ that comprises of, simultaneously, a predominant French and Roman Catholic combination of people.[20] Unlike other French Catholic countries like France or Italy, the Catholic approach of Quebeckers is more intense in that that a French Canadian’s entire thought process, his/her value system, lifestyle and government, is massively influenced by the ‘doctrines and social philosophy of Roman Catholicism.'[21] This religious standpoint in administration is a result of the occurrences in history that Quebec underwent during the times of the French dominion in North America.

The early settlers in New France (Quebec) were dependant for leadership upon two distinct authorities – the Governor and the Bishop of Quebec. When the British subdued the French, the French settlers in Quebec paid minimal regard to the legitimate English civil authority as a colonial administration but instead, subjected themselves to the effective guidance and leadership of the Catholic church which was the only, other viable option available to them.[22] The circumstance not only led to the Church’s impact on politics but highlights the Church’s responsibility in replicating its values and philosophy in not alone moral and religious affairs, but also, ‘economic, social, educational, and largely political matters.'[23]

Secondly, the endorsement of measures by the authority composed of clergy of the Church of Quebec in regards to encouraging the natural increase in populace, particularly referred to as ‘revenge of the cradle’, highlights the influence of the Church in long-standing Quebec while working towards building a state that is able to maintain its identity and not be pacified by other dominant parties.[24] With the British conquest of Quebec from the French, it was generally perceived that the British administration would eradicate the identity of the French-speaking, Roman Catholic community by
imposing rules like mandatory speaking of English at all levels of the state, by excessively populating the colony with English Protestants that are loyal to the British crown or through other fiercer means.

In order to protect the identity of the French people of Quebec, the Church’s leaders initiated steps to increase the population. For instance, fathers (considered heads of families) were offered compensation that included a ‘family allowance bonus’ if they had at least ten children while on the other hand, they would be fined if they did not arrange for their sons and daughters to be married off at an early age. To persuade young men to get married, they were forbidden from the right to hunt, fish or trade with the indigenous people in the land or even go into the woods, as the experience was considered a form of pleasure.[25]

These occurrences aid in vividly understanding the concept of the ‘revenge of the cradle’ which in its broadest sense refers to the state at which the birthrate of a minority group (French-speaking population, Quebec in Canada) is higher than that of the majority, principal group (English-speaking population, remainder of Canada) from fear of oppression or dominion.[26] Even though the Church’s role had a major effect in the politics of Quebec, the influence of the Church gradually declined long after due to the developing ideas of secularism. However, that does not prove fatal to the case in that the foundation of the politics of Quebec will always have been founded upon the philosophies of the Church. As perfectly laid out by a scholar, “Although the leading role of the clergy in political affairs was to be challenged by the slow growth of a new lay leadership after 1800, the Church has been able to retain its pre-eminent position in most of the other fields up to the present time.”[27]

Likewise, the impact of religion on politics is well portrayed as in the case of the Islamic drive in the development of Iran. Historian, Fahrang Mehr wrote about the connection between religion and politics in the shaping of Iran, “In the last three decades, Islam has emerged as a political force in many countries, including Iran. It has been a driving power behind revolution, assassinations, seizure of holy places and terrorism.”[28] It is apparent that modern-day surroundings allow for the identification of drivers of change like Islam to allot power towards political and social agendas. Mehr further adds, ” Iran requires careful evaluation of the extent to which post-revolutionary Islamic regime has infused religiosity in the Iranian polity. The study should also take into account the credibility of clergies and the religious laymen who rule the country, bearing in mind that change is an organic process.”[29]

Rich historical data supports the fact that religion, liberalism, nationalism and monarchism were intertwined to Iranian politics which led to the shaping of the Islamic dominion in Iran.[30] In 651 CE, the Arab invasion of Iran led to the elimination of nationalism due to the influence of Islamic principles but eventually (in around 1502 CE) studies recognized that nationalism and religion particularly Shiaism, again intermingled and safeguarded Iran’s independence from the invasion of the Ottoman Empire (which demanded loyalty of all Muslims).[31] Above all, the Iranian Revolution in 1978-79 proved to be an important manipulator of law and governance in Iran including the state’s internal policy which in turn mainly affected educational systems and the kind of learning imparted to the students based on Islamic fundamentalism.[32]

That being told, Islamic fundamentalism is often misjudged. The term is usually represented on a level of faith and while giving it meaning it could turn out to be profusely ‘negative rather than positive.'[33] One analysis reveals that, ‘In relation to Islam, it is important to recognize that the term fundamentalism (usiliyyah) is not self-descriptive but has been applied by others in their attempts to describe and understand contemporary Islamic history and politics.'[34] In correspondence to Iran, fundamentalism has a profound stance unlike in other Islamic nations.

The Iranian government has steadily been involved in competition with Saudi Arabia (the epicenter of the Muslim world) to stay up to par in procuring the attention of the Islamic world and gaining significance; thus, offering home and harbor to the world’s Islamic fundamentalists which include leaders, activists, thinkers and others. This is done on the watch of the Iranian Foreign Ministry by hosting events, seminars, conferences and so on for increasing awareness.[35] The Iranian government is motivated by Islamic principles and continues to be a mark of strength in the Muslim sphere and thus, it is evident how effectively a religion can influence the politics of a nation.

There exists several other countries that have undergone certain historical incidents generated by the influence of one or even more religions leading to transformations in contemporary political models and structures that are quite similar to the impact of the Zionist Movement (Jewish group) that led to the whole new formation of a nation – Israel, the significant role of the Catholic Church in the polity of Quebec and also, the foundation of the Iranian polity on the concept of Islamic fundamentalism. As much as this research justifies the argument that the historical background of a religion’s doing has a part to play in figuring out the style of modern-day argument, it is also manifest that contemporary politics might not be entirely continuing in the path set by past occurrences.

For instance, present-day Israel, has a law that is influenced by the Jewish traditions and customs which would include that ‘all glory belongs to God for He protects His people as in the days of Moses’ but then comes a trend tending towards ‘self consciousness’ where the people of the nation are exhorted by their leaders to prepare for their enemies by training in self defense and learning to protect one’s self.[36] Similarly, in Quebec, the public realize that there is a need for secularization and so, have advocated the limitation on the rights of the Church in the involvement in politics.

However, there are some nations like Iran and Saudi Arabia that are unable to divulge from the law given to them and thus, maintain the relationship between religion and politics quite effectively; the results there of be positive or negative. The relevance of the impact of religions on politics is very significant in understanding why countries, nations and their leaders interact with each other the way they do and how the pathway of politics can be predicted based on past occurrences; thus, the issue of this research appeals to historians, politicians, religious leaders and educationalists all alike.

Works Cited

Blumberg, Arnold. The History of Israel. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998. http://www.questia.com/read/98623170.

Knowles, Valerie. Strangers at our Gates. Toronto, ON: Dundurn Press, 2007.

Liebman, Charles S., and Asher Cohen. “Synagogue and State: Religion and Politics in Modern Israel.” Harvard International Review 20, no. 2 (1998): 70. http://www.questia.com/read/1G1-30308720.

Merriam-Webster, “Zionism.” Last modified 2012. Accessed November 15, 2012. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/zionism.

Milton-Edwards, Beverly. Islamic Fundamentalism since 1945. New York: Routledge, 2004. http://www.questia.com/read/108858736.

Quinn, Herbert F. The Union Nationale: A Study in Quebec Nationalism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963. http://www.questia.com/read/2983146.

Rubenstein, Richard L., ed. Spirit Matters: The Worldwide Impact of Religion on Contemporary Politics. New York: Paragon House Publishers, 1987. http://www.questia.com/read/94614328.

Sharkansky, Ira. Politics and Policymaking: In Search of Simplicity. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2002. http://www.questia.com/read/105768998.

Suyama, Nobuaki. “Quebec: Populate or Perish.” New Zealand International Review 22, no. 3 (1997): 15+. http://www.questia.com/read/1G1-20059576.


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