Achieve government-supported religion status typically creates a dependency on political and financial support from the state that erodes the ability of faith groups to attract new followers and foster participation, a new study finds.
“Furthermore, state involvement in the affairs of the privileged religion – which often goes hand in hand with official status and fiscal support – risks robbing this institution of its theological specificity and spiritual vitality by transforming it essentially a branch of government,” scholar Dan Koev reported in “The Influence of State Patronage on Established Religions and Their Competitors,” published by Cambridge University Press.
Koev, associate professor and chair of government, history and criminal justice at Regent University in Virginia, analyzed the effect of government support on religious traditions around the world from 1990 to 2010.
“My findings suggest that …religious institutions that receive favorable treatment from the state lose ground to those that do not,” he summed up.
Joint Baptist Committee for Religious Liberty describe Koev’s research is particularly relevant at a time when Christian nationalists seek to have their brand of conservative religion recognized as exclusively legitimate in the United States.
“The results of this study confirm what many religious liberty advocates have long argued: that state religious patronage does religion a disservice,” BJC wrote on its website. “We don’t need data to recognize that when the state supports religion, either through the boost of indirect funding, or the pressures of government approval, or the outright establishment of a state religion, the freedom of the soul necessary for a truly free act of faith is in jeopardy.
BJC added that research makes it “increasingly clear on a large scale that state support for religion does not make supported faith more attractive; on the contrary, state support enhances the appeal of other faiths. As BJC has been pointing out for decades, religion must be voluntary in order to have vitality. These data seem to show that, placed on the pedestal of state patronage, the vitality of a faith fades.
Koev’s project analyzed 34 nations where a single faith or religious institution enjoys a constitutional establishment and preferential access to government resources. These included Muslim nations like Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan, and Christian countries like Argentina, Denmark, Greece, and the United Kingdom, among others.
“In only 10 (29.4%) of these states did the favored religion perform better than the other religions in the state (i.e. it gained more adherents or lost less of members) during the period 1990-2010. The remaining 24 states (70.6%) saw relative decline in preferred religion.
Examples of nations whose state supported religions saw sharp declines in affiliation, including Lutheran Iceland at 11.58%, Muslim Bahrain at 14.47%, Buddhist Bhutan at 10.53% and Catholic Argentina at 6.21%.
In general, majority religions in countries without such government support fare better than those with state funding, Koev reported. “The analysis reveals striking differences between states with and without policies favoring a single religion. In states with an established and preferentially funded religion, the state’s dominant religion declined by 3.4% as a share of the population. »
In general, majority religions in countries without such government support fare better than those with state funding.
However, religious groups that were not officially recognized, promoted and funded often benefited from their outsider status in terms of membership. The study found that non-dominant religions in these countries grew by nearly 27% on average, compared to only 12% growth in countries with no denomination or state-supported religion.
The strongest growth among non-dominant faiths occurred in Muslim Kuwait and Orthodox Christian Greece, where affiliation with minority religious groups increased by 197.03% and 146.38%, respectively. Other significant gains occurred in Iceland (94.62%), Lutheran Denmark (66.84%) and Catholic Malta (27.98%). Non-dominant groups also increased in Buddhist Cambodia (22.81%) and Muslim Maldives (49.29%).
Koev used economic metaphors to illustrate the positive and negative results of government support for religion, explaining that “the weaknesses that state-sponsored patronage engenders in the favored religion should create opportunities for other religious enterprises to intervene. and provide the types of religious products that are lacking”. on the market. Unless they are prohibited from doing so by an overt government crackdown, alternative religious bodies should actually benefit from the vacuum in the market created by an increasingly hollow, complacent and ineffective church. In other words, if the demand for religion remains fairly constant but the product offered by the dominant state religion is increasingly unattractive, other religious bodies should take advantage of an opportunity for growth.
Subsequent declines in official state religions resulted in part from their inability to meet consumer demand, he said. “Thus, I proposed that preferential treatment harms the very institutions it is meant to support, creating the conditions for them to be displaced by rival religious organizations.”
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