Chris Soper on the Challenge of Religious Pluralism
Date: April 9th, 2017

How do various democratic nations manage increasing religious pluralism around the world?  Prof. Christopher Soper, a distinguished political scientist at Pepperdine University, answers this question and talks about the third edition of his book The Challenge of Pluralism, co-authored with Kevin den Dulk and the late Stephen Monsma.  After Chris provides a few reflections on the scholarly influence of Prof. Monsma, we discuss how a third edition of this popular text suggested itself with a changing religious environment in many Western democracies, most notably the increase in Muslim populations in Europe.  Prof. Soper notes that the impetus for the book back in 1997 was to answer three questions that remain more relevant than ever:  1) How much religiously-motived behavior that is contrary to societal welfare and norms can a democratic polity allow?; 2) To what extent should the state promote consensual religious beliefs in order to promote a shared set of values and virtues that are fundamental to limited democratic governance?; and 3) When religious groups and government agencies are active in the same fields of work, how can a society ensure that the state does not advantage one religious group (or secular belief system) over another?  Chris then reviews the three models of church-state relations that he and his co-authors detail in the book:  1) the separationist model as exemplified by the United States and France; 2) the establishment model that includes England and Germany; and 3) the pluralist model in both its “pragmatic” (Australia) and “principled” variants (the Netherlands).  He explains the dimensions of each model, noting that there is variation within each category.  For example, while both the US and France are considered separationist, the historical trajectories of each country conditioned a more aggressive separationist position in France.  For much of the second  half of the interview, we walk through examples of these models with Chris giving background on each of the cases.  Prof. Soper argues the case that the pluralist model is best at recognizing the importance of religion in the public square while still allowing space for secular claims.  Our discussion also centers around how each of the states are meeting and accommodating increased religious pluralism, most notably with respect to the growing presence of Islam.  With Islam being a much more decentralized faith tradition than the typical European Christian denominations, it has been difficult to absorb this religion into historical church-state models, particularly those of the establishment variant, but efforts have been made to do this.  We finish our podcast with Chris giving his opinion about the viability of a Christian Democratic party in the United States (revisiting a question from an earlier podcast), and reflecting on what he has learned over two decades and three editions of his book.  Recorded: March 28,2017.



Prof. Chris Soper’s bio at Pepperdine University.

The Challenge of Pluralism: Church and State in Six Democracies, by J. Christopher Soper, Kevin den Dulk, and Stephen Monsma.

Muslims and the State in Britain, France, and Germany, by Joel Fetzer and J. Christopher Soper.

Confucianism, Democracy, and Human Rights in Taiwan, by Joel Fetzer and J. Christopher Soper.


Joel Fetzer on Confucianism and Democracy.

Ahmet Kuru on Islam in Europe.

Claire Adida on Discrimination towards Muslims in France.

Evan Haefeli on the Dutch Origins of Religious Tolerance.

Russ Roberts & Anthony Gill on Religion and Religious Liberty.

Ani Sarkissian on Religion and Religious Civil Society in Turkey.

Does American Need a Christian Democratic Party?

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