Jonathan Fox on Religion & State Around the World
Date: August 6th, 2012

Research on Religion is pleased to welcome our first guest from outside the United States.  Prof. Jonathan Fox of Bar Ilan University in Israel joins us to discuss the research findings from his Religion & State Project, which has not only proven to be of enormous benefit to scholars worldwide in terms of the data that has been collected, but has produced a vast literature on the relationship between government and religious institutions.  Prof. Fox tells us how the project came about and what it has been involved in over the past decade.  We then delve into the nature of religion-state relations, a term that is applied more broadly than “church-state relations” since Jonathan’s project encompasses all of the major faith traditions around the globe.  We talk about definitional issues surrounding religious liberty and religious freedom, and differentiate this from the concept of “separation of religion and state.”  We note that religious liberty and/or separation of religion and state is not just some dichotomous switch that one can turn on or off, but rather encompasses a number of different policies and decisions about what types of activities are permissible in society.  Jonathan illustrates this with references to Baal, wiccans in San Francisco, and the Church of the  Flying Spaghetti Monster.  Prof. Fox then reviews the various broad patterns of religion-state relations including the separationist, neutrality, and laicism (or “laicite” in French) models.  The U.S. is one of the few examples worldwide of the “separationist” model, and Jonathan points out how most of (secular) Europe tends to either have state-supported churches, state-favored churches, works on the “neutrality” model or — as in the case of France — tries to limit religious expression from the public sphere as much as possible.  We then review some of the non-constitutional means whereby governments regulate religious minorities, including definitional issues of what constitutes a religion, what constitutes “hateful” religious speech, and even non-application of laws on the books.  Tony provides some examples from Latin America based on his own prior research.  The conversation then veers in a different direction to examine how religious beliefs and organizations influence the political landscape of their respective countries.  Prof. Fox works through several categories in how this occurs in terms of conditioning worldviews, providing legitimacy, and organizing through religious institutions.  The issue of worldviews is illustrated via how the European and Arab world diverged on their perspectives on the role of religion in politics following the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), wherein the Europeans removed religion from the realm of politics, and the Holy Roman Empire’s defeat of the Ottomans at the Battle of Vienna (1683), which began several centuries of Europe’s dominance over Arab Muslim territory.  Jonathan also notes that it is not just a clash of religious worldviews that determines political outcomes, but a clash between religious and secular worldviews that has become a factor in our world as of late.  We then turn to the issue of legitimacy with Prof. Fox providing a very relevant analogy to explain the concept using the often familiar issue of trying to parent children.  This discussion of how religions can legitimate governments opens the door for Jonathan to mention Tony’s first book, Rendering Unto Caesar, and Tony provides an example for how religious organizations can actually harm themselves by legitimating clearly unpopular governments.  A bit of discussion of Turkmenistan and North Korea also ensues.  We finish up with Jonathan’s thoughts on how religious organizations are ideally suited for mobilizing collective political action and his thoughts on what he has learned over the past decade working with his Religion & State Project.  Recorded: July 22, 2012.



Jonathan Fox’s biography at Bar Ilan University.

The Religion and State Project, created and directed by Jonathan Fox.

A World Survey of Religion and the State, by Jonathan Fox.

Religion, Politics, Society, and the State, by Jonathan Fox.

Bringing Religion into International Relations, by Jonathan Fox and Shmuel Sandler.

Religion, Civilization and Civil War, by Jonathan Fox.

An Introduction to Religion and Politics: Theory and Practice, by Jonathan Fox (forthcoming).

The Association of Religious Data Archives (ARDA) at Penn State University (run by Roger Finke).

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (as noted in the podcast).

Rendering Unto Caesar: The Catholic Church and the State in Latin America, by Anthony Gill (mentioned unprompted by Jonathan in the podcast).


 Timothy Shah and the Case for Religious Liberty.

Thomas Farr on Religion, Religious Liberty, and US Diplomacy.

Allen Hertzke on Religious Liberty.

Roger Finke on Religious Persecution.

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