Kenneth Vaughan on Consociationalism, Religion, and Lebanon (and more)
Date: February 25th, 2018

Can a country comprised of Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims, Druze, and Maronite Christians hold itself together politically and avoid conflict?  Lebanon, a country with this confessional mixture, has had its problems with religious conflict in the past but has seemed to maintain a reasonably stable polity (relative to other countries in the region) via the institutional design of political consociationalism.  Kenneth Vaughan, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Baylor University, explains how this balanced political arrangement is viewed by the different groups in society and what potential stresses it may be facing given important demographic shifts in the population.  We begin with an overview of the religious landscape of Lebanon, with Mr. Vaughan noting that it is roughly a three-way split between Sunni, Shia, and Maronites, with Druze making up about 10% of the remainder.  The exact breakdown is difficult to know as the Lebanese census prohibits questions on religious affiliation, which not surprisingly would be a highly contentious bit of data given that government offices are divided according to this breakdown.

The division of political positions across demographic (and in this case, religious) groups is known to political sociologists as “consociationalism,” a term coined by political scientist Arend Lijphart.  Ken reviews some of the basic research conducted on consociationalism, including work demonstrating that it seems to be an effective form of governance in divided societies such as the Netherlands (namely in the work of Lijphart), but that it hasn’t worked as well in other societies, particularly in places such as India (as noted in the writings of Steven Wilkinson).  Ken notes that consociationalism has the potential to create “essentializing identity groups” that become locked-in to the reward structure of the government.  Given that Lebanon has been crafted as a consociational system since the National Pact of 1943 and reinforced in the Taif Agreement following a civil war in the mid-1970s, Mr. Vaughan set out to test how different groups view this institutional arrangement, particularly under the realization that demographic trends have been shifting over the past several decades with more Maronites leaving the country and Shiites tending to gain in relative proportion (based upon other research conducted).  He finds that Shia Muslims tend to be more trusting of governmental institutions and believe Lebanon to be relatively democratic.  Maronites, on the other hand, view Lebanese governing institutions as less trustworthy, democratic, and free.  Sunni Muslims were located somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.  Ken covers his research design using the Arab Barometer survey and the various factors that  he controlled for as well, such as age, education, and income.

Following our discussion of Lebanon, we talk about Ken’s current research on religious tolerance and persecution in post-Soviet republics, a study that is in its initial stages.  He notes that Muslim republics have tended to have lower levels of religious regulation than nations that are predominately Orthodox Christian, and also sees elements of nationalism being intertwined with religious politics.  We close out with some of Ken’s other experiences with religion in other non-Western societies, most notably his time teaching English in China.  He tells us about the struggles of various Christian worshipers and house churches, including a variety of illustrative stories about individuals such as the (recently deceased) Samuel Lamb.   Ken ends our interview with some interesting reflections on how unique the religious landscape is in the United States relative to the rest of the world and why understanding religion in an international and comparative perspective is important. Recorded: February 19, 2018.


Kenneth Vaughan’s bio at the Department of Sociology at Baylor University.

Acts of Faith, by Rodney Stark and Roger Finke (mentioned in podcast).

The Plot to Kill God, by Paul Froese (mentioned in podcast).


Jeremy Menchick on Islam, Tolerance, and Democracy in Indonesia.

Chris Soper on the Challenge of Religious Pluralism.

Jason Klocek on Religious Conflict and Repression.

Lawrence Rubin on Islam and Ideational Balancing.

David Patel on Religion and Social Order in Iraq.

Paul Kubicek on Islam, Political Islam, and Democracy.

Denis Dragovic on Religion and State-Building.

Nathan Brown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ani Sarkissian on Politics and Religious Civil Society in Turkey.

Ani Sarkissian on Religious Liberty in the Post-Soviet World.

Bradley Murg on Orthodoxy in the Post-Soviet World.

Karrie Koesel on House Churches in China.

Karrie Koesel on Religion and Politics in China.

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