Politics in Minutes (2016)

The role of religion

In early societies, rulers were often both spiritual and political leaders, and the connection has persisted in some to this day. Medieval Europe was effectively ruled by the Christian church, led by a Pope and monarchs with a ‘divine right’ to rule; the Prophet Muhammad established an Islamic Empire as well as the religion of Islam. Religious differences have also shaped national borders – as when Orthodox and Catholic churches divided, in the partition of India, and the creation of the state of Israel — and have been the ostensible grounds for conflict. From the Renaissance period onwards, humanist ideas came to the fore, the old monarchies lost power to more democratic governments, and religion was seen as something separate from politics. Many new republics established in the 18th and 19th centuries were avowedly secular states (while advocating religious tolerance) and in some communist states of the 20th century religion was outlawed. Nevertheless, religious belief is a potent force – some nations have an official state religion; others, such as the UK, have an established Church.