Politics in Minutes (2016)

The role of religion

Perhaps more than any other aspect of ethnic identity, religion has the ability to be a positive force for social cohesion and, at the same time, very socially divisive. Religion is traditionally a central part of many societies, and the shared faith underlying their social and political structures not only unites communities, but also improves relations across national boundaries. But differences of religious belief, even on minor points of doctrine, arouse strong passions and can lead to persecution of religious minorities, xenophobia and conflict.

It is no coincidence that many of the internal tensions within countries are between communities divided along religious lines, nor that international conflicts are similarly over religious as much as political boundaries. For these reasons, a large number of liberal democracies have taken an official line that religion and politics are best kept separate, in so far as that is possible. However, a significant number of states around the world still recognize a role for religion in their political systems.