Democracy International

Discussion Paper 1: Why Europe should talk about Religion when Promoting Democracy

Democracy and religion are an unlikely, if not unattractive, pair in the eyes of many practitioners of democracy promotion, who usually focus on democratic institutions and procedures, such as elections, parliaments, law drafting, political parties, and civil society, rather than values. At best, values play a role in the form of ‘secular’ political rights and civil liberties, as defined in international human rights instruments, such as the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Most democracy promoters would identify with Tony Blair’s communications director Alastair Campbell who famously remarked: “We don’t do God.”

The issue of religion therefore seldom enters the discourse and practice of democracy promotion, except in the form of the general question about the compatibility of particular religious beliefs with democratic practices (Calvinism, Hinduism, Islam etc.). Advice on crucial issues, such as the relationship between secular and religious law, secular and religious education, the provision of welfare by society, including religious actors, takes at most a peripheral role in democracy promotion. This is surprising, given the prominence of this issue around the world.

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