Religious policy researcher Jonathan Fox discussed church-state relations and secularization at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs on Tuesday afternoon, highlighting government religious policies across the globe.

The event, titled “Political Secularism, Religion and the State” featured Fox, a professor at Bar-IlanUniversity in Ramat Gan, Israel, who specializes in the influence of religion on politics, domestic conflicts and international relations. Fox is the founder and coordinator of the Religion and State project at Bar-Ilan, which seeks to understand the factors that influence religious policy and how it interacts with other political, social and economic factors.

“I have two goals. One is to provide an accurate description of government religion policies worldwide,” Fox said. “Once I have that information, I look at how it affects other political factors and social factors and economic factors as well as how government religion policy is influenced by them.”

As stated by Fox, the RAS project includes statistics from 177 countries, which is every country in the world with a population greater than 250,000. Fox and his colleagues have collected yearly data for every year between 1990 and 2008, and have documented 151 variables for state-related policy and 154 on religion and constitutions.

“I look at four types of religion policies: official religion policy, the extent to which the government supports religion, the extent to which the government regulates all religions in the country and religious discrimination, which I define as restrictions placed on minority religions that are not placed on the majority religion,” Fox said.

Fox discussed the rise and fall of secularization theory, a pervading early 20th-century academic argument that theorized religion’s eventual decline.

“Academics believed secularization theory because they wanted religion to go away, and they didn’t really check their facts,” Fox said. “Secularization theory predicted religions’ extreme decline, and religion has competition now. I just would not call that secularization.”

Fox’s research directly challenges secularization theory. He reasons that while a quarter of the countries in the world have an official religion, there are a number of countries that do not declare an official one, but rather they have one religion that in all other respects gets treated as official by the state.

“This is not what I would call a secular world. If we had a secular world, you’d expect countries to be a little more neutral. Less than 20 percent of the world’s countries are neutral,” Fox said.

Fox discussed his findings on religious policies from the world’s democracies.
“The breakdown for democracies is very similar to the breakdown for the rest of the world. This is not a breakdown that is driven by non-democracies. Democracies resemble the rest of the world in this respect, except less of them are hostile towards religion,” Fox said.

Vebjorn Horsfjord, a researcher at the Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding at the University of Oslo, discussed the advantages of Fox’s approach to political and religious interconnectedness.

“I think what’s fascinating is to do a quantitative study of these questions and go through every country in the world because that is such a huge job and there are so many questions involved. Hearing somebody who’s actually done it is the most interesting thing,” Horsfjord said. “Because of the diversity of questions it’s so difficult to find variables that make it possible to compare different countries, and I think that shows that this is a very ambitious project.”

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