Politics and Religion


Reconceptualizing Church and State: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis of the Impact of Separation of Religion and State on Democracy

Robert Brathwaitea1 c1 and Andrew Bramsena1 c1

a1 University of Notre Dame


This article argues that the relationship between democracy and the separation of religion and state needs to be reexamined. We argue that previous studies have misconceptualized the impact that a lack of church-state separation can have on democracy, or have taken a narrow focus by concentrating on specific cases. We use principal component analysis and a large-n data set covering 125 countries to show that the separation of religion and state should be conceptualized multi-dimensionally and that it should be considered a component of democracy. Our findings show that as separation of religion and state increases, the level of democracy also increases.

(Online publication April 26 2011)


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Robert Brathwaite or Andrew Bramsen, University of Notre Dame, 217 O'Shaughnessy Hall, Notre Dame, IN 46556. E-mail: rbrathwa@nd.edu; abramsen@nd.edu

Robert Brathwaite is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. His research interests include terrorism, intra-state conflict, and the relationship between religion and democracy. He is currently working on his dissertation that addresses why some cases of secession are recognized while others are not.

Andrew Bramsen is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. His research examines the intersection of religion and politics, with a special focus on the impact of religion on the nature and quality of democracy, and on the formation of religious parties and their impact on electoral systems. He is currently working on his dissertation, which develops and tests a theory of Islamist party formation.


We extend a special thanks to Michael Coppedge and Patrick Flavin for their valuable critiques and assistance at several stages of this project. We also gratefully acknowledge both our anonymous reviewers for the improvements they recommended, and the other members of Professor Coppedge's Spring 2008 seminar on Comparing Democracies for the valuable input they provided on an earlier draft of this project. All suggestions were carefully considered and a number were incorporated into the paper strengthening it in important ways. Any mistakes or shortcomings that remain are the sole responsibility of the authors.