American Political Science Review

Research Article

The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy


a1 National University of Singapore


This article demonstrates historically and statistically that conversionary Protestants (CPs) heavily influenced the rise and spread of stable democracy around the world. It argues that CPs were a crucial catalyst initiating the development and spread of religious liberty, mass education, mass printing, newspapers, voluntary organizations, and colonial reforms, thereby creating the conditions that made stable democracy more likely. Statistically, the historic prevalence of Protestant missionaries explains about half the variation in democracy in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania and removes the impact of most variables that dominate current statistical research about democracy. The association between Protestant missions and democracy is consistent in different continents and subsamples, and it is robust to more than 50 controls and to instrumental variable analyses.


c1 Robert D. Woodberry is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore AS1, #04–10 Arts Link Singapore 117570 (; until July 2012, contact at


I thank Juan Carlos Esparza Ochoa, Steve Vaisey, Ken Bollen, Chris Smith, Barbara Entwisle, Pam Paxton, Chris Stawski, Kimon Sargeant, Charles Harper, Nancy Ammerman, Bob Hummer, Art Sakamoto, Elizabeth Sperber, Gordon Hanson, Dan Powers, Jim Bradley, Thomas and Jyoti Milner, and the assigned APSR co-editor David Laitin. This research was supported by grants from the Templeton Foundation, Metanexus Institute, and Louisville Institute. To permit verification, I provided the assigned editor the dataset, Stata code, and printouts of all models in this article, the tables from my unpublished articles cited in the text, and five custom-made case studies. To allow replication, the dataset and Stata do-files will be made publicly available on within one year of the publication of this article.