Santa Clara University


Religion, Ethics, and Politics by Religion

This section explores the interaction of religion, ethics, and politics from the religious perspective. While each religion has significant diversity within its tradition, general comments can be made about how political and ethical issues interact within that tradition. As each religious tradition is unique, so the interfaith dialogues between any two traditions are also unique.

This section also offers links to the following related topics:

A Religious perspective on Religion, Ethics, and Politics

The third section of Eric O. Hanson’s Religion and Politics in the International System Today explains the religious perspectives on the relationships of religion and politics. That chapter, “A Religious Perspective on Religion and Politics,” offers a general religious approach to religion and politics based on the two following sets of categories: types of religion and religious practices relevant to politics.

Three Types of Religion: Religions of the Book (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), Meditative Experience (Hinduism, Buddhism), and Public Life (Confucianism, Maoist Marxism).

Seven Religious Practices Relevant to Politics:

  • Spirituality
  • Ritual
  • Scripture and Prophecy
  • Cultural Worldview
  • Doctrine
  • Organization
  • Morality and Law

Religious traditions do change, but they tend to change slowly. Thus, knowledge of a tradition’s history is important for understanding its current actions. However, globalization has hurried the pace at which religious traditions have learned from each other, for example, the relative prominence of social ethics in the newly engaged Buddhism, or the use of Zen spirituality in the Christian tradition. It is also hard to imagine the recent changes in Islam, Hinduism, and Tibetan Buddhism without globalization.  A discussion of “Globalization and Religious Restructuring” can be found in the Hanson book, pp. 304-07.

The CIA Factbook listed the world’s population in terms of religion according to a 2004 estimate. Such estimates produce only general numbers since it is extraordinarily difficult to ascertain exact figures for various reasons. First, some states depress the count of unwelcome religious organizations. And such organizations may not want the state to know of their existence. Second, some people identify with more than one religion, especially in non-Western Cultures. Third, the less developed the organizational aspect of the religion, the less that religion will devote resources to collecting such statistics. So the CIA figures below remain general indicators.

Christians 33.03%, of which

  • Roman Catholics 17.33%
  • Protestants 5.8%
  • Orthodox 3.42%
  • Anglicans 1.23%

Muslims 20.12%
Hindus 13.34%
Buddhists 5.89%
Sikhs 0.39%
Jews 0.23%

Other religions 12.61%
Non-religious 12.03%
Atheists 2.36%


American Academy of Religion, Related Scholarly Organizations

Barrett, David B., Kurian, George K., and Johnson, Todd J., eds. World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Study of Churches and Religions in the Modern World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. For updated material, see Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown University.

Brasher, Brenda, ed. Encyclopaedia of Fundamentalism. London: Routledge, 2001.

CURA (Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs), Boston University.

Haynes, Jeffrey. Introduction to International Relations and Religion. Harlow, England: Pearson Education Limited, 2007.  “Africa” (pp. 302-36) Excellent bibliographical materials throughout.

Haynes, Jeffrey, ed. The Politics of Religion: A Survey. London: Routledge, 2006

Initiative on Religion in International Affairs, Belfer Center, Harvard University. 

Kellogg Institute, University of Notre Dame. 

Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame.

Pew Charitable Trusts, Programs in Religion and World Affairs and on Religion and Politics

ReligionLink is the website of the Religion Newswriters Association. It offers a fine collection of Source Guides and Achives by Topic

Selected and annotated list of websites on global religion.

World Christian Database at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Ma. The Database is based on the World Christian Encyclopedia and on World Christian Trends. The data features Christianity, but also includes other major world traditions.

Center for the Study of World Religions at the Harvard Divinity School.

Five sections for each Entry

1. Brief Introduction
2. Excerpts from Religion and Politics in the International System (Cambridge, 2006)
3. A Short Introductory Course
4. Other Resource Materials
5. Recent Articles

The entries use the same form as the national and regional entries:

1. Brief Introduction
This section offers a short introduction to the major contemporary political-religious issues in each religion. The challenge in writing these entries has been even greater than the national entries in deciding what to leave out. Hopefully, the general reader or the specialist in another field or religion can get a quick introductory understanding without too much distortion for his/her purpose. For general global statisitics on the very difficult question of number of believers in each country, the best current sources is the above World Christian Database. Many other sources, also listed above, are helpful. The brief introductions of each entry, of course, represent partial, up-to-date summaries of the final four sections of each entry.

Apologies to those religions not yet listed. Since this website is the work of a single person, it will take time to add all traditions. In all these entries, the reader should ask herself if the treatment is fair and selects the right considerations for its length. The editor would be most happy to consider changes to his choices.

2. Excerpts from Religion and Politics in the International System (Cambridge, 2006):
Religion and Politics in the International System Today (345 pages) included material up to October 31, 2005. As such it included, for example, entire chapters on contemporary political-religious issues in the West, East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and Latin America, with some material on sub-Saharan Africa. The author was making the same type of selective decision employed in this website: What are the most important facts for the reader to know out of the myriad of issues possible to discuss? So the materials of this section of the website existed in a connected 345-page format in the book at that time. For those who have the book, this second section lists the relevant pages for the country or region. After reading those sections, the reader might want to go to the fifth section below listing recent articles to see what has happened since October 31, 2005 that might be necessary to update his/her understanding.

To view or order Eric O. Hanson, Religion and Politics in the International System Today (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), $26.99 paperback, Click here.

3. A Short Introductory Course:
The prior section is designed for those with five-fifteen minutes to think about political-religious issues. This third section is for those who have time to read three to five books and/or articles as an introduction. The section begins with a description of the readings, so that those who want to explore a single issue can choose that particular book.

4. Other Resource Materials
Here is the author’s list of relevant books and articles.

5. Recent News Articles
The New York Times serves as the paper of record for recent events. The author also regularly reads the San Jose Mercury News, Foreign Affairs, Asia Focus, Commonweal, and America. In addition, his friends bring and send him more articles on religion and politics than he could possibly read. Fortunately, he teaches an upper-division course on Religion and Politics in the Developing World and a seminar on Religion and Politics in International Affairs. Hopefully, users of this website will send him the important citations that he has missed.