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The Political Origins of Religious Liberty


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Part of Cambridge Studies in Social Theory, Religion and Politics

  • Date Published: October 2007
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521612739

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About the Authors
  • The issue of religious liberty has gained ever-increasing attention among policy makers and the public. Whereas politicians have long championed the idea of religious freedom and tolerance, the actual achievement of these goals has been an arduous battle for religious minorities. What motivates political leaders to create laws providing for greater religious liberty? In contrast to scholars who argue that religious liberty results from the spread of secularization and modern ideas, Anthony Gill argues that religious liberty results from interest-based calculations of secular rulers. Using insights from political economists, Gill develops a theory of the origins of religious liberty based upon the political and economic interests of governing officials. Political leaders are most likely to permit religious freedom when it enhances their own political survival, tax revenue, and the economic welfare of their country. He explores his theory using cases from British America, Latin America, Russia, and the Baltic states.

    • Religious liberty in America, Latin America, Russia, and the Baltics
    • An economic interpretation of religion
    • The spread of freedom around the world
    Read more


    • Winner of the 2008 American Sociological Association Distinguished Book Award in the Section on Religion

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Gill arrives at … conclusions through a rich and rigorous comparative analysis of three historical cases: colonial and early postcolonial America, Latin America, and post-Communist Eastern Europe and Russia … his comparative use of analytic narrative … is admirably focused, brisk, and readable, in part because it is organised around the systematic testing of eleven propositions and sub-propositions … Gill deserves credit for not overstating his case: he is careful to acknowledge that ideas also play a role in determining the level and type of government restrictions on religion, and he is careful also to emphasize that his book's scope … is limited to a detailed examination of political origins of religious freedom, thus allowing that religious freedom derives from non-political sources as well. … The Political Origins of Religious Liberty is an exciting beginning … launching a theory that promises to stimulate useful new research on a wide range of historical and contemporary cases of religious liberty and its absence.' The Review of Politics

    'In The Political Origins of Religious Liberty, Anthony Gill employs a rational choice framework to explain government decisions to regulate or deregulate religion in the American colonies, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union, while arguing that previous accounts have focused too heavily on philosophical ideas at the expense of providing a convincing account of the actual causes underlying the emergence (or denial) of religious freedom. … Gill's well-researched account provides a solid framework for understanding the political and economic interests that may come into play regarding questions of religious liberty and helpfully points to the role that democratization can play in increasing religious pluralism and enhancing religious liberty.' Politics and Religion

    '[ Anthony Gill's The Political Origins of Religious Liberty and Bryan McGraw's Faith in Politics]provide compelling and original insights on the interaction between religion and politics in modern society … these books provide an excellent introduction to the study of religion and politics. Both works depart from the usual abstract exercises in political theory and focus instead on historically oriented empirical research, to present political science as an empirical discipline. Both are intensely argued, theoretically sophisticated and empirically well supported. They are a delight to read and should be recommended to students of religious studies, political sociology and comparative politics.' Sarbeswar Sahoo, Political Studies Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2007
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521612739
    • length: 280 pages
    • dimensions: 226 x 152 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.43kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction: of liberty, laws, religion, and regulation
    2. The political origins of religious liberty
    3. Colonial British America
    4. Mexico and Latin America
    5. The Eastern Bloc and the Baltics (with Cheryl Zilinskas)
    6. We gather together: the consequences of religious liberty.

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Religion and World Politics
  • Author

    Anthony Gill, University of Washington
    Anthony Gill is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles and holds an Honors BA degree from Marquette University.


    • Winner of the 2008 American Sociological Association Distinguished Book Award in the Section on Religion

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