Young Believers or Secular Citizens? an Exploratory Study of the Influence of Religion on Political Attitudes and Participation in Romanian High-School Students

Article excerpt

Abstract: In this paper, I explore the effects of religious denomination and patterns of church-going on the construction of political values for high-school students. I argue that religion plays a role in the formation of political attitudes among teenagers and it influences their political participation. I examine whether this relationship is constructed along denominational lines.

From a theoretical perspective, previous research heralded the compatibility between Western Christianity and the democratic form of government. Samuel Huntington, in his famous Clash of Civilization, argued that there is a natural symbiosis between Western Christianity and democratic forms of government, going insofar as to separate the world into religious civilizations.1 While, this approach essentializes religion as a fixed and immutable entity, Huntington also neglects the importance of dynamic historical, political and social contexts that can, and, in fact, do affect the functioning of religion in different countries, and hence their ability and willingness to accommodate democracy. Much research followed the Clash of Civilizations, either qualifying the central argument, by showing evidence of support for procedural democracy in most of the World, but without its liberal component or even arriving at the opposite conclusion that irrespective of religion, every country is "democratizable".2 While I do not attempt to disconfirm fundamental huntingtonian thinking, I do raise the questions of how context can and does influence the intimate relationship between religion and politics.

The analysis is conducted on survey data collected by the Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD) at Babes-Bolyai University with subjects of 14-15 years old, and the results show that, while Greek Orthodox students do not seem to differ in their political values form their Catholic and Protestant counterparts, they are more prone to participate politically. Nevertheless, their active participatory behavior is only more pronounced in what voting is concerned, an opposite effect being recorder for any other acts of political participation.

Key Words: patterns of church-going, political values, participatory behavior, clash of civilization, religion and democracy, secularization and democracy

Introduction

According to the English version of the Pravda newspaper, the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest importer of spirits and cigarettes countrywide. Due to its tax-free status, granted by successive post-Soviet governments, the Orthodox Church became a lucrative "corporation", facilitating the sale of "non-Orthodox" goods. The same newspaper appreciates that the future may also bring a monopoly over wine imports. Across the ocean, American political scientists research the significant potential of churches in creating democratic behavior and civic skills. They report that Christian congregations in the United States are veritable creators of democratic attitudes and civic skills. In this paper, I address the following question: how much do God and Caesar influence the political values of Romanian teenagers? Therefore, I investigate in what ways religion influences the formation of political attitudes and patterns of political participation.

The paper is rather exploratory, and I am concerned with finding out whether Orthodox high-school students in Romania are any different in their political attitudes and participation than other believers their own age. The starting point of this research is a rather essentialist view of religion in democratic societies, according to which only Western Christian religions are accommodating or promoting democratic values. I here test and challenge this view. Consequently, I analyze the importance of religion in predicting political values and patterns of political participation in high-school students.

The structure of the paper is as follows. First, I discuss the role that religion and church can and do play in the process of transition to democracy. …