Crossing Swords: Politics and Religion in Mexico

By Roderic Ai Camp | Go to book overview

I Church and State
Foundations of Analysis

Social scientists have proffered numerous methodological strategies in pursuit of understanding the secular role of religion in society. This literature, much of it originally advanced by political historians, focused on institutional analysis, as did the study of politics in general. That emphasis led to an examination of religious and secular society's two major institutional representatives, church and state. As the discipline developed, scholars reached out for broader and deeper topics, exploring issues involving mass religion and politics--in short, how popular religious beliefs affect a citizen's political behavior. North American and European scholarship led the way because religious affiliation was deemed a significant variable in political partisanship in societies where a diversity of religious beliefs and institutions prevailed.

Most examinations of religion and politics are drawn to the topic on the assumption that religious beliefs or behavior confront the political status quo, leading to conflicts between religious and political institutions. 1 As Daniel Levine has argued, "[C]oncern with 'politization of religion' works from a false premise: that 'politics' is only (or principally) a matter of challenges to established arrangements." 2 It is often forgotten that religion forms an integral component of a society's culture, including its political culture, and that religious institutions historically, more often than not, were allies of, not vocal challengers to, the state. Religion and religious institutions are important vehicles for granting legitimacy to other, more "political" structures and agents. 3 Typically, the Catholic Church has been viewed as a legitimizing agent of the state, and of the existing order in Mexico, despite periods of deep, historical antagonism. 4

Religion and politics in Mexico today are of particular interest to American scholars and the general reader. Mexico is a country that has witnessed the assassination of a cardinal (of which there are fewer than 150 worldwide), that has seen the government reverse perhaps the most stringent constitutional restrictions on religion present in the 1990s of nearly any country, that boasts a flowering of civic action groups with religious origins or affiliations working for social and

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