The Normative Promise of Religious Organizations in Global Civil Society
Warr, Kevin, Journal of Church and State
Democracy and democratization have been the linchpins of political science since its modern inception in the 1950s.1 While the discipline has produced a number of theoretical approaches to political behavior, underlying many of these approaches have been themes of self-determination, civil rights, freedom, and representative government. In other words, democracy has been a consistent theme for nearly forty years. However, the 1960s and 1970s saw almost every nascent democracy in newly independent Africa fall to dictatorship. A similar fate befell much of Latin America and Asia. With the fall of communism, however, democracies have begun to burgeon once again and with them, a renewed discourse on the requisites of long-term and successful democracy.
The complementary notions of civil society and social capital and their necessity in the establishment and maintenance of democracy have been at the forefront of this debate. Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato define civil society as "a sphere of social interaction between economy and state, composed above all of the intimate sphere (especially the family), the sphere of associations (especially voluntary associations), social movements, and forms of public communication."2 The role of civil society in the political system is the creation of influence through the life of democratic associations and "unconstrained discussion in the cultural public sphere."3
Social capital refers to "features of social organization, such as trust, norms, and networks, that can improve efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions."4 In other words, social capital is necessary for the smooth functioning of politics within a democratic polity. Social capital is generated, among other things, by civil society.5
Two questions arise from this premise. First, do all organs of civil society produce social capital of a type beneficial to democracy? Second, in an international system characterized by increasing globalization, can social capital be fostered across national and cultural boundaries? Particularly important for the purposes of this study is whether religious organizations within civil society (and global civil society) produce social capital of a type that benefits democracy and if so, whether they can transmit this social capital transnationally.
The key argument is that organizations within civil society (and global civil society) that are characterized by values of pluralism and where divergent viewpoints are respected and tolerated foster the type of social capital useful for transitions to, and maintenance of, democracy. Moreover, religious institutions are uniquely positioned within global civil society to foster social capital transnationally because of their special ability to shape peoples' realities based on a shared belief system.
Specifically, this study focuses on the role of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in the fall of the apartheid government in South Africa. It will show that the WCC, through its support of the liberation movements and the international sanctions campaign, has strengthened South African civil society by fostering mutual trust, imparting norms of ethical behavior, and encouraging social networks. In other words, it has generated social capital of a type that produces positive social products beneficial to democracy. The WCC, through its theological attack on the system of apartheid, has bolstered democracy in South Africa because it has changed peoples' reality.6
THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES AND THE FALL OF APARTHEID
The World Council of Churches provides an enlightening example of how certain religious groups within the realm of global civil society can accentuate the normative promise of global civil society. The WCC has a long history of social activism. Founded in 1948, the WCC is an ecumenical association established to express greater unity among the many and diverse Protestant and Orthodox Christian denominations. …