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In the wake of the Protestant Reformation, European societies wrestled with determining exactly what roles church and state should play in each other’s sphere, and so the topic of establishment became especially pressing in the early modern era, although there was also substantial discussion in the Middle Ages (Dante, 1995).
The term “establishment” can refer to any of several possible arrangements for a religion in a society’s political life.
The second pair of sections is devoted to problems that, for the most part, have come to the fore of discussion only in recent times: (3) liberal citizenship and its demands on private self-understanding; and (4) the role of religion in public deliberation.
While the topic of establishment has receded in importance at present, it has been central to political thought in the West since at least the days of Constantine.
One such resource is a sense of belonging to a common culture that is rooted in a tradition, as opposed to a sense of rootlessness and social fragmentation (Sandel, 1998; Mac Intyre, 1984).
Thus, in order to ensure that citizens have this sense of cultural cohesion, the state must (or at least may) in some way privilege a religious institution or creed.
The relation between religion and politics continues to be an important theme in political philosophy, despite the emergent consensus (both among political theorists and in practical political contexts, such as the United Nations) on the right to freedom of conscience and on the need for some sort of separation between church and state.
One reason for the importance of this topic is that religions often make strong claims on people’s allegiance, and universal religions make these claims on all people, rather than just a particular community.
Thus, it is probably inevitable that religious commitments will sometimes come into conflict with the demands of politics.
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This article surveys some of the philosophical problems raised by the various ways in which religion and politics may intersect.
The first two main sections are devoted to topics that have been important in previous eras, especially the early modern era, although in both sections there is discussion of analogs to these topics that are more pressing for contemporary political thought: (1) establishment of a church or faith versus complete separation of church and state; and (2) toleration versus coercion of religious belief, and current conflicts between religious practice and political authority.According to this line of thought, the healthy requires a substantial amount of pre- or extra-political social cohesion.