Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter September 18, 2007

Improving Democracy in Religious Nation-States: Norms of Moderation and Cooperation in Ireland and Iran

Barb Rieffer-Flanagan

Many in the human rights community have expressed concern about the illiberal religious political system found in Iran today. However, Iran is not unique in its illiberal religious nationalism. Some contemporary liberal democracies in the West also have a history of illiberal religious nationalism. The English and later the British discriminated against Catholics in various ways. The Irish also have a history of discrimination against Protestants and inequality towards women which was based on a deep seated illiberal Catholic nationalism. In all of these cases moderation and liberalization occurred over time. An interesting question is whether moderation over time might be repeated outside of Europe, especially in religiously based nations in the Middle East.When looking especially at the evolution of Ireland we notice that: economic prosperity spread throughout the population, the perception of a threat from the United Kingdom declined, European norms were spread within Ireland, and there were scandals within the Catholic Church. All these factors diminished the power of Irish illiberal Catholicism over time. If the external threats to Iran were removed and economic prosperity was to spread, as corruption and scandals came to light, we might expect that Iran may begin to moderate its political system.The goal of this essay is to analyze what conditions are conducive for the gradual transformation from an illiberal, religiously defined nation-state to a more moderate, democratic one by examining Iran and Ireland. This article suggests that the evolution of religiously based political systems can lead to more democratic political systems which are more cooperative with other countries and are less supportive of violence and terrorism.

Published Online: 2007-9-18

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