The Devil’s in the Details: A Multidimensional Account of State Secularism

15 Pages Posted: 11 Aug 2010 Last revised: 4 Sep 2010

See all articles by David T. Buckley

David T. Buckley

University of Louisville; Georgetown University

Luis F. Mantilla

Georgetown University - Department of Government

Date Written: 2010


What explains the wide variation in patterns of religion-state relations on a global scale? In particular, how can one assess the relative merits of hypotheses based on modernization, civilization, or historical path dependence as explanations for variation in legal secularism? We advance a two-stage argument using statistical methods to sort out the influence of structural, historical and cultural variables on state-religion relations. We begin by using data available from the Religion and State Database to identify four underlying dimensions of institutional secularism that exist at the global level. Each of these facets of secularism yields a distinct dependent variable, which allows for more precise assessment of the causal factors driving diverse elements of global secularism. We then use regression analysis to assess the plausibility of various causal explanations for these distinct elements of secularism. These models include original coding for a range of historical legacies, such as patterns of colonial rule, along with levels of religious pluralism, predominant religious tradition, and regime type. These results demonstrate that both structural features such as level of modernization and historical legacies such as French colonial and Communist rule have enduring independent effects on the nature of state regulation of religion. These results clarify the global practice of legal secularism, and improve the theoretical categories that guide scholarly analysis of this phenomenon.

Keywords: secularism, church-state relations, secularization theory

Suggested Citation

Buckley, David T. and Mantilla, Luis F., The Devil’s in the Details: A Multidimensional Account of State Secularism (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

David T. Buckley (Contact Author)

University of Louisville ( email )

United States

Georgetown University ( email )

Washington, DC 20057
United States

Luis F. Mantilla

Georgetown University - Department of Government ( email )

ICC, Suite 681
Washington, DC 20057-1034
United States

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