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Religious Parties in Secular States: Comparing Catholic and Sunni Political Activism in Mexico and Turkey

68 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 16 Aug 2011

Luis F. Mantilla

Georgetown University - Department of Government

Date Written: 2011


Why do political parties engage in religious mobilization in some environments but not in others? This paper develops a cross-national comparison of patterns of religious mobilization in Sunni- and Catholic-majority countries, with an emphasis on the cases of Turkey and Mexico. In many Sunni-majority contexts, political parties maintain strong and explicit ties to religious communities, relying on their mobilization to compete in what are often hostile political environments. In Catholic environments, political parties generally avoid making claims about religious doctrine or forming entangling alliances with sectarian movements, with candidates seeking to court religious voters doing so primarily through generic appeals to religious values and identities. What explains these differences in religious mobilization in the political arena? I argue that the crucial factors that explain this historically contingent divergence are pattern of secular regulations, electoral laws, and religious communities. The paper uses both quantitative and qualitative research methods to explore and evaluate this argument. First, relying on an original dataset covering 198 elections in 65 countries from 1990-2002, I examine the current distribution of different forms of religious mobilization across Sunni-majority and Catholic-majority countries. Then, I compare the evolution of religious parties in two critical, most-similar cases: Turkey and Mexico. Despite their analogous patterns of religious mobilization early in the 20th century and their comparable socio-economic and geopolitical situations, crucial differences in the evolution of their religious communities and secularist institutions expanded sectarian mobilization in Turkey while depressing it in Mexico. By exploring the patterns of religious mobilization across two world religions and critical country-cases, this paper highlights the contingent quality of religion's impact on politics in general and electoral competition in particular.

Suggested Citation

Mantilla, Luis F., Religious Parties in Secular States: Comparing Catholic and Sunni Political Activism in Mexico and Turkey (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Luis F. Mantilla (Contact Author)

Georgetown University - Department of Government ( email )

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

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