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Different Religions, Different Politics? Religion and Political Attitudes in Argentina and Chile

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Various theories attempt to explain political outcomes. One of the most bitterly contested schools of explanation deals with culture, attitudes, and values. In the broadest sense, this tradition argues that political and social outcomes are determined in large part by the shared beliefs and values of the populace or a subgroup thereof. Thus, Stephen White (1984) has defined political culture as “historically formed beliefs and behavior,” recognizing that one's political attitudes and behavior are usually formed by inherited values as well as life experience. Moreover, scholars of political culture expect continuity of values over time and therefore are intrigued by cases of changing beliefs and attitudes. Thus, the explosive growth of evangelical and Pentecostal Protestantism in Latin America, where Protestants have grown from a handful to 20–30 percent of the population in a single generation, provides a unique opportunity for study. This rapid shift to Protestantism and its consequences for democracy have been fiercely debated in recent years. Max Weber's Protestant ethic thesis suggests that Protestantism may provide a catalyst for the establishment of democratic norms. However, many contemporary scholars argue that evangelical Protestantism is conservative, authoritarian, and politically passive. Do different religions result in different political attitudes? Does religious devotion, as distinguished from denomination, affect one's politics? This article evaluates political attitudes among Protestants and Catholics in Argentina and Chile to examine the claims of recent political culture arguments that modern Latin American Protestantism is resistant to democratic values. Survey data indicate that religious intensity (“devout-ness”), rather than religious affiliation, does influence political attitudes, and that demographic and political engagement variables also influence democratic values.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Vanguard University

Publication date: 2004-09-01

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