«The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy»

The title of this blog post may surprise you! However, the title is actually taken from a well-researched and highly interesting article from American Political Science Review (May 2012). The author is Robert D. Woodberry of National University of Singapore.

As someone involved both in democracy-building (e.g. as an educator of journalists) and in Christian missiological reflection and action (e.g. through involvement in Lausanne International), it seems obvious to me that the article is a significant contribution to the exploration of the historical relationship between Christian faith and democratic societies. This is clear from the following informative summary:

This article demonstrates historically and statistically that conversionary Protestants (CPs) heavily influenced the rise and spread of stable democracy around the world. It argues that CPs were a crucial catalyst initiating the development and spread of religious liberty, mass education, mass printing, newspapers, voluntary organizations, and colonial reforms, thereby creating the conditions that made stable democracy more likely. Statistically, the historic prevalence of Protestant missionaries explains about half the variation in democracy in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania and removes the impact of most variables that dominate current statistical research about democracy. The association between Protestant missions and democracy is consistent in different continents and subsamples, and it is robust to more than 50 controls and to instrumental variable analyses.

It may be helpful to know that the author defines ‘Conversionary Protestants’ as those who «(1) actively attempt to persuade others of their beliefs, (2) emphasize lay vernacular Bible reading, and (3) believe that grace/faith/choice saves people, not group membership or sacraments».

This article also has significant implications for the contemporary context. We may e.g. conclude that the practice of actively seeking to persuade others of the credibility and relevance of the Christian truth claims is a way of promoting fundamental democratic ideals such as freedom of conscience and religion.


Norsk: I en omfattende forskningsartikkel fra 2012, hevder Robert D. Woodberry at protestantisk misjonsvirksomhet som la vekt på omvendelse, bibellesing og personlig tro historisk sett har fremmet grunnleggende demokratiske prosesser. Dette er viktig både i historisk og aktuelt perspektiv.