"Voice" or "Silence": Impacts of Religion on Public Engagement in Different Political Contexts

Yun Lu, Purdue University


This dissertation focuses on the relationship between religion and public engagement. While religious communities have been identified as an important mobilization base for various types of public engagement in Western societies, previous studies have offered mixed findings about the dynamics in repressive countries: on one hand, a large body of studies have noted the active participation of religious groups in public affairs such as democratization movements and social services, on the other hand, religion has been found to be coopted by repressive regimes and to stay away from public engagement in some cases. In fact, underlying these contrasting findings there are two different theoretical camps, which can be dated back to Marx and Tocqueville. As one gap in the literature, few cross-national quantitative studies have been done to compare religion’s influences on public engagement between free and repressive countries. In order to fill this gap, this dissertation adopts multi-level logistic regression techniques and uses a dataset drawn from the sixth wave of the World Values Surveys, Freedom in the World report, State and Religion Data as well as International Religious Freedom Data. I divide public engagement to three subtypes: participation in civic organization, institutionalized politics, and protest. Key findings of this dissertation include (1) belonging to a religious community had stronger influences on public engagement than other religious dimensions did; (2) religious community members were more likely to join civic organizations in repressive countries than their counterparts in free countries; (3) religious community members’ political participation levels in free and repressive countries were not significantly different; (4) religious community members in repressive countries reported higher rates of joining in protest than their counterparts in free countries. These findings suggest that in the early twenty-first century, repression does not successfully prevent religious people from participating in public affairs, and unintentionally promotes their involvement in civic organizations and protest. It could be argued that, when it coming to public affairs, religious people are not silenced by repression; instead, they voice their opinions.




Yang, Purdue University.

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