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Open lecture: Democracy and state patronage of religion: Evidence from Thailand
April 21, 2017 - 10:00-11:00
Are democracies more or less inclined than autocracies to seek legitimacy through patronage of religion? While it makes theoretical sense for democratic governments to strive for religious legitimation primarily in a negative sense – namely by being protective of religious liberties – existing studies based on quantitative cross-country analysis have not found any strong correlation between regime type and the degree to which states promote (or restrict) religious life. This essay addresses the question through a detailed analysis of political regimes and government efforts to act as patron and protector of Buddhism (and other officially recognised religions) in Thailand, a country that has experienced successive democratic breakthroughs followed by autocratic reversals. Specifically, it examines government expenditure on Thailand’s religious bureaucracy from 1960 to 2016, and it finds that democratization is followed by dramatic increases in spending on the state bureaucracy responsible for managing religion. Popularly elected parliamentarians have been exceptionally generous towards the religious bureaucracy, more so than the military strongmen and other autocratic leaders who have often been depicted as placing particularly heavy emphasis on traditional symbols – monarchy and Buddhism – as part of their political legitimation strategies.
Open lecture with Tomas Larsson, Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge.