How are politicians in different countries influenced by their personal faith? And how open are they about their beliefs? Religious scholar Vanessa Kopplin researched the topic.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attends the funeral service for the victims of a knife attack on a train, in the Vicelin Church in Neumuenster, Germany. Photo EPA, Marcus Brandt
The German scholar who specialised in politics and cultural religion discovered that the relationship between politics and religion is clearly visible in her home country. "The two big churches, for example, have their representatives in Berlin as an interface to politics. They prepare and publish recommendations”, she says in an interview with the magazine PRO.
However, the influence of religion on politics goes even deeper, she discovered. "I wanted to show the influence religion has on individual decisions in parliament."
For her research, Kopplin questioned different politicians, for example, from the Social Democratic Party, the Christian Democrats and the Greens. She did so in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
She was surprised by how easy it was to find German politicians with a religious background. "On the website of the German Bundestag, the MPs give very open information about their religious commitment." Kopplin mentions the example of Angela Merkel, who never "had a problem with being referred to as a pastor's daughter or bringing this up as a topic."
In Austria, this is somewhat more limited, and in Switzerland, politicians are very reserved. They often view religion as a private matter. Kopplin explains that this has cultural reasons. For example, the last military conflict in Switzerland was between the Reformed and Catholic cantons. The peacebuilding at the time rested on religion being a private matter.
In Austria, the existence of religion is an assumption, Kopplin says. "The need to speak publicly about religion is less strong."
At the same time, Kopplin figured out that it can "be assumed that every politician has had contact with religion –mainly Christianity– at some point in his life in Germany, Austria and Switzerland." She firmly believes that this influences and shapes the actions of these politicians.
The German Christian Democratic and the Social Democratic politicians are quite similar in their religiosity. "Some respondents ask God or a higher authority before they make a political decision. They describe religion as a guard rail or see themselves as God's tool", Kopplin says. She adds that all of the politicians of these parties she interviewed were church members.
Of the Green party, only one goes to church. Therefore, it is unsurprising that this MP had a very liberal view on euthanasia, Kopplin points out. "The other two parties were more in line with the two churches."
Faith also played an essential role in the votes on the ban on abortion ads, she says. "These are the classic subject areas where religious MPs organise themselves across party lines and party boundaries playing no role. This makes clear that such votes are very private decisions."
It is also remarkable that MPs addressed their religious background in the debates on the topic, Kopplin noted. "This shows that it shapes their decisions."
Since 1905, France has been a secular country. That means that the influence of the (Catholic) church was no longer part of the political establishment. During the decades after that, church people have complained regularly that the state took this so seriously that it actually meant that the state tried to wipe the church out of society at all.
In 1905, the Protestants were happy since they enjoyed more space because of the secularisation. But now, they also detect an “anti-religious sentiment”, as they wrote last October.