Missionaries and Political Authority

Comparative Political Studies. 51.4 (2018): 477-513.

The relation between religious organizations and political authority is notoriously tense. Max Weber argued that this is because both compete over the same resource: human commitment. This article revisits Weber’s hypothesis in the context of Protestant missionaries. Specifically, I explore the psychological mechanisms through which missionaries affect political authority. I argue that missionaries make believers less interested in secular issues, but that they also accustom believers to authority figures. Exploiting a natural experiment in Peru, I confirm that Protestant missionaries strengthen political authorities by making believers more obedient. Yet, I also find that believers are rendered less susceptible to persuasion by the same authorities, because of missionaries’ exclusive focus on religious truths. Exploiting variation in treatment intensity, I argue that the degree to which political authority is affected depends on a given mission’s theological strictness. I solidify these findings by combining process-tracing evidence and experimental outcomes using Bayesian integration.
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