Missionaries and Political Authority

Do Protestant Missionaries Undermine Political Authority? Evidence from Peru

Forthcoming at Comparative Political Studies


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.
Link to Paper