“Politics and religion are not discussed” is a rule used to keep peace at grandmother’s house lunches or the last veneer of civility in condominium meetings. When it comes to “religion in politics” the scenario tends to become more explosive, reaching the proportions of an epic battle.

Why We Can’t Talk about Religion & Politics

While you can talk about web design and development for political and religious entities, debating on the subject itself really make the blood boil. Because of that we often fail to get better information about them, unfortunately, one thing leads to another. By not informing ourselves, it is easy to believe that something that we disagree with is probably more a case of stupidity or naughtiness, or worse, if it is a slightly more distant subject, we tend to generalize this negative opinion to an entire group.

However, with spiritual discourses gaining space in the political world, participating in this discussion is increasingly necessary. Is there a key to interpreting this phenomenon and avoiding such common simplifications?

Portuguese sociologist, Boaventura de Sousa Santos Speaks

The Portuguese sociologist, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, can help us with this task. He calls speeches that claim the presence of religion in the public sphere as political theology, however, he noted that the similarities between the different groups end there and proposed a typology to be able to address the complexity of this reality.

To understand this typology, it is necessary to remember that until about two centuries ago religion and politics went together. Things started to change when the Enlightenment proposed that the State should be secular, that is, guided by rational logic. This philosophy animated several currents that, when they came to power, limited the political influence of religions. However, even today religions try to answer this, seeking to reintroduce sacred texts as elements capable of influencing public life, and from what Boaventura perceived such theological responses can be divided between two extremes.


They believe that revelation (or sacred texts) can assist in the political organization of society, but accept the autonomy between both. The sacred text occurs in a specific social context, so it must be interpreted in order to find a principle that can be applied in the current social context.


They believe that revelation should structure society in all its dimensions. Historically this term was coined in the early 20th century by Protestants from the south of the USA who, wishing to differentiate themselves from modern theologies, listed “The Fundamentals” that a Christian should follow, later that term also gained an almost pejorative meaning when applied to radical groups Islamic. Both in Christian and Islamic fundamentalisms there is a scripturalist principle *, that is, the sacred text is independent of the social context and must be understood in the most literal way possible.

The sociologist also traces a second axis to classify such theologies according to his political interventions.


Social differences, since they also exist in sacred texts, are seen as natural, inevitable, or even invested with a meaning that meets some divine purpose. The glorious past in the sacred texts is used to demonstrate that the social regulations of that time work and are therefore a good way to solve the problems of the present.