Preface by Ellen Laipson

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It is indisputable that religion has become a more prominent factor in politics in the twenty-first century. Cases from every continent and nearly every religion demonstrate the rising salience of religion in defining identity and in organizing societies at the same time that confidence in and competence of governments are on the decline. What was once a clearly understood boundary in modernizing societies between the secular function of the state and the personal, communal bonds of religion or ethnicity has become newly contested terrain. Formal institutions of government in both developed and developing countries are on the defensive, as newly empowered citizens and civil society challenge the dominance of formal public institutions to deliver services and define national and individual identity.
Governments will continue to search for the right balance between regulating religious activity for the common good while permitting freedom of worship and accepting the independence of faith communities. Too much government control weakens the legitimacy of religious leaders, but too little can undermine the capacity of the state to provide security for all its citizens. Project director Haim Malka and contributing authors Alex Thurston, Richard Downie, and Sebastian Elischer have provided deeply illuminating studies that show how hard it is to find that balance.

This chapter is part of Faith in the Balance: Regulating Religious Affairs in Africa.