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In Tibetan Buddhism, one important way to assume a religious role is by reincarnation . They believe that when their important religious leaders, like the Dalai Lama, die, they will come back in another body to lead them again. So, a few years after the leader's death, they send out a search party for the young boy who is the new appearance of the leader. He will then be trained to take up his position once again. This is a variation on the aristocratic theme. Once the process is complete, however, the Dalai Lama will rule in a monarchic fashion.


It is tempting to think that democracy is the obvious next step and one towards which all religions are striving. But that would be wrong. In fact, democracy is rare in the religious world. It arises only in certain unusual circumstances.

Nor should we think that any one of these ways of organising a religion is necessarily "better" than any other. In the political world, democracy is certainly very desirable. But even within a democratic state, there are many organisations that are not democratic, and this is accepted by all. The military and business worlds, for example, are oligarchic in nature – what the generals or the company directors want to happen, happens. Universities are also oligarchic. Some countries tried to democratise their universities back in the 1960s, with students setting standards and policies. All of those experiments have been quietly abandoned. They just did not work.

One should also consider that if a religion believes that it is ultimately under the rule of God, then in a way it will always be a monarchy, even if at a lower level it is structured in a democratic way. Christians, for example, pray "Thy kingdom come", not "Thy democracy come”!

Delegates during the meeting of the 176th Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (c) Public Domain via Wikimedia.

Where we do find religious democracies, they are often structured in a way similar to that of political ones. Members at a low level elect members to represent them at a religious "parliament", like a synod . At the synod, the representatives will then elect from among themselves a small number of people who act as the permanent "cabinet" of that organisation. They effectively rule the organisation until the synod meets again.

Why is this not an oligarchy, then? Because every couple of years the membership has the opportunity, if it wants to, to get rid of their representatives and elect new ones. Hindus can not elect a new Brahmin caste, nor can all the Catholics in the world elect a new Pope. But in democratic institutions, this can and does happen.

Christianity probably has the largest number of democratic organisations, but it is also prominent in the Baha'i Faith. In this religion, the Local Spiritual Communities in an area meet once a year to elect a representative to a National Convention. This convention then elects a National Spiritual Assembly for that country and for that year only. But every four years, the same process is repeated internationally to elect the Universal House of Justice, the highest authority in the Baha'i Faith, which meets in Haifa, Israel.

Many Protestant churches are of the congregational type. They are self–governing local churches who are sometimes affiliated into a cooperative body so that they can work together on large programmes of shared concern. These include Baptists, Mennonites, and many of the independent charismatic churches. The individual congregations remain independent. Other Protestant churches such as the Presbyterians and the Lutherans have democratic participation at the local church, but they also send representatives to national bodies, where top–level decisions are made.

The Society of Friends, or the Quakers, as they are also known, are an example of an extremely democratic organisation. They have no leaders and anyone in their meetings is allowed to speak at any time.

Mixed and transitional systems

Naturally, this neat system of ours does not always work out in practice. In many monarchic organisations, a certain amount of democratic practice is allowed at lower levels. And in some formally democratic systems, we see that the same individuals somehow get themselves elected again and again until the organisation starts to look more and more like an oligarchy.

There are also religions that seem to fall out of our system altogether. Islam is a good example. On some levels, Islam is extremely democratic. All Muslims are equal and pray together shoulder to shoulder. One is not born an imam , one cannot buy that status or get it simply by studying hard. You become an imam when the community at your local mosque decides that you are worthy of it. When that day arrives, they simply start calling you by your new title.

But Muslims do not elect representatives to a "parliament" of all Muslims to rule over them. Instead, Islamic law rules, and the interpreters of that law, who have studied it long and hard, serve as an oligarchic element that binds Muslims around the world together. In Islamic countries where the majority of the population are Muslim, there is often a co–operative relationship between politics and religion. The life of the population is governed by the Islamic law (the Sharia) and this often forms the basis of civil law as well. This aspect is theocratic.

So, this tells us that there can be "mixed" forms of religious governance, in which monarchic, oligarchic and democratic elements combine in various proportions. If a religion used to have one kind of governance, and it is clearly moving towards another, then perhaps right now it is in a "transitional" phase.

Questions & Answers

anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
characteristics of micro business
for teaching engĺish at school how nano technology help us
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
there is no specific books for beginners but there is book called principle of nanotechnology
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
for screen printed electrodes ?
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
On having this app for quite a bit time, Haven't realised there's a chat room in it.
what is biological synthesis of nanoparticles
Sanket Reply
what's the easiest and fastest way to the synthesize AgNP?
Damian Reply
types of nano material
abeetha Reply
I start with an easy one. carbon nanotubes woven into a long filament like a string
many many of nanotubes
what is the k.e before it land
what is the function of carbon nanotubes?
I'm interested in nanotube
what is nanomaterials​ and their applications of sensors.
Ramkumar Reply
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, Learning about religion. OpenStax CNX. Apr 18, 2015 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11780/1.1
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