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Three Paths Out of Marginality: Liberal, Socialist, and Nationalist Leaders of Religious Minority Background

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Why could politicians of religious minority background assume the highest political offices in some countries soon after modern representative institutions were adopted, whereas, in other countries, almost all the national chief executives have been politicians from the religious majority background for decades, if not centuries?

I argue that the leading politicians of religious minority backgrounds in Europe potentially had three “secular” paths out of their marginality: liberalism, socialism, and nationalism. I examine these three paths that religious minority politicians pursued through the cases of Britain (liberalism), France (socialism), Hungary, and Italy (nationalism). I explain the variation in the rise of the first religious minority chief executives at the national level and the prominence of one of these three specific paths based on the religious configuration of the main actors in the constitutive conflict that established the nation-state. Finally, I examine a world-historical example of pattern change, the rise of Catholic-origin politicians to national leadership in previously Protestant-led Germany, which was due to a new constitutive conflict (World War II and the Holocaust) that radically altered the religious-national configuration. Religious minorities’ political (under-)representation constitutes a significant dimension of their (de-)securitization.


Şener Aktürk is Professor in the Department of International Relations at Koç University. He is a scholar of comparative politics, with a focus on comparative politics of ethnicity, religion, and nationalism. After completing his BA and MA at the University of Chicago and his PhD in political science at the University of California, Berkeley, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and a Visiting Lecturer at the Department of Government at Harvard University. His book, Regimes of Ethnicity and Nationhood in Germany, Russia, and Turkey (Cambridge University Press, 2012), received the 2013 Joseph Rothschild Book Prize from the Association for the Study of Nationalities.

His articles have been published in World PoliticsPerspectives on PoliticsComparative PoliticsJournal of Ethnic and Migration StudiesPost-Soviet AffairsMediterranean PoliticsSocial Science QuarterlyEuropean Journal of SociologyNationalities PapersProblems of Post-CommunismTurkish StudiesMiddle Eastern StudiesOsteuropaTheoriaAb ImperioInsight TurkeyTurkish Policy QuarterlyPerceptions, and various edited books. He is the recipient of the Peter Odegard Award at UC Berkeley, the Marie Curie International Reintegration Grant, the Baki Komsuoglu Social Sciences Encouragement Award, the Kadir Has Social Sciences Prize, the TUBA Young Scientist Award, the BAGEP Science Academy Award, and the TUBİTAK Incentive Prize.

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