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The Shadow of Empire: Christian Missions, Colonial Policy, and Democracy in Postcolonial Societies

BY ROBERT D. WOODBERRY, PhD

Cross-national empirical research consistently suggests that, on average, former British colonies are both more democratic and have more stable democratic transitions. I argue that former British colonies are distinct not because Great Britain was a democracy – so were France and Belgium during the late 19th and early 20th century. Nor were the British more altruistic. However, British colonial elites were more divided and thus more constrained. In particular, religious groups were more independent from state control in British colonies than in historically-Catholic colonies (i.e., colonies of France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and Italy). Initially the British restricted missions in their colonies, but Evangelical Protestants forced the British to allow religious liberty in 1813. Protestants were not able to win religious liberty in most other European colonizers during the entire period of colonization.

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