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The normative promise of global civil society: The role of the World Council of Churches in the transition to and maintenance of democracy in South Africa

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posted on 2023-09-06, 02:59 authored by Kevin C. Warr

The normative promise of civil society---that is, its utility in transitions to and maintenance of democracy---is keenly manifested in certain religious organizations. I pose this as a hypothesis and have tested it through my examination of the role of the World Council of Churches in the democratic transformation in South Africa. The results of the research indicate that the WCC was effective in pressuring the South African government through direct action, though the manipulation of the world economy and through consciousness raising. In terms of South African civil society, the WCC's involvement fostered mutual trust through dialogue, established norms of ethical behavior through consciousness raising, and created social networks through its advocacy of action-based theology. In the end, I show that the example of the World Council of Churches clarifies the analytic place of certain religious organizations in an emerging global civil society and highlights their ability to advance the normative promise of civil society. The key theoretical argument of this dissertation is that certain religious bodies, such as the World Council of Churches, which operate within the realm of global civil society are qualitatively different than their secular counterparts. These religious associations are able to foster trust, establish norms of ethical behavior and create social networks across national boundaries. They are able to do this because of shared religious sensibilities that go beyond cultural and national confines. Mutual trust, an understanding of the norms of behavior and the establishment of social networks are necessary for democracy to function well. These are the components of social capital. I have taken a two-pronged methodological approach to the problem, incorporating archival analyses and unstructured interviews with South African religious elites. I employ a hermeneutic approach, which pays attention to context and privileges the subjective beliefs of participants. Using the Habermasian notion of a dual hermeneutic, I document not only the "objective" involvement of the World Council of Churches in the fall of the apartheid regime, but also the subjective beliefs of religious elites who were directly affected by the World Council's engagement.







Source: Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 60-07, Section: A, page: 2670.; Advisors: Peter Lewis.; Ph.D. American University 1998.; English


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