What is a Theocracy?

A theocracy is a form of government in which one person or a group of people rules in the name of a deity or god (or multiple deities and/or gods). In most theocracies, government officials are considered divinely guided, and most laws are derived from sacred texts and religious teachings. Though it is ancient in origin, this form of government is still prevalent in some parts of the world.

History of Theocracies

Theocracies have changed over time as religions themselves have changed. However, multiple ancient societies are recorded as having been theocracies. For example, ancient emperors in multiple kingdoms across the world were considered to be extensions of gods themselves, predestined to rule. Then in the Dark Ages of Europe, bishops often ruled in the absence of “true monarchs”, using religious teachings as law of the land. In the Middle Ages, multiple kings came forward claiming a divine right to the throne.

It is also worth mentioning that it wasn’t until 1924 that Chinese emperors were no longer considered to have heavenly powers. Many Asian governments have been influenced by their religious histories but are not currently theocracies.

Comparisons with Other Forms of Government

A theocracy is different from other forms of government (namely republics and democracies) that make it a point to not be guided by religion. For example, the United States government observes no particular religion in order to allow individual citizens religious freedom. The Pledge of Allegiance does say “One nation, under God”, but this was added in 1954 and has been attributed to everything from a knee-jerk response to Communism to corporations wanting the public to believe they were “blessed”. It does not necessarily indicate the government observes any particular god.

It is also worth noting that theocracies greatly differ from governments that have a state religion or are religiously affiliated. For example, monarchs in the United Kingdom have a long history of practicing Christianity. However, the government itself does not make laws according to the Bible, nor does it view its officials as divinely guided or chosen.

Modern Theocracies

Vatican City is the most famous Christian theocracy, with the Pope as the head of state and voting limited to bishops. Numerous Islamic theocracies also exist, such as Afghanistan, Mauritania, Yemen, Iran and Somalia, where the Islamic teachings of “Sharia” are considered law. Saudi Arabia is another example, going so far as to have “religious police” that ensures compliance among citizens.

What rights do citizens have in a theocracy?

theocracy (noun) a government run by religious leaders.

Theocracy is a government of a country run by religious leaders. In a theocracy the people of only one religion have all the rights. People following other religions do not have any kind of rights. It is more or less the tyranny of religious leaders.

Most Islamic countries are theocracies. They are countries ruled by the leaders of Islam. Theocracy makes individual freedom impossible. The individual has no right to hold their opinions as religious leaders protecting the religion head the government.

Civil liberties are individual rights, such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion, personal independence, and the right to live under the rule of law. … Their authority is based on the religious beliefs of most of their citizensTheocratic rule was common in ancient civilizations.

What rights do citizens have in a theocracy?


Can you vote in a theocracy?
What are the laws of theocracy?
Who makes the laws in a theocracy?
How do leaders come to power in a theocracy?

What rights do citizens have in a theocracy?

Civil liberties are individual rights, such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion, personal independence, and the right to live under the rule of law. … Their authority is based on the religious beliefs of most of their citizensTheocratic rule was common in ancient civilizations. Theocracy Definition – › Legal Dictionary

The legal definition of Theocracy is A form of government which defers not to civil … Theocraciesgenerally do not tolerate freedom of expression. … This often leads to widespread abuse of basic human rights. … they espouse, have religious groups that call for a return to strict theocratic ideals in law and government.Theocracy | political system |

Theocracy, government by divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided. In many theocracies, government leaders are members of the …How do citizens participate in a theocratic government? – Quora

Jan 29, 2017 – A theocracy is a government based on religious dogma, and ordinary citizens cannot change that. … For example, Iran is often seen as a theocracy as the clergy have the deciding power, but they do have politics and elections where different fractions compete (that, by the way, is more than the Soviet bloc did).

How do citizens participate in a theocracy? 2 answers Oct 2, 2018 What role do average citizens play in the theocracy? 1 answerMar 1, 2018 More results from www.quora.comTheocracy – Wikipedia

Theocracy is defined by the Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English … In a pure theocracy, the civil leader is believed to have a personal … role in the state, but do not claim that they are instruments of divine revelation. ….. rights on high seas; free trade; and the re-establishment of a national bank. ‎

Etymology · ‎Synopsis · ‎Current theocracies · ‎Historic states with …16 Advantages and Disadvantages of Theocracy – ConnectUS

Apr 8, 2019 – This structure is the reason why theocracies have higher levels of societal …. or haveother rights restricted that those who follow the faith do not …

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Religious leaders. What rights do citizens have in a theocracy. Ordinary citizens rights are very limited and based on religious teachings. What limits are placed …Theocracy – Meaning, definition, usage of theocracy –

In a theocracy the people of only one religion have all the rights. People following other religions donot have any kind of rights. It is more or less the tyranny of …The Definition of Theocracy: Religion and Government – ThoughtCo › Humanities › Issues › Civil Liberties

Mar 18, 2019 – This does not make a government a theocracy, at least in practice and by itself. … A sovereign state and home to nearly 1,000 citizens, the Holy See is governed by … but it also means that the people cannot vote on issues and do not have a voice. … What Are the Human RightsViolations in North Korea?What is a Theocracy? – Follow My Vote

Theocracies have changed over time as religions themselves have changed. … States government observes no particular religion in order to allow individual citizens religious freedom. … It does not necessarily indicate the government observes any particular god. …. Related search What are the different political systems ConfederationOne‑party stateGerontocracyMonarchyFeedback

theocracy examples

Constitutional theocracy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The phrase constitutional theocracy describes a form of elected government in which one single religion is granted an authoritative central role in the legal and political system. In contrast to a pure theocracy, power resides in lay political figures operating within the bounds of a constitution, rather than in the religious leadership.

The phrase was used in connection with the Iranian government of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1987 by Olivier Roy,[1] and from the 1990s onward has been used in discussions of Iran, and occasionally of other governments. Professor Mahmood Mamdani [2] has spoken of a “constitutional theocracy” in the context of “a state–wide clerical authority in Iran”.[3] Ran Hirschl of the University of Toronto law school has written more than one article discussing “constitutional theocracies”: for example considering “modern states formally governed by principles of Islamic Shari’a laws”.[4]

The concept of constitutional theocracy is also used by journalists writing about Iran,[5] or about the process of developing a constitution in Iraq,[6] and in general discussions of the relationship between religion and government. Following its link with Iran’s Islamic revolution, the phrase has also been used to discuss, among other topics, early twentieth-century Turkish politics [7] and contemporary Chechnyan politics.[8]

Hirschl’s views

Professor Hirschl has expanded on the distinction between constitutional theocracies and ordinary democracies in his article, ‘Constitutional Courts vs. Religious Fundamentalism: Three Middle Eastern Tales. where he says:

The original text of Article 2 of the 1971 Egyptian Constitution read: ‘Islam is the religion of the State, Arabic is its official language, and the principles of Islamic Shari’a are a principal source of legislation.’ On May 22, 1980, the text of Article 2 was changed to read, ‘Islam is the religion of the State, Arabic is its official language, and the principles of Islamic Shari’a are the principal source of legislation.’ The result of this amendment effectively transformed Egypt into a ‘constitutional theocracy,’ in which no legislation could contravene Islamic legal principles.

Hirschl refers to the existence of official, government-established Shari’a courts in both Egypt and Iran as evidence that these are constitutional theocracies. Though his definition seems generally compatible with other views that a constitutional theocracy is a government using a single religion as its sole source of law, other writers do not mention Egypt as often as Iran in this context.

The lack of any official, government-established Shari’a courts in Iraq, and the use of the phrase “a principal source of legislation” rather than “the principal source of legislation” in the Iraqi constitution, has been understood[citation needed] to mean that Iraq is not a constitutional theocracy, at least according to Hirschl’s definition.


  1. ^ Translated summary of Roy’s article La Théocratie Constitutionnelle cited in International Bibliography of the Social Sciences 1987
  2. ^ Mahmood Mamdani: Herbert Lehman Professor of Government in the Departments of Anthropology and International Affairs, and Director of the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University
  3. ^ Nermeen Shaikh, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim AsiaSource Interview with Mahmood Mamdani, May 2004 “Until Ayatollah Khomeini created a state–wide clerical authority in Iran, there was no such institutionalized religious hierarchy in Islam and it still does not exist elsewhere. Without the existence of an institutionalized religious hierarchy parallel to a state hierarchy, the question of the proper relation between two domains of power, that of the organized church and the organized state, a central question in Western secularism, has been a non–question in Islam – at least until Ayatollah Khomeini created a constitutional theocracy in Iran as vilayat–i–faqih.
  4. ^ Ran Hirschl, Constitutionalism, Judicial Review, and Progressive Change Texas Law Review, Dec 2005, Vol. 84 Issue 2, p471-507 “the crucial role of courts in constitutional theocracies such as Egypt in determining the nature of public life in modern states formally governed by principles of Islamic Shari’a laws
  5. ^ Thomas Omestad, Wrestling with Tehran U.S. News & World Report; 03/02/98, Vol. 124 Issue 8, p44 “[the Iranian] Islamic republic, the world’s only constitutional theocracy”
  6. ^ Time 24 November 2003, Vol. 162 Issue 21, p36-44 “an Iranian-style constitutional theocracy
  7. ^ Hale, William M (1994). Turkish Politics and the Military. Routledge.
  8. ^ VA TishkovLife in a War-Torn Society (University of California 2004)


For other uses, see Sanctuary (disambiguation).

sanctuary, in its original meaning, is a sacred place, such as a shrine. By the use of such places as a haven, by extension the term has come to be used for any place of safety. This secondary use can be categorized into human sanctuary, a safe place for humans, such as a political sanctuary; and non-human sanctuary, such as an animal or plant sanctuary.


Religious sanctuary

Sanctuary is a word derived from the Latin sanctuarium, which is, like most words ending in -arium, a container for keeping something in—in this case holy things or perhaps cherished people (sanctae/sancti). The meaning was extended to places of holiness or safety, in particular the whole demarcated area, often many acres, surrounding a Greek or Roman temple; the original terms for these are temenos in Greek and fanum in Latin, but both may be translated as sanctuary. Similar usage may be sometimes found describing sacred areas in other religions. In Christian churches “sanctuary” has a specific meaning, covering part of the interior, covered below.

Sanctuary as area around the altar

In many Western Christian traditions including Catholic, LutheranMethodist, and Anglican churches, the area around the altar is called the sanctuary; it is also considered holy because of the physical presence of God in the Eucharist, both during the Mass and in the church tabernacle the rest of the time.

In many churches the architectural term chancel covers the same area as the sanctuary, and either term may be used.[1] In some Protestant churches, the term sanctuary denotes the entire worship area while the term chancel is used to refer to the area around the altar-table.

In many Western traditions altar rails sometimes mark the edge of the sanctuary or chancel. In the Eastern Orthodox ChurchEastern Catholic Churches of Syro-Malabar ChurchByzantine rite and Coptic Orthodox Churches, the sanctuary is separated from the nave (where the people pray) by an iconostasis, literally a wall of icons, with three doors in it. In other Oriental Orthodox traditions, a sanctuary curtain is used.

The back of the church sanctuary at Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew.

The terminology that applies the word “sanctuary” to the area around the altar does not apply to Christian churches alone: King Solomon‘s temple, built in about 950 BC, had a sanctuary (“Holy of Holies“) where the Ark of the Covenant was, and the term applies to the corresponding part of any house of worship. In most modern synagogues, the main room for prayer is known as the sanctuary, to contrast it with smaller rooms dedicated to various other services and functions. (There is a raised bimah in the sanctuary, from which services are conducted, which is where the ark holding the Torah may reside; some synagogues, however, have a separate bimah and ark-platform.)

Sanctuary as a sacred place

In Europe, Christian churches were sometimes built on land considered to be a particularly holy spot, perhaps where a miracle or martyrdom was believed to have taken place or where a holy person was buried. Examples are St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St. Albans Cathedral in England, which commemorate the martyrdom of Saint Peter (the first Pope) and Saint Alban (the first Christian martyr in Britain), respectively.

The place, and therefore the church built there, was considered to have been sanctified (made holy) by what happened there. In modern times, the Catholic Church has continued this practice by placing in the altar of each church, when it is consecrated for use, a box (the sepulcrum) containing relics of a saint. The relics box is removed when the church is taken out of use as a church. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the antimension on the altar serves a similar function. It is a cloth icon of Christ’s body taken down from the cross, and typically has the relics of a saint sewn into it. In addition, it is signed by the parish’s bishop, and represents his authorization and blessing for the Eucharistto be celebrated on that altar.

Human sanctuary

Legal sanctuary

In the classical world, some (but not all) temples offered sanctuary to criminals or runaway slaves. When referring to prosecution of crimes, sanctuary can mean one of the following:

The Church as a Place of RefugeChurch sanctuaryMain article: Place of Refuge § Medieval EnglandA sacred place, such as a church, in which fugitives formerly were immune to arrest (recognized by English law from the fourth to the seventeenth century).[2] While the practice of churches offering sanctuary is still observed in the modern era, it no longer has any legal effect and is respected solely for the sake of tradition.[3]Political sanctuaryImmunity to arrest afforded by a sovereign authority. The United Nations has expanded the definition of “political” to include race, nationality, religion, political opinions and membership or participation in any particular social group or social activities. People seeking political sanctuary typically do so by asking a sovereign authority for asylum.

Right of asylum

Main article: Right of asylum

Remains of one of four medieval stone boundary markers for the sanctuary of Saint John of Beverley in the East Riding of Yorkshire

Many ancient peoples recognised a religious right of asylum, protecting criminals (or those accused of crime) from legal action and from exile to some extent. This principle was adopted by the early Christian church, and various rules developed for what the person had to do to qualify for protection and just how much protection it was.

In England, King Æthelberht made the first laws regulating sanctuary in about AD 600, though Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136) says that the legendary pre-Saxon king Dunvallo Molmutius (4th/5th century BC) enacted sanctuary laws in the Molmutine Laws as recorded by Gildas (c. 500–570).[4] By Norman times, there had come to be two kinds of sanctuary: All churches had the lower-level kind, but only the churches the king licensed had the broader version. The medieval system of asylum was finally abolished entirely in England by James I in 1623.[5]

Political asylum

During the Wars of the Roses of the 15th century when the Lancastrians or Yorkists would suddenly gain the upper hand by winning a battle, some adherents of the losing side might find themselves surrounded by adherents of the winning side and unable to return to their own side, so they would rush to sanctuary at the nearest church until it was safe to leave it. A prime example is Queen Elizabeth Woodville, consort of Edward IV of England.

In 1470, when the Lancastrians briefly restored Henry VI to the throne, Edward’s queen was living in London with several young daughters. She moved with them into Westminster for sanctuary, living there in royal comfort until Edward was restored to the throne in 1471 and giving birth to their first son Edward during that time. When King Edward IV died in 1483, Elizabeth (who was highly unpopular with even the Yorkists and probably did need protection) took her five daughters and youngest son (Richard, Duke of York; Prince Edward had his own household by then) and again moved into sanctuary at Westminster. She had all the comforts of home; she brought so much furniture and so many chests that the workmen had to break holes in some of the walls to move everything in fast enough to suit her.[citation needed]

In the 20th century, during World War I, all of Russia‘s Allies made the controversial decision in 1917 to deny political sanctuary to Tsar Nicholas II and his immediate family when he was overthrown in that year’s February Revolution for his abuses of power and forced to abdicate in March in favor of Alexander Kerensky‘s Russian Provisional Government. Nicholas and his family and remaining household were sent to TobolskSiberia that summer while Kerensky kept Russia in the war when it couldn’t win, enabling Lenin and his Bolsheviks to gain the Russian people’s support in overthrowing Kerensky in that year’s October Revolution. The Russian Civil War started that November and in July, 1918, with Lenin losing the civil war, Nicholas and his family were executed on Lenin’s orders while confined to the Ipatiev House in Yekaterenburg. In 1939, months before World War II began, 937 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany on board the MS St. Louis met the same fate, first by Cuba—their original destination—and afterwards by the United States and Canada. As a result, most of them were forced back to Europe, where over 600 of them died in Nazi concentration camps during the war. This incident was the subject of Gordon Thomas’and Max-Morgan Witts’ 1974 novel, Voyage of the Damned and its 1976 movie adaptation. In 1970, Simonas Kudirka attempted to defect from the then-Soviet Union by jumping from his “mother ship”, ‘Sovetskaya Litva’, onto the USCGC Vigilant when it was sailing from New Bedford while Kudirka’s ship was anchored at Martha’s Vineyard. Kudrika was accused of stealing 3,000 rubles from Sovetskaya Litva’s safeand when the U.S. State Department failed to help him, Kudrika was sent back to the Soviet Union, where he was convicted of treason and sentenced to ten years of hard labor but because Kudirka could claim American citizenship through his mother, he was allowed to return to the United States in 1974. His plight was the subject of Algis Ruksenas’ 1973 book Day of Shame: The Truth About The Murderous Happenings Aboard the Cutter Vigilant During the Russian-American Confrontation off Martha’s Vineyard and the 1978 TV movie The Defection of Simas Kudirka, starring Alan Arkin. In the 1980s, Ukrainian youth, Walter Polovchak, became a cause celebre because of his request in 1980 at age 12 to remain in the United States permanently after announcing that he didn’t want to return with his parents to what was then Soviet Ukraine, and was the subject of a five-year struggle between U.S. and Soviet courts over his fate, which was decided in his favor in 1985 when Walter turned 18 that October 3 and was no longer a juvenile and thus no longer under any requirements to return to his parents if he didn’t want to. Later in the 1980s, Estonian national and alleged Nazi war criminalKarl Linnas, was the target of several sanctuary denials outside the United States before he was finally returned in 1987 to the then-USSR to face a highly likely death penalty for alleged war crimes that he was convicted of in 1962 (see Holocaust trials in Soviet Estonia). Linnas died in a Leningrad prison hospital on July 2, 1987 while waiting for a possible retrial in Gorbachevian courts, 25 years after Khrushchevian courts convicted him in absentia.

Sanctuary movement in modern times

See also: Sanctuary movement

Sanctuary of refugees from Central American civil wars was a movement in the 1980s. Part of a broader anti-war movement positioned against U.S. foreign policy in Central America, by 1987, 440 cities in the United States had been declared “sanctuary cities” open to migrants from these civil wars in Central America.

These sites included university campuses and cities. From the 1980s continuing into the 2000s, there also have been instances of churches providing “sanctuary” for short periods to migrants facing deportation in Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Australia and Canada, among other nations. In 2007, Iranian refugee Shahla Valadi was granted asylum in Norway after spending seven years in church sanctuary after the initial denial of asylum.[6] From 1983 to 2003 Canada experienced 36 sanctuary incidents.[7] The “New Sanctuary Movement” organization estimates that at least 600,000 people in the United States have at least one family member in danger of deportation.[8] In 2016, an Icelandic church declared that they would harbour two failed asylum seekers who violated the Dublin Regulation, and police removed them for deportation, as ecclesiastical immunity has no legal standing.[9]

Other uses

When referring to a shelter from danger or hardship, sanctuary can mean one of the following:Shelter sanctuaryA place offering protection and safety; a shelter, typically used by displaced personsrefugees, and homeless people.See also: safe houseright of asylumair-raid shelteremergency shelterrefugee camphomeless shelterhumanitarian aidrelief agencydebt reliefpsychiatric hospitalhospicenursing home, and special educationHumanitarian sanctuaryA source of help, relief, or comfort in times of trouble typically used by victims of war and disaster.Institutional sanctuaryAn institution for the care of people, especially those with physical or mental impairments, who require organized supervision or assistance.

The term “sanctuary” has further come to be applied to any space set aside for private use in which others are not supposed to intrude, such as a “man cave“.

Non-human sanctuary

Animal sanctuary

Main article: Animal sanctuary

An animal sanctuary is a facility where animals are brought to live and be protected for the rest of their lives. Unlike animal shelters, sanctuaries do not seek to place animals with individuals or groups, instead maintaining each animal until its natural death.

Plant sanctuary

Main article: Wildlife preserve

Plant sanctuaries are areas set aside to maintain functioning natural ecosystems, to act as refuges for species and to maintain ecological processes that cannot survive in most intensely managed landscapes and seascapes. Protected areas act as benchmarks against which we understand human interactions with the natural world.

See also


  1. ^ Robinson, Gary (1 January 2006). Architecture. Lotus Press. p. 40. ISBN 9788189093129. In the historic floor plan, the words chancel and sanctuary are often synonymous.
  2. ^ “Sanctuary, Violence, and Law in Late Medieval England – Events”Worldwide Universities Network.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Geoffrey of MonmouthHistoria Regum Britanniae 2, 17
  5. ^ “English Coroner System Part 4: Sanctuary”Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  6. ^ “Iranian given asylum in Norway”
  7. ^ See Randy K. Lippert (2005). Sanctuary, Sovereignty, Sacrifice: Canadian Sanctuary Incidents, Power and LawISBN 0-7748-1249-4
  8. ^ “Elvira Arellano Arrested Outside Downtown Church: Chicago Immigration Activist Taken Into Custody Sunday Afternoon”
  9. ^ “Asylum seekers dragged out of church by Reykjavik Police”.

Further reading

External links


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