Existing literature has long debated on religious beliefs and democracy. However, the implications of religious institutions, which shall internally interpret faith and socialize followers and externally decide its political positions with authorities, have yet to be comprehensively explored. By adopting an inter-religious comparison in Hong Kong, this article argues that religious institutions decided to take different positions in response to democratization: Eastern religious organizations, including Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, act as “state defenders” to legitimate government decisions at critical political moments. However, Christian organizations, including Catholicism and Protestantism, act as “state critics” to promote political justice. The Anglican Church is located at “in-between status” with pro-regime leaders but with pro-democracy followers. Consequently, Eastern religious institutions maintain close relations with the authorities, Christian leaders face criticisms from pro-regime associations, and intra-religious tensions within the Anglican Church are intensified. Theoretically, this article moves beyond that, from a “belief-based” perspective on how faith facilitates/hinders democratization to an “organization-based” perspective on how religious institutions choose their political positions in a sub-national hybrid regime. Empirically, this study examines how historical development in the pre-handover era contributed to different religion–state interactions in the post-handover period.

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