ASTK18445U Democratization and ethno-religious conflict in Southeast Asia

Volume 2023/2024

Full-degree students enrolled at the Department of Political Science, UCPH

MSc in Political Science

MSc in Social Science

MSc in Security Risk Management

Bachelor in Political Science


Full-degree students enrolled at the Faculty of Social Science, UCPH 

Bachelor and Master Programmes in Anthropology

Master programme in Global Development

MSc in Social Data Science


The course is open to:

  • Exchange and Guest students from abroad

While there is consensus in the state-building and conflict management literature on the importance of institutions to accommodate and manage differences in a peaceful way, there is no agreement on which institutions are the most suitable for achieving the twin goals of peace and democracy. This course will explore the theoretical debates underlying the challenges of nation-building in democratising multinational societies and the question of institutional design for managing divided societies. It will examine how some countries in the Southeast Asian region are grappling with the dual challenge of democratisation and nationalism.

Democratisation remains a political challenge in the Southeast Asian region where various political regimes are in place. Unlike the one-party states of Vietnam and Laos, the Cambodian dictatorship, or the Islamic State of Brunei, some countries have attempted to follow the path of democratisation with varying degrees of success: the flawed democracies of Indonesia and the Philippines, the Malaysian hybrid regime, and the currently military-dominated regimes of Myanmar and Thailand. However, these countries have all experienced some degree of protracted conflict due to their ethno-religious diversity, which poses an additional obstacle to the democratic state-building processes.

We will start with a broad overview of the key concepts of democracy and democratisation. We will introduce different approaches to ethnic identity and discuss various factors that can contribute to ethno-religious conflict. Additionally, we will investigate the main theories on the institutional management of ethnic conflict (e.g., territorial self-governance, power-sharing, and cultural rights).  We will then delve into the challenges of democratisation in diverse societies by examining five case studies (Indonesia, The Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar). Finally we will reflect on the role of ASEAN as a multilateral institution in fostering democratisation.



Tentative Class Schedule:


Week 1: Democracy and its limitations in divided societies

Week 2: Democratisation: liberalisation vs consolidation

Week 3: Conception of ethnic identity and their impact on state building

Week 4: Factors of violence in multinational societies

Week 5: Institutional management of ethno-religious conflict

Week 6: Dimensions of institutional design: self-governance

Week 7: Dimensions of institutional design: power-sharing

Week 8: Dimensions of institutional design: cultural rights

Week 9: The case of Indonesia

Week 10: The case of the Philippines

Week 11: The case of Malaysia

Week 12: The case of Thailand

Week 13: The case of Myanmar

Week 14: The challenges of democratisation to ASEAN

Learning Outcome


  • Develop an understanding of democracy and the process of democratisation, and evaluate their significance within the context of Southeast Asia
  • Develop an understanding of the different factors behind ethno-religious violence and compare outcomes across multiple Southeast Asian States
  • Develop an understanding of institutional mechanisms for the management of ethno-religious conflict and evaluate their potential impact in selected Southeast Asian countries.
  • Develop an understanding of the role and limitations of ASEAN as a multilateral institution in conflict resolution.



  • Stimulate student inquiry into the political issues that Southeast Asian States are currently confronting.
  • Develop the skills to critically examine journal article discussing the challenges of democratisation in various Southeast Asian countries.
  • Develop the ability to critically analyse policy recommendations on managing ethno-religious conflicts in Southeast Asia.
  • Develop the oral and written communication skills to clearly and persuasively articulate findings and views on complex political issues.



  • Develop the capacity to work independently on ethno-religious conflict in contexts of democratisation in Southeast Asia and beyond.
  • Develop the capacity to work efficiently in teams, seeking advice and opinion from colleagues.
  • Develop an analytical and systematic approach to research on democratisation in diverse states looking for patterns and key issues.

The following reading list is indicative and may be subject to change.


Week 1: Democracy and its limitations in divided societies


Bertrand, Jacques, and Oded Haklai. “Democratization and Ethnic Minorities.” In Democratization and Ethnic Minorities : Conflict or Compromise?, edited by Jacques Bertrand and Oded Haklai, 1–19. New York: Routledge, 2014.


Horowitz, Donald L. “Democracy in Divided Societies.” Journal of Democracy 4, no. 4 (1993): 18–38.


Schmitter, Philippe C, and Terry Lynn Karl. “What Democracy Is. . . and Is Not.” Journal of Democracy 2, no. 3 (1991): 75–88.


Week 2: Democratisation: liberalisation vs consolidation, backsliding


Diamond L. “Thinking about hybrid regimes.” Journal of Democracy 13, (2021): 21–35.


Diamond L. “Facing up to the democratic recession.” Journal of Democracy 26, (2015): 141–155.

Reiter, Dan. “Does Peace Nature Democracy?” Journal of Politics 63, no. 3 (2001): 935–948.


Merkel, Wolfgang. “The Consolidation of Post-Autocratic Democracies: A Multi-Level Model.” Democratization 5, no. 3 (1998): 33–67.


Recommended readings:


Croissant A and J. Haynes. “Democratic regression in Asia: Introduction.” Democratization 28, (2021): 1–21.


Gerschewski J. “Erosion or decay? Conceptualizing causes and mechanisms of democratic regression.” Democratization 28, (2021): 43–62.

Week 3:Conceptions of ethnic identity and their impact on state building


Kaufmann, Eric, and Daniele Conversi. “Ethnic and Nationalist Mobilization.” In The Study of Ethnicity and Politics: Recent Analytical Developments., edited by Jean Tournon and Adrian Guelke, 47–77. Opladen: Barbara Budrich Publishers, 2012.


Henders, Susan J. “Political Regimes and Ethnic Identities in East and Southeast Asia: Beyond the ‘Asian Values’ Debate.” In Democratization and Identity : Regimes and Ethnicity in East and Southeast Asia, edited by Susan J. Henders, 1–24. Oxford: Lexington Books, 2004.


Mousseau, Demet Y. “Democratizing with Ethnic Divisions: A Source of Conflict?” Journal of Peace Research 38, no. 5 (2001): 547–67.


Recommended reading:


Beissinger, Mark R. “A New Look at Ethnicity and Democratization.” Journal of Democracy 19, no. 3 (2008): 85–97.


Week 4:Factors of violence in multinational societies


Brown, David. “The Democratization of National Identity”. In Democratization and Identity : Regimes and Ethnicity in East and Southeast Asia, edited by Susan J. Henders, 43–66. Oxford, UK: Lexington Books, 2004.


Mansfield, Edward D., and Jack L. Snyder. “Democratization and War.” Foreign Affairs 74, no. 3 (1995): 79–97.


Huntington, Samuel P. “Democracy for the Long Haul.” Journal of Democracy 7, no. 2 (1996): 3–13.


Week 5: Institutional management of ethno-religious conflict


Wolff, Stefan. “Post-Conflict State Building: The Debate on Institutional Choice.” Third World Quarterly 32, no. 10 (2011): 1777–1802.


McGarry, John, Brendan O’Leary, and Richard Simeon. “Integration or Accommodation? The Enduring Debate in Conflict Regulation.” In Constitutional Design for Divided Societies: Integration or Accommodation?, edited by Sujit Choudhry. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Horowitz, Donald L. “Ethnic Conflict Management for Policy Makers.” In Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies, edited by Joseph V. Montville, 115–30. Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1990.


Lijphart, Arend. “Consociational Democracy.” World Politics 21, no. 2 (1969): 207–25.


Week 6:Dimensions of institutional design: Self-governance


Wolff, Stefan. “Conflict Management in Divided Societies: The Many Uses of Territorial Self-Governance.” International Journal on Minority and Group Rights, Special Issue on Rethinking Territorial Arrangements in Conflict Resolution, 20, no. 1 (2013): 27–50.


McGarry, John, and Brendan O’Leary. “Territorial Approaches to Ethnic Conflict Settlement.” In Routledge Handbook of Ethnic Conflict, edited by Karl Cordell and Stefan Wolff. Abingdon: Routledge, 2010.


Wolff, Stefan, and Marc Weller. “Self-Determination and Autonomy: A Conceptual Introduction.” In Autonomy, Self-Governance, and Conflict Resolution: Innovative Approaches to Institutional Design in Divided Societies, edited by Marc Weller and Stefan Wolff. London: Routledge, 2005.


Recommended reading:


Stepan, Alfred C. “Federalism and Democracy: Beyond the U.S. Model.” Journal of Democracy 10, no. 4 (1999): 19–34.


Week 7:Dimensions of institutional design: Power sharing


Wolff, Stefan. “Managing Ethno-National Conflict: Towards an Analytical Framework.” Commonwealth & Comparative Politics 49:2 (2011): 162–95.


Reilly, Ben, and Andrew Reynolds. Electoral Systems and Conflict in Divided Societies. Papers on International Conflict Resolution, no 2. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1999.


Week 8:Dimensions of institutional design: Cultural rights


Yupsanis, Athanasios. “Cultural Autonomy for Minorities in Hungary: A Model to Be Followed or a Futile Promise?” International Journal on Minority and Group Rights 26, no. 1 (2019): 1–39.


Smith, David. “National Cultural Autonomy.” In Routledge Handbook of Ethnic Conflict, edited by Karl Cordell and Stefan Wolff. Abingdon: Routledge, 2010.


Bugajski, Janusz. “The Fate of Minorities in Eastern Europe.” In Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, and Democracy, edited by Larry J. Diamond and Marc F. Plattner, 102–16. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.


Week 9:  The case of Indonesia


Slater, Dan. “What Indonesian Democracy Can Teach the World.” Journal of Democracy 34, No 1, (2023): 95-109

Warburton, Eve, and Edward Aspinall. “Explaining Indonesia’s Democratic Regression.” Contemporary Southeast Asia 41, no. 2 (2019): 255-285.


Bräuchler, Birgit. “Cultural Solutions to Religious Conflicts? The Revival of Tradition in the Moluccas, Eastern Indonesia.” Asian Journal of Social Science, 37, (2009): 872–891.


Bertrand, Jacques.. “Indonesia’s Quasi-Federalist Approach: Accommodation Amidst Strong Integrationist Tendencies.” In Constitutional Design for Divided Societies: Integration or Accommodation?, edited by Sujit Choudhry, 205–32. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.


Recommended readings:


Bertrand, Jacques. “Democratization and Religious and Nationalist Conflict in Post-Suharto Indonesia.” In Democratization and Identity : Regimes and Ethnicity in East and Southeast Asia, edited by Susan J. Henders, 177–200. Oxford: Lexington Books, 2004.


Bertrand, Jacques. “Ethnic Conflicts in Indonesia: National Models, Critical Junctures, and the Timing of Violence.” Journal Of East Asian Studies 8, no. 3 (2008): 425–449.



Week 10: The case of the Philippines


Thompson MR. “Pushback after backsliding? Unconstrained executive aggrandizement in the Philippines versus contested military-monarchical rule in Thailand.” Democratization, 28, (2021): 124–141.


Jacques Bertrand, “Moros of Mindanao: The Long and Treacherous Path to “Bangsamoro” Autonomy” in Democracy and Nationalist Struggles in Southeast Asia, 141-174. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Hutchcroft, Paul. “Paradoxes of Decentralization: The Political Dynamics Behind the Passage of the 1991 Local Government Code of the Philippines” in KPI Yearbook 2003, edited by Michael H. Nelson. Bangkok: King Prajadhipok’s Institute, 2004.


Week 11:The case of Malaysia


Abdillah Noh & Nadia H. Yashaiya. “When institutions ‘bite’: Malaysia’s flawed democratization.” Contemporary Politics, 29 no. 4, (2023): 492-513, 


Weiss, M. L. “Is Malaysian democracy backsliding or merely  staying put?” Asian Journal of Comparative Politics (2022)


Chin J. “Malaysia: The 2020 putsch for Malay Islam supremacy.” The Round Table  (2020): 288–297.


Case W Politics in Malaysia today – Demise of the hybrid? Not so fast. Taiwan Journal of Democracy, 15, (2019): 1–29.

Week 12: The case of Thailand


Bertrand, Jacques. “Malay muslim in Thailand” in Democracy and Nationalist Struggles in Southeast Asia, 203-228. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021.


Chambers, Paul and Napisa Waitoolkiat.  “Thailand’s Thwarted Democratization.” Asian Affairs: An American Review, 47 no. 2, (2020): 149-175.

McCargo, Duncan. "Autonomy for Southern Thailand: Thinking the Unthinkable?" Pacific Affairs, 18, no. 2, (2010): 261–281.



Week 13: The case of Myanmar


Bünte, Marco, Patrick Köllner, and Richard Roewer. “Taking Stock of Myanmar’s Political Transformation since 2011.” Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs 38, no. 3 (December 1, 2019): 249–64.


Sadan, Mandy. “Can Democracy Cure Myanmar’s Ethnic Conflicts?” Current History 115, no. 782 (2016): 214–19.


Croissant, Aurel, and Jil Kamerling. “Why Do Military Regimes Institutionalize? Constitution-Making and Elections as Political Survival Strategy in Myanmar.” Asian Journal of Political Science 21, no. 2 (2013): 105–125.


Recommended readings:


Cheesman, Nick. “How in Myanmar ‘National Races’ Came to Surpass Citizenship and Exclude Rohingya.” Journal of Contemporary Asia 47, no. 3 (2017): 461–83.


Walton. Matthew J. “The ‘Wages of Burman-Ness’: Ethnicity and Burman Privilege in Contemporary Myanmar.” Journal of Contemporary Asia 43, no. 1 (2013): 1–27.


Week 14: Challenges of democratisation to ASEAN


Drajat, Gibran Mahesa. “ASEAN’s Socialization of Myanmar: Perilous Ambivalence, the 2021 Coup and the Way Forward.” Contemporary Southeast Asia 44: 3 (2022): 453–81.


Al Jazeerah. ”Why is the Myanmar crisis such a challenge for ASEAN?”. Al Jazeerah (2022, 3 August).   https:/​/​​news/​2022/​8/​3/​why-is-the-myanmar-crisis-such-a-challenge-for-asean


Amitav Acharya. “Democratisation and the prospects for participatory regionalism in Southeast Asia”. Third World Quarterly 24:2 (2003): 375-390.

Course materials will be in English and knowledge of a Southeast Asian language is not required.
Lectures: Each seminar will commence with an approximately 45-minute lecture, offering an overview of the week's topic and framing subsequent discussions and activities.

Class discussion: A list of discussion questions will be provided ahead of each class to guide student analysis of weekly readings. Students will be asked to share their reflections and discuss their findings.

Guided activities: Building further on the assigned readings, students will be asked to engage in collaborative small group work involving the presentation of case studies.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Total
  • 28
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester

Grades will primarily depend on written assignments and student participation in the class.  Major assignments include: an independent research paper on democratisation and ethno-religious diversity (topic to be chosen by students), discussions on course readings and group presentations focusing on a Southeast Asian case study.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Type of assessment details
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

- In the semester where the course takes place: Free written assignment

- In subsequent semesters: Free written assignment

Criteria for exam assesment

Criteria for exam assessment:

Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings

Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings

Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner