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The Sacralization of the Individual: Human Rights and the Abolition of the Death Penalty

Matthew D. Mathias
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 118, No. 5 (March 2013), pp. 1246-1283
DOI: 10.1086/669507
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/669507
Page Count: 38
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The Sacralization of the Individual: Human Rights and the Abolition
                    of the Death Penalty
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Abstract

In the latter half of the 20th century, countries abolished the death penalty en masse. What factors help to explain this global trend? Conventional analyses explain abolition by focusing primarily on state level political processes. This article contributes to these studies by analyzing world cultural factors that lend to the abolition trend. The main finding in three separate models on full, ordinary, and de facto cumulative measures of abolition show that the global sacralization of the individual, measured as the institutionalization of the human rights regime, represents a significant driver of states’ abolition. Countries’ predominant religion is also found to significantly affect the probability of abolition: predominantly Catholic nation-states are most likely to abolish the death penalty, and predominantly Muslim nation-states are least likely to abolish. These findings provide evidence for world cultural factors that structure the abolition trend globally.

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