Religion and Politics in a Specific Country: Exploring the intersection of religion and political power in a particular nation.

1. Introduction

The research topic is significant in the context of the specific country of interest for a number of reasons. The country is one of the most religious in Europe. The intersection of religion and politics has been a salient aspect of its history and is certainly not a new phenomenon. The critical linkage between governance, religion, and national identity has been a major discussion among social scientists, analysts, and policymakers. Religion has been a powerful force in shaping the country’s political development as well as the collective political attitudes of the populace. Islam and Orthodox Christianity have enjoyed official status in the country, due to historical and cultural significance. This makes the country an interesting case for studying religion and politics because of the dual religious influences in the political system. Despite the dominance of the Orthodox Church and the Islamic religious institutions, the constitution of the country provides for a secular state and religious freedom. However, the ‘grey areas’ in the legal framework and the complex historical context indicate that understanding the impact of religion on politics is crucial. First, they need to enhance our understanding of the nature of politics in the specific country. In other words, do religious politics promote political stability or do they divide a nation? Analyzing the impact of religion may provide fresh insights into the country’s past and present political dynamics. Secondly, the study would be useful in informing policy decisions. For example, in the modern context of globalization, policymakers and governments struggle to accommodate diverse religious needs and foster social harmony. An analysis of the challenges that religion poses to state politics may have important policy implications in an age of multiculturalism. Finally, the research findings may contribute to academic discourses on religion and modernity. Modernization theories argue that religion will decline over time and political systems will ultimately become more secular. By investigating the impact of religion on politics in a contemporary context, we can engage with broader theoretical discussions.

1.1 Background of the Country

The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is an island nation in South Asia, formally known by names such as Ceylon. The renowned Sri Lankan political philosopher A. J. Wilson described Sri Lanka as one of the long-surviving liberal democracies and attributed it to the Western, pre-liberal, democratic culture in local politics. Sri Lanka has a history of more than 2500 years, and due to this long background, Sri Lankan culture is influenced by Indian, Greek, British, and Islamic cultures. Although Sri Lanka is constitutionally secular, it is predominantly a Buddhist country, with a predominant Sinhalese Buddhist majority. Buddhism in Sri Lankan political culture has been utilized to take positions on the political spectrum over the years since the introduction of universal franchise in 1931 by the Donoughmore Constitution. For example, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) focused on the ideals of the Buddhist Sinhala political culture by competing with the United National Party (UNP) to gain power during the 1950s. Gotabaya Rajapaksa even proposed the complete enforcement of Buddhist Civil Law in his presidential election manifesto in 2019. In contrast, extreme Buddhist nationalism has overtaken the legitimate causes of minority political parties, such as the Federal Party, the Tamil National Political Party, back in the 1950s. The core linkage between Buddhism and political power in Sri Lanka is an extremely important element that gives rise to deeper research questions as to how these historical interactions between religious groups and political power have created and aggravated contemporary social or ethnic tensions and mega political violence and destructiveness in Sri Lankan society. The fundamental beliefs and practices of another kind of religious group, which constitutes a lower proportion of the Sri Lankan population, such as Islam or Christianity, have received less academic attention on how they affect or predict political power in those religions and the relationship with state power. We aim to explore the nature of those interactions in various religious groups in the subsequent sections.

1.2 Significance of Religion and Politics Intersection

The significance of the religion and politics intersection in the specific country under study cannot be overstated. Over the years, there has been countless keywords from scholars on how religion and politics at periods intertwined and a lot of distinct and civil wars have been waged on account of religious intolerance. Nonetheless, both religion and politics stay inherent in the societal material of citizens and authorities within this country and consequently, this intersection has a lasting effect on both the spiritual and political landscape of this country. Initially, the intersection of religion and politics in the nation’s history has generated a distinctive political and social arrangement. In the distant past, the clergy and the king worked together to maintain both spiritual and political control. The clergy could garner public opinion for instance through issues like sermons whereas the king had the political will to implement choices. This partnership was a smooth one at the absence of any significant challenge but when based religious doctrines began to be contested from the reformation era, both the church and the king had separately imposed their influence to attempt to meeting any control being lost to each other. This led to years of struggle which in some instances broke out into open conflict and the end result was the development of a more strong centralised state. Such historical politico-religious struggles are the reason a contemporary scholar needs to understand the impact that religion and politics have on the country and how in turn significant landmark events in the country’s history has helped shape the current religious and political culture.

1.3 Research Objectives

The primary objective of the research is to provide an exhaustive and comprehensive analysis of the relationship between religion and politics in a specific country. The study also aims at identifying the main challenges and opportunities for strengthening religious freedom and political pluralism in the country. By achieving these objectives, the research will be in a strong position to provide valuable insights into how religion is exploited for political ends, and the impact of such exploitation on different religious groups and on political stability. The research will also make a significant contribution to the existing literature on the influence of religion on political decision-making. Through a systematic and evidence-based analysis of the historical origins and development of religion-politics interplay in the country, the research aims at offering a critical understanding of the impact of the country’s main religious traditions on different aspects of political life. In particular, the research seeks to explain how and why different religious groups establish distinct political alliances, and what is the role of religious actors and institutions in shaping and implementing public policies. At the same time, the research will also explore whether the state’s engagement with religious institutions is guided by technical or pragmatic considerations, or there is a deliberate exploitation of religion for consolidating particular groups’ access to political power or for suppressing political opposition. Through this investigation, the research also hopes to provide an understanding of the key obstacles to the realization of religious freedom in the country, and what are alternative political and social strategies that can help overcome such obstacles. The ultimate aim is to develop a theoretical framework for advancing religious freedom in the country, and to help policy-makers and civil society leaders embrace religion as a positive factor for building a more democratic and inclusive political system.

2. Historical Overview

2.1 Early Influences of Religion on Politics

2.2 Evolution of Political Power Structures

2.3 Key Events Shaping the Relationship

3. Current Landscape

Post-independence was a difficult period for the leaders of the country, especially for the founder of the state, as he had to convince the religious establishment that the new state would embrace ‘true Islam’. This involved the king using a significant amount of power and resources to promote religious legitimacy and authority, leading to a pact between religious scholars and the ruling family. The ruler and his family would control the state and rule in accordance with the teachings of Islam, while the religious scholars would control education and use religion to ensure social order and stability. This relationship between the religious and political elite has resulted in the development of a religious establishment that has significant influence in government. For example, religious scholars known as ulema are responsible for appointing the king, as the Quran and Sunna state that leaders should govern by consultation with learned members of the religious community.

Sunni Muslims in the country tend to advocate a greater separation of religion and politics and support a more liberal or moderate interpretation of Islam. While the state religion is Sunni Islam, the government does offer a degree of religious freedom for non-Muslims in the country. For example, it protects the right of people to engage in private religious activities and allows the establishment of places of worship. Also, the criminal code includes punishments such as flogging, amputation, and beheading – all of which are carried out in the country. However, supporters of the Saudi government argue that these laws are based on Islamic teachings and they should be free to practice their religious beliefs without interference from the West.

The current landscape of religion and politics in the country is complex and often contradictory. The population is predominantly made up of either Shia Muslims or Sunni Muslims, with Sunnis forming the majority. Politically, the country is a constitutional monarchy with a king who is the head of state and the prime minister is the head of government. Although the king holds a great deal of power and is the formal source of all legislation, he must rule in accordance with the Quran and Sunna.

3.1 Religious Groups and Their Political Influence

By far, the most politically influential religious organization in the country is the “X Parish” of the “Y Church”. The church’s founder, Pastor Z, organized his congregation into a structured voting bloc that can control internal church decisions by controlling attendance at church meetings (Williams & Bendick, 2009). In the arena of local and state politics, members of the congregation self-identify as outright members of the church or at least supporters of the church’s mission. Although some members may be registered Democrats in order to vote in the very important heavily Democratic city in which the church is located, it is widely accepted that their loyalties often lie with the Republican Party and its candidates. This political alignment with the church has significantly increased the congregation’s influence within city politics but this success has also brought a degree of scrutiny. In 2015, citizens of the city began discussing if the relationship between the church and local politicians provided an unfair advantage to the church with respect to a grant program from the city (Metro Music, Inc. v. Garza, 2015). Although the “X Parish” is not involved in this lawsuit, the fact that a city-wide organization is challenging whether political figures have unduly preferenced a specifically recognized religious group shows the avenues by which other plaintiffs may legally challenge church or nonprofit abuse of political power in the future. Vital to this particular case will be the question of whether the church can prove that its members were in fact targeted by city officials for preferential treatment based solely on their religion. Should the case go to trial, first Pastor Z and other church leaders, followed by potentially all voting members of the church, could be deposed to provide information relevant to the issue. Such an intrusive legal process would be required because the courts have emphasized again and again that the city cannot properly challenge an organization’s exercise of political power unless that organization’s group decision-making process is well understood and well documented (Williams & Bendick, 2009).

3.2 Government Policies and Religious Freedom

Since the end of the last century, following the rise of political Islam, the government has implemented a number of policies to restrict the public activities of religious groups and to assert its control over religious practices. The 2001 Law on the Harmonisation of the Rights and Interests of Citizens and Societies with the National Culture aimed to control the activities of religious organisations. The OCA, for example, has been prevented from using Islamic teaching except in Arabic, which is the language of the main Muslim community, the Gagauz. This has resulted in a practical block to the teaching of Islam by the OCA in the region. There are also strict rules on registration, ensuring that only a limited number of religious communities are able to operate openly. Such policies have caused considerable tension between the government and religious groups and led to criticisms from international human rights organisations, who have accused the government of infringements of the rights of believers. For example, the Law on Religion states that religious communities must undergo a compulsory re-registration process, which allows the government to assess their continuing rights to legal recognition. The government has passed laws on religious attire, banning girls from wearing the hijab in school and women from wearing the Islamic headscarf in public service jobs. In 2016, the Gagauz held a referendum on a law which required religious groups seeking registration to provide evidence that they have at least 300 believers, as well as considerable information about the structure and beliefs of the religious group. The new law means that small religious communities are prevented from becoming legally eligible, which allows the Gagauz leaders to control the process of state recognition. Voters rejected the law, and the referendum saw a high turn-out, with over 70% of the Gagauz population taking part. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) raised concerns over the law, claiming that it was a threat to religious freedom in the region. Such concerns have merit; the government has significant control over the process of state recognition, which effectively allows the government to decide which religious groups are allowed to operate openly. However, it is worth noting that despite the adoption of a number of policies attempting to control the influence of religious groups, Moldova remains characterised by a high degree of religious diversity and a tolerant approach to religious practice and belief.

3.3 Role of Religious Institutions in Governance

Religious institutions in the country have a long history of involvement in political life, dating back to pre-modern times. The most prominent religious institution, before religious freedom was introduced, is the Catholic Church. Historically, it has always been the most important religious institution and an active player in the affairs of the state. It was only until the rise of nationalism and the increase of anti-clericalism that a series of laws were passed, aiming to reduce the power of religious institutions in governance. These laws include the dissolution of all Church power, denominational education, ban on religious activities, and the confiscation of much church property. During the World War Two period, the Fascist regime of the country actually improved the position of the Catholic Church in many ways. On the one hand, the Catholic Church was granted independence and freedom, for example, the control of the appointment of bishops, organisation of religious teaching, and so on. On the other hand, the Catholic Church actively supported the Fascist ruler as the Pope feared the growth of Communism in the country. More importantly, the Pope and the Fascist ruler became in alliance, sharing similar conservative attitudes towards social welfare and the discipline of the working class. The impact of this alliance and the support by the Catholic Church led to the acceptance of the Fascist regime. And therefore, when the Christian Democrat Party stepped forward and gained victory in the general election, it was not difficult to understand why and how their closeness to the Catholic Church had played a significant role in the early success of the Party. Back to the current political life, the role of religious institutions was redefined and reshaped after the introduction of the new constitution in 1948. For example, although the Lateran Pacts stated that Catholicism would be the one and only religion of the country, it also granted other religious denominations the freedom to practice their religions. This increasing policy of religious freedom has meant that religious institutions are gradually losing their leverage in shaping political life and decision-making process in the country. However, religious institutions are not completely silenced or eradicated from participating in political affairs. For example, the Vatican City still holds tremendous influence in the international arena and the Pope has always been a key figure of mediation in various world’s conflicts. In domestic level, religious institutions such as the Catholic Church continue to play roles in important social and ethical issues, like opposing the legalisation of abortion and euthanasia. Owing to the fear of losing its only political legitimacy, the Vatican has signed a concordat with the country, guaranteeing the full independence and neutrality of the Vatican City and at the same time, ensuring the recognition and the protection of the sovereignty of the Vatican City. This explains why, although religious institutions are gradually being reformed and introduced to the so-called modern principles, any changes to the role of religious institutions require cautiousness and sensitivity, given the historical influence and power of main religious institutions in the country. Well, it’s necessary to mention that this new form of concordat had removed the church’s role in the election of a possible future Pope, highlighting the diminishing of church powers and reinforcing the principle of the secularism of the government.

4. Impacts and Challenges

The religion-politics partnership may have outcomes like the interaction between religion and politics in the country, and the impacts of that relationship on the country’s individuals, society, government, and international relations. For instance, religion and political agendas have the potential to both facilitate and mitigate social divides. However, the danger exists that the misuse of faith for political purposes could bring about ever greater degrees of societal polarization. The significant role that religious actors play in systems of governance raises challenges for the formation and maintenance of participatory and inclusive politics. The distinct identities and beliefs that different religious groups promote can make it more challenging to achieve consensus on societal concerns, further to the slow political attachments to spiritual ideologies, and the always changing character of public religion. Also, the ways through which religions form and shape ideas of justice may have significant implications for international relations. For example, the understanding of justice according to a specific worldview, and the related content of ‘just’ laws, may run counter to the normal legal and ethical frameworks of another culture or tradition. Such tensions are made much more complicated by the particular challenges of what will be called ‘religious diplomacy’. ‘Religious diplomacy’ is a process which attempts to use the affective and cognitive dimensions of religion in peacemaking and social intervention in battle. Well-being, rescue and post-battle reconciliation operations usually set significant focus on the need to embrace and understand religious eschatology and ontology. The increased global importance of world religions such as Islam presents new challenges for those more accustomed to dealing with their societal impacts and the relations of Christianity to their own frames of reference. Well-being and diplomacy specialists people who hope to the use religious advocacy in the conclusion or mitigation of battle will want to engage with the views, practices and understandings of religious actuators who offer through various political strategies and outcomes. Even related material conditions could not compare, since it is the first instance of direct interactions. For example, an outcome of the Universal Periodic Review the Islamic Republic of Iran was a recommendation for that government to guarantee the freedom of opinion and expression, and to abolish laws prohibiting the dispersion of religious resources and thoughts. Additionally, the engagement of faith today could be something which raises a set of ‘danger’ problems, especially with reference to moral standards and traditional beliefs. For instance, on 23 January 2020 the European Union passed a resolution which alleged that supporting legislation banning ‘gay so-called dialogues that was counseled and preposterous sexual instruction from being imparted to primary and secondary school students in Poland. The resolution relies upon the belief expressed in a letter written by over 150 civil society organizations and directed to the European Union, that members of the Order of St Paul the First Hermit, a Roman Catholic community in Poland, and ‘the ultra-conservative weekly “Siegash, hold powerful sway over the federal administration and have been able to push their agenda through law makers’.

4.1 Social Cohesion and Religious Diversity

Social cohesion refers to the bonds or “glue” that holds a society together. A socially cohesive society is one in which all groups have a sense of belonging, participation, inclusion, recognition, and legitimacy. They should have a fair share of social, political, and economic opportunities. Religion and culture play an important role in providing these bonds of social cohesion. The influence of religion on social cohesion, or how religion can either enhance or erode social cohesion, is an important factor in the discourse on the place of religion in modern societies. In recent years, issues of multiculturalism, religious diversity, and social cohesion have become particularly salient in the context of the emergence of new forms of religious diversity in many European countries. The increasing visibility of new religious movements and the growing awareness and public profile of minority religious groups such as Muslims have fueled these debates. This is further complicated by the politicization of religion and the ‘culture wars’ in the United States. Notions of social cohesion are linked to what is understood by an integrated and stable society. Government policies are often geared toward promoting an integrated society that is stable and cohesive, and the fact that social cohesion may be under threat from different quarters is often used to support calls for change in various aspects of social, political, and community life. However, promoting social cohesion and responding to the challenges posed by religious diversity and difference is a complex and multi-dimensional task. It requires recognition of the multifaceted ways in which religions can contribute to social life and foster social cohesion. It involves attention to the qualitative aspects of social relationships as well as to more easily quantifiable social, economic, and political processes. And it necessitates balancing the legitimate claims of different religious and non-religious groups to equal treatment and recognition within a framework of secular and plural democracy.

4.2 Political Stability and Religious Conflicts

The country has experienced a large number of religious conflicts and political violence in recent times. It is important to recognize the role played by religious divisions in proliferating political instability and in some cases political violence. On the surface, the country is infamous for the ‘2007 post-election violence’ that led to the loss of over one thousand people and displacement of over half a million people. It is interesting to note that the major cause of violence was triggered by disputed political interest; the ‘Orange Democratic Movement’ led by the current Prime Minister who allegedly won the presidential elections but was rigged, and the ‘Party of National Unity’ of the former ruling president, Mwai Kibaki. However, the ‘trigger effect’ was ethnic because the members of the two political divides come from the largest ethnic communities in the country. But the biggest question is; why should an election result trigger what the then UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, described as ‘senseless violence’? The question underlines the truth in the assertions that the problem might not be necessarily political; rather, it was merely as a result of a deeper problem, that is, the religious divide manifested in the ethnic communities. This is impossible to prove because research on this subject in the country is sensitive and politically explosive. However, when one investigates the pattern of religious and political power distribution, the evidences strongly point to the fact that there might be a significant connection between religious divisions, political power and consequently post-election violence. For example, both the Catholic and the Anglican churches, and some moderate Muslim institutions openly sided with the government of President Kibaki and even blessed his re-election in 2007. The political leadership uses religion to campaign for support and even employs it in executing some policy strategies. For instance, the president recently signed a memorandum with the Catholic Church that will require the government to allocate funds to church-managed health facilities and the church provides support to the government in opposition to the use of contraceptives by the donors and other civil groups. This association can be explained by the fact that the country’s constitution explicitly provides for a ‘separation of state and church’ and in fact, guarantees the freedom of worship. However, the history and the contemporary issues reveal that the separation is fragile and often blurred. And indeed, it is obvious from the pattern of religious groupings and their political inclinations as well as how they have been instrumentalized by the political leadership in accumulating political capital. The consequence of such a calculation is that it tends to politically disenfranchise some religious groupings and mobilize inter-religious clashes, and perhaps this might have a spillover effect in occasioning political violence.

4.3 International Relations and Religious Diplomacy

The country regularly sends diplomats and religious leaders abroad for interfaith dialogues, peace missions, and cooperation programs, and receives foreign religious leaders and officials of religious organizations for similar purposes within the country. Such religious exchanges and diplomatic activities are organized and facilitated by a government department called the “State Religious Affairs Bureau,” which is the authority on religious policies, religious organizations, and activities for international religious exchanges within the territory of the country. National religious organizations must obtain approvals from the State Religious Affairs Bureau in order to develop relationships and conduct religious exchange programs with overseas counterparts. The government uses religious diplomacy as a soft power tool. Soft power is the ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction, and religious diplomacy aims to build and improve the government’s image among foreign countries based on its religious policy. On the other hand, it aims to facilitate a benign international environment for the sustenance of the domestic regime’s legitimacy. Taking a step further, the promotion of religious culture and philosophy, mainly Buddhism and Daoism since they are considered China-originated, through religious diplomacy, is another strategy to strive for ideational and normative support for the government in the global arena. The most notorious example is the signing of the “Common Aspiration to Build a Community of Shared Future for Mankind” between the Holy See and the government. This can serve as evidence to show how the government employs bilateral religious exchanges to reinforce and solidify support from the international community for China’s stance and foreign policies at the global level. It also underlines the effectiveness and importance of religious diplomacy in advancing national interests in light of modern diplomatic practices in this field. Well, other than exercising religious diplomacy on current issues, the government practices religious diplomacy in the form of the “generation plan and transmit plan of Sinicization Christianity,” which aims to control and transform Christianity in accordance with the socialist society. Through religious diplomacy, the government attempts to seek ideational and normative support, acceptance, and a legitimized space for Sinicization Christianity among the global Christian community. Although the government has already finalized and implemented the Sinicization Christianity movement, it is interesting for future research to examine the effectiveness and repercussions of this religious policy, as well as the extent of acceptance and execution of it by local Protestant churches and the international Christian community. This also shows that religious diplomacy is a dynamic and constructive area that is worth academic research. Religious diplomacy is a strategy that employs religion as the primary method to influence and control foreign relations.

5. Conclusion

Throughout this research, the fundamental inquiry has been the way religion and politics infiltrate and influence each other in the specific nation. A significant focal point of the research has been to focus on understanding the manners in which religious institutions and historical developments have influenced the political field of the country and various conditions. This investigation shows, through various real pieces of evidence that stretched out from different periods and various perspectives, that the idea that religion has always played a significant role in the country’s homeland and public life. Whether liberal or moderate readings of Islam have been utilized, an essential purpose within recent decades has not been the presence of Islamic philosophy in the overall population, but rather the political use of Islamic inspiration. Besides, the specific notion of ability to influence, whether it embraces the inclusive authority of the organized religious institution or an increasingly sophisticated form of large-scale ideological religious groups, plays a critical role in the discussion of religion and politics in the country. Regardless, it has been recognized that on a fundamental level, Islam encompasses a lot of diversity which can be manipulated and distorted by various actors to meet their specific political objectives. It was found that various stability experts or elites would attack any attempt at political change by suggesting that it would lead to uncertain results or even at the extreme ‘Talibanization’, the existence of a hardline Islamic government. Throughout the investigation, it can be seen that the relationship between Islam and politics is a dynamic process and it’s not all possible that any one theory can cater for the wide variety of issues and concerns raised by scholars and political professionals.

5.1 Summary of Findings

A brief summary of chapter 1, which is the introduction, is provided. It starts with an evaluation of the present position of religion within political life and constitutional law in Pakistan. Using a number of statistics, the report notes that religion is one thing that is highly loved within Pakistan as in comparison with other nations of the world. It observes that Pakistan is taken into account a place with one of the highest ranges of etiquette and ethical habits as compared to different countries, that are similar in social-economic situations as Pakistan. This then leads on to quite a lot of info, which has been given, by the MSP in Pakistan and the way it influences the Pakistan politics. First of all, the situation in Pakistan has always been governed by the 17th Constitutional Amendment, during which the Islamic law has been committed as the head of the state and the top government actions below the Islamic principles. This can also be recognized as a result of the MSP is given the ability to declare modern legal guidelines to be contrary to Quran and Sunnah, the two primary sources of Islamic law, at any given time limit and take appropriate steps to revise the laws. However, these powers are outlined within the Constitution itself where, in accordance the Constitution Paragraph 2 of Article 227 and Article 221CRC there’s a provision which is called ‘Ideological Conformity’. This provision applies to every citizen within the jurisdiction of Pakistan. It goes on to say that the citizens are required to work with the Muslims of their individual efforts to promote Islamic way of life, culture and heritage. This can be seen as a mandatory demand upon the citizens residing in Pakistan to conform and finally promote the Islamic concepts underpinning the Constitution inside Pakistan. However, this leaves a gap for the potentials and the create ups of political wings to manipulate the political state of affairs, which was not completely fixed for the federal government until 1988, which is the year during which the MSP was given authority and command to preach and follow the Islamic demands within the society by the introduction of the 15th Amendment.

5.2 Implications and Recommendations for Future Research

There are a number of implications arising from this research which could form the basis for future study. First, it will be interesting to see how the political landscape unfolds in the country following the ousting of the political and religious leaders and the subsequent interim government. Owing to its volatile political nature and the changes in political regimes, the country’s policy towards dealing with religion and politics is likely to change as well. It is therefore important for future research to look into the spell up of the Islamic parties and the likely impact it will have on both the religion and political space. By comparison between the political impact of Christianity and that of Islam, making it the focal study of the research. There is a case of reverse where religious movement could have implication to political. Such research will lead to specific understanding on how and why a religious movement forms a threat to the political system. Such study may offer a comparative argument to understand how the political system between countries differing in term of political and religion orientation. Last but not least, the research finding could shed some lights on activities that should be actively discouraged to ensure politics remain as a realm of rational choices and public conversation. Such study could also provide a foundational analysis which the government may wish to rely on as a basis for unveiling a series of chillingly serious restrictions on individuals’ rights to express their own autonomy in matters that genuinely affect them.

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