Date of Completion

Spring 5-6-2012

Thesis Advisor(s)

Stephen Dyson

Honors Major

Political Science


International Relations | Political Science


The international relations field knows Pope John Paul II for his temporal leadership in the Roman Catholic Church, but less is known about his pivotal role in the rise of Poland’s independent trade movement, Solidarity, and the collapse of that nation’s Communist government. This study analyzes current scholarship in order to establish the importance that an individual actor can have within political science, and in doing so, outlines the criteria for effective leadership. Major texts include Max Weber’s seminal Economy and Society, James MacGregor Burns’ Leadership, which explores the concept of “transforming leadership,” Fred Greenstein’s “The Impact of Personality on Politics: An Attempt to Clear Away Underbrush,” and Ann Ruth Willner’s The Spellbinders: Charismatic Political Leadership. After examining how John Paul II met this leadership criteria, attention turns to his three papal visits to Poland, where his efforts created a hospitable environment in an attempt to oppose the Communist authorities, where Poles felt able to express their grievances, and where change was possible. Further evidence of the Pope’s significant role comes from analyzing the cooperative relationship between the Vatican and the United States under President Ronald Reagan. To measure the U.S.S.R.’s response to the Pope’s efforts, this study turns to Politburo documents, interviews with major authors and evidence that suggests Soviet orchestration was behind the 1981 attempted assassination of John Paul II in Rome. This study ultimately finds that Pope John Paul II’s impact was more than religious, that it was political and that its lasting repercussions included the weakening of the global Soviet empire. The findings provide a basis for further studying the international role of religious figures rather than merely the role of nation-states.