Tag Archives: Religion in Europe

Kahan, “Tocqueville, Democracy, and Religion: Checks and Balances for Democratic Souls”

In August, Oxford University Press will release “Tocqueville, Democracy, and Religion: Checks and Balances for Democratic Souls” by Alan S. Kahan (University of Versailles/St. Quentin-en-Yvelines). The publisher’s description follows:

The relationship between democracy and religion is as important today as it was in Alexis de Tocqueville’s time. Tocqueville, Democracy, and Religion is a ground-breaking study of the views of the greatest theorist of democracy writing about one of today’s most crucial problems. Alan S. Kahan, one of today’s foremost Tocqueville scholars, shows how Tocqueville’s analysis of religion is simultaneously deeply rooted in his thoughts on nineteenth-century France and America and pertinent to us today.

Tocqueville thought that the role of religion was to provide checks and balances for democracy in the spiritual realm, just as secular forces should provide them in the political realm. He believed that in the long run secular checks and balances were dependent on the success of spiritual ones. Kahan examines how Tocqueville thought religion had succeeded in checking and balancing democracy in America, and failed in France, as well as observing Tocqueville’s less well-known analyses of religion in Ireland and England, and his perspective on Islam and Hinduism. He shows how Tocqueville’s ‘post-secular’ account of religion can help us come to terms with religion today.

More than a study of Tocqueville on religion in democratic society, this volume offers us a re-interpretation of Tocqueville as a moralist and a student of human nature in democratic society; a thinker whose new political science was in the service of a new moral science aimed at encouraging democratic people to attain greatness as human beings. Tocqueville, Democracy, and Religion gives us a new Tocqueville for the twenty-first century.

Göle, “Islam and Secularity”

In October, the Duke University Press releases “Islam and Secularity: The Future of Europe’s Public Sphere,” by Nilüfer Göle (entre d’Etudes Sociologiques et Politiques Raymond Aron, and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris)). The publisher’s description follows: 

In Islam and Secularity Nilüfer Göle takes on two pressing issues: the transforming relationship between Islam and Western secular modernity and the impact of the Muslim presence in Europe. Göle shows how the visibility of Islamic practice in the European public sphere unsettles narratives of Western secularism. As mutually constitutive, Islam and secularism permeate each other, the effects of which play out in embodied and aesthetic practices and are accompanied by fear, anxiety, and violence. In this timely book, Göle illuminates the recent rethinking of secularism and religion, of modernity and resistance to it, of the public significance of sexuality, and of the shifting terrain of identity in contemporary Europe.

Greece and the Price of Europe

Alexis Tsipras, head of the anti-bailout Syriza party, speaks during a financial conference in Athens on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014.  Tsipras said that Greece’s battered economy could not recover unless the money owed to other Eurozone country’s was cut significantly. The leader of Greece’s popular left-wing opposition says he will demand a massive debt haircut from bailout lenders if his party comes to power in a possible snap election early next year. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Last week was a momentous one for the European project. On Monday, the Greek Parliament passed an austerity package that other Eurozone members, especially Germany, had demanded as a condition for considering Greece’s request for an €86 bailout. Negotiations will now begin. How they will end is anybody’s guess.  No one thinks the austerity package itself will solve the economic crisis Greece faces, and pretty much everyone thinks it will lead to years of misery for the nation. Greece already owes creditors an unsustainable €320 billion. But Germany argues that EU rules prohibit any debt reduction for Greece. Perhaps the parties will find a way to extend Greek payments without calling it a debt reduction. I’m sure the lawyers are working on it.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Yes, Greece misled people about the state of its finances when it joined the euro and has spent beyond its means. And the left-wing Syriza government greatly misjudged the mood in Europe and allowed itself to be completely outmaneuvered. But the banks that made the loans should have known Greece was in no position to pay. Having collected their commissions, they passed the debts to national governments–privatized gains and socialized losses–and walked away. As for those national governments, they should have known a common currency without a common fiscal policy was an unworkable proposition. They ignored this truth in pursuit of the illusion of a common Europe, extending from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean and from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. Greece is now paying the price for that illusion.

All this has been said before. But I’d like to draw attention to a small element of the austerity package Greece’s creditors demanded, one that has largely escaped notice. Under the terms of the package, in order to stimulate commerce, Greece will have to repeal its restrictions on Sunday store openings. From now on, nationwide, Sunday will be a shopping day. (Two years ago, Athens allowed Sunday shopping in 10 tourist areas, a move that led to protests). Presumably, Greeks will respond by buying and selling and generally growing their economy. The increased tax revenues will allow Greece to pay some of its debt. And repeal of anti-liberal Sunday closing laws will allow Greece to create a rational European economy, like Germany’s—though, ironically, German stores are closed Sundays.

We Americans are likely to view this matter as trivial. In America, as Robert Louis Wilken once wrote, the only thing that distinguishes Sunday from other days of the week is that the malls open a little later. Besides, a country can’t be pre-modern forever. Sunday closing laws are hopelessly old-fashioned and illiberal. If Greeks want to stay home on Sundays, they can; but people should be able to shop if they want to.  Resistance probably comes from interest groups that oppose free competition.

But Greece isn’t America or Germany, or at least it didn’t want to be, and the reform is indicative of a larger issue. The Sunday closing laws reflected the fact that Greece had values in addition to the market. Greece has had a tradition of Sunday closings to allow people to spend time with family and attend church. (Sure, lots of people watch football instead, but that’s a different matter. Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue). The ban on Sunday trading acknowledged that Greece is an Orthodox Christian country, with its own rhythms and ways of life. No matter. In Europe today, if it’s a choice between religious and cultural traditions, on the one hand, and commerce, on the other, commerce wins.  That’s the economically sound choice.

I don’t suppose there’s anything to be done. Greece is in a terrible situation and needs to find a way out. And I know it’s a small matter, compared to the other hardships Greeks will have to bear. But something important is being lost. To be part of the European project, apparently, a country must do whatever it can to become a secular, consumerist, market-oriented place—Sundays included. Localized cultures that stand in the way of economic rationality must recede. Perhaps that’s the inevitable logic of modernity. But it’s not an image the Christian Democratic founders of Europe like Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schuman would have recognized.

Gholami, “Secularism and Identity”

In April, Ashgate released “Secularism and Identity: Non-Islamiosity in the Iranian Diaspora,” by Reza Gholami (Middlesex University). The publisher’s description follows:

Within western political, media and academic discourses, Muslimcommunities are predominantly seen through the prism of their
Islamic religiosities, yet there exist within diasporic communities unique and complex secularisms. Drawing on detailed interview and ethnographic material gathered in the UK, this book examines the ways in which a form of secularism – ‘non-Islamiosity’ – amongst members of the Iranian diaspora shapes ideas and practices of diasporic community and identity, as well as wider social relations.

In addition to developing a novel theoretical paradigm to make sense of the manner in which diasporic communities construct and live diasporic identity and consciousness in a way that marginalises, stigmatises or eradicates only ‘Islam’, Secularism and Identity shows how this approach is used to overcome religiously inculcated ideas and fashion a desirable self, thus creating a new space in which to live and thereby attaining ‘freedom.’

Calling into question notions of anti-Islamism and Islamophobia, whilst examining secularism as a means or mechanism rather than an end, this volume offers a new understanding of religion as a marker of migrant identity. As such it will appeal to scholars of sociology, anthropology and political science with interests in migration and ethnicity, diasporic communities, the sociology of religion and emerging forms of secularism.

“Religious Diversity in European Prisons: Challenges and Implications for Rehabilitation” (Becci & Roy, eds.)

In June, Springer released “Religious Diversity in European Prisons: Challenges and Implications for Rehabilitation” edited by Irene Becci (University of Lausanne) and Oliver Roy (European University Institute). The publisher’s description follows:

This book examines how prisons meet challenges of religious diversity, in an era of increasing multiculturalism and globalization. Social scientists studying corrections have noted the important role that religious or spiritual practice can have on rehabilitation, particularly for inmates with coping with stress, mental health and substance abuse issues. In the past, the historical figure of the prison chaplain operated primarily in a Christian context, following primarily a Christian model. Increasingly, prison populations (inmates as well as employees) display diversity in their ethnic, cultural, religious and geographic backgrounds. As public institutions, prisons are compelled to uphold the human rights of their inmates, including religious freedom. Prisons face challenges in approaching religious plurality and secularism, and maintaining prisoners’ legal rights to religious freedom.

The contributions to this work present case studies that examine how prisons throughout Europe have approached challenges of religious diversity. Featuring contributions from the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, this interdisciplinary volume includes contributions from social and political scientists, religion scholars and philosophers examining the role of religion and religious diversity in prison rehabilitation.  It will be of interest to researchers in Criminology and Criminal Justice, Social and Political Science, Human Rights, Public Policy, and  Religious Studies.

“Religion at the European Parliament” (Foret, ed.)

In July, Rutledge will release “Religion at the European Parliament” edited by François Foret (Université Libre de Bruxelles-ULB). The publisher’s description follows:

The interactions between religion and politics in the European integration process are the focus of increasing attention in political and academic debates. However the body of research that has been developing for several years relates mainly to the representation of religious interests at the European Commission. The influence of religious actors and networks within the European Parliament give rise to many suppositions, ambitions or fears, but there is nothing tangible with which to evaluate them. Studying the preferences of European legislators reveals the conditions in which religion exerts an influence.

This analysis also aims to provide useful information on the socialisation capacities of the European Parliament vis-à-vis its members by focusing on an aspect of the normative orientations of MEPs that has been the subject of very little study to date. Furthermore, the denominational dimension is a particularly key factor in understanding partisan formations in the European Parliament and possible divisions between old and new Member States. Finally, the religious variable provides an opportunity to investigate the way in coalitions are formed, particularly in relation to those matters that continue to move higher up the EU agenda (the fight against discrimination; ethical issues; geopolitical stakes; the accession of Turkey, etc.).

“Material Religion in Modern Britain: The Spirit of Things” (Jones & Matthews-Jones, eds.)

In August, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Material Religion in Modern Britain: The Spirit of Things”  edited by Timothy Willem Jones (La Trobe University, Australia) and Lucinda Matthews-Jones (Liverpool John Moores University, UK). The publisher’s description follows:

A growing awareness of religious plurality and religious conflict in 9781137540553
contemporary society has led to a search for new ways to understand religious change beyond traditional subjects of British ecclesiology. Narratives of the gradual decline of Christianity dominate this field; yet many scholars now concede that Britain’s religious landscape was more varied and rich than these narratives would suggest. Material Religion in Modern Britain responds to this challenge by bringing emerging scholarship on material culture to bear on studies of religion and spirituality. The collection is the first to apply this suite of analytical methods to the traditional subjects of British religious studies and the full spectrum of religious denominations, sects, and movements that constituted Britain’s multi-faith landscape in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The book reveals how, across this religious spectrum, objects were, and continue to be, used in the performance and production of religious faith and subjectivity. In doing so it expands our understanding of the persistence of religious belief and culture in a secularising, secularized, and post-secular society.

Cressey, “Charles I & the People of England”

A wonderfully interesting looking history of the seventeenth century Stuart Charles I and the People of Englandmonarch, Charles I, that emphasizes the religious history of the period: Charles I & the People of England, by David Cressey will be released by Oxford University Press later this month. The publisher’s description follows.

The story of the reign of Charles I – through the lives of his people.

Prize-winning historian David Cressy mines the widest range of archival and printed sources, including ballads, sermons, speeches, letters, diaries, petitions, proclamations, and the proceedings of secular and ecclesiastical courts, to explore the aspirations and expectations not only of the king and his followers, but also the unruly energies of many of his subjects, showing how royal authority was constituted, in peace and in war – and how it began to fall apart.

A blend of micro-historical analysis and constitutional theory, parish politics and ecclesiology, military, cultural, and social history, Charles I and the People of England is the first major attempt to connect the political, constitutional, and religious history of this crucial period in English history with the experience and aspirations of the rest of the population. From the king and his ministers to the everyday dealings and opinions of parishioners, petitioners, and taxpayers, David Cressy re-creates the broadest possible panorama of early Stuart England, as it slipped from complacency to revolution.

Smith, “Sir Edward Coke and the Reformation of the Laws”

Here’s a new book, Sir Edward Coke and the Reformation of the Laws: Religion, Politics and Jurisprudence, 1578-1616, by David Chan Smith (Wilfred Chan SmithLaurier University, Ontario), published late last year by Cambridge University Press on Coke’s legal thought and the role of religion in the development of his views of church-state relations. The publisher’s description follows.

Throughout his early career, Sir Edward Coke joined many of his contemporaries in his concern about the uncertainty of the common law. Coke attributed this uncertainty to the ignorance and entrepreneurship of practitioners, litigants, and other users of legal power whose actions eroded confidence in the law. Working to limit their behaviours, Coke also simultaneously sought to strengthen royal authority and the Reformation settlement. Yet the tensions in his thought led him into conflict with James I, who had accepted many of the criticisms of the common law. Sir Edward Coke and the Reformation of the Laws reframes the origins of Coke’s legal thought within the context of law reform and provides a new interpretation of his early career, the development of his legal thought, and the path from royalism to opposition in the turbulent decades leading up to the English civil wars.