Tag Archives: Religion in Europe

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“Democracy, Law and Religious Pluralism in Europe” (Requejo & Ungureanu, eds.)

Next month, Routledge Press will release Democracy, Law and Religious Pluralism in Europe: Secularism and Post-Secularism, edited by Ferran Requejo and Camil Ungureanu, both of Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. The publisher’s description follows:

Democracy, Law and Religious Pluralism in Europe

In contrast with the progressive dilution of religions predicted by traditional liberal and Marxist approaches, religions remain important for many people, even in Europe, the most secularised continent. In the context of increasingly culturally diverse societies, this calls for a reinterpretation of the secular legacy of the Enlightenment and also for an updating of democratic institutions.

This book focuses on a central question: are the classical secularist arrangements well equipped to tackle the challenge of fast-growing religious pluralism? Or should we move to new post-secular arrangements when dealing with pluralism in Europe? Offering an interdisciplinary approach that combines political theory and legal analysis, the authors tackle two interrelated facets of this controversial question. They begin by exploring the theoretical perspective, asking what post-secularism is and looking at its relation to secularism. The practical consequences of this debate are then examined, focusing on case-law through four empirical case studies.

This book will be of interest to students and scholars of political theory, philosophy, religion and politics, European law, human rights, legal theory and socio-legal studies.

À La Lanterne

A reader points out that today is Bastille Day, the anniversary of the French Revolution, which brought laïcité to Europe. In commemoration whereof, here is a fun quiz from NPR about the Marseillaise, an anthem that will raise the ire of all Throne-and-Altar types. I’m not naming names.

Annicchino on the EU and Religious Freedom

Pasquale Annicchino (European University Institute) has posted an new paper on SSRN, Is the European Union Going Deep on Democracy and Religious Freedom. Here’s the abstract:

In recent years the European Union has begun to explicitly affirm a foreign policy role for freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). The initial reaction to this trend among many scholars and policy analysts has largely been that of caution—if not outright skepticism—regarding the practical import of the changes. However there are signs of continuing momentum. While the EU’s record thus far does not yet reflect a fully comprehensive strategy for integrating FoRB into its broader agenda for promoting deep democracy, it has been able to enlarge the role of FoRB in its external action on a step-by-step basis.

Laïcité in Rome

S. Nicolas des Lorrains

This week, CLR Forum is in Rome, where we’re co-hosting our third international conference, “International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values,” on June 20-21. For people interested in law and religion, Rome is an endlessly fascinating place. On practically every corner, you stumble upon evidence of the long relationship–sometimes cooperative, sometimes antagonistic–between church and state.

Here’s an example. The photo above shows the façade of the Church of San Nicola dei Lorensi, behind Piazza Navona. San Nicola one of a handful of historic French “national” churches in Rome–churches that historically have served as homes for pilgrims from France. The Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, on the other side of the piazza–the one with the famous Caravaggios–is a more well-known example. As the name suggests, San Nicola was the church for pilgrims from the region of Lorraine. It was built in the 17th Century, but must have fallen into grave disrepair over the centuries, because it was completely restored in the last decade.

Note the placard above the doorway in the photograph: “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.” This, of course, is the motto of the French Republic–the laïc French Republic. The motto is meant to capture the secular nature of the Republic and the separation of church and state. It’s not an insult, necessarily, but it definitely connotes a rejection of the Catholicism of the old regime. So what is the motto doing over the doorway of an old Catholic church in the heart of Rome?

The answer is, as far as I can tell, is this. San Nicola is owned by a French governmental organization called “Les Pieux Etablissements de la France à Rome et à Lorette,” administered by the French ambassador to the Holy See. According to its website (in French), the organization exists to maintain the historic French national churches, welcome French-speaking pilgrims, and organize cultural events that promote France in Rome.

This isn’t as strange as it may first appear. As readers of our 2010 symposium on laïcité know, the French government owns many church buildings in France, all that existed as of 1905, the date of the Law on the Separation of Churches and the State. Notwithstanding the commitment to laïcité, the 1905 law gives the French government title to church property; the government allows religious bodies to use the property at its discretion. At the time of enactment, the Third Republic required churches to affix signs with the republican motto on their doorways–to demonstrate, I imagine, that there was a new sheriff in town. Most of these signs have now disappeared, though you can still occasionally find them. I remember seeing one on the Church of Saint Julien-le-Pauvre in Paris a few years ago.

It isn’t strange, then, that the French government owns and maintains San Nicola today. According to the website of the French ambassador, San Nicola was restored in 2005 partly with funds from the Regional Council of Lorraine–that is, with public money. During the work, someone–a secularist council member? an embassy staffer?–must have decided it would be a good idea to restore the republican motto as well. So there it is today, a witness, to those who know the story, of the profoundly complicated relationship between religion and the state in France–and in Rome, too.

Was Madison Right? Shiffrin on DeGirolami on Roy

The eminent First Amendment scholar (and my friend) Steve Shiffrin has a smart post disagreeing with my own criticisms of Olivier Roy’s column a few days ago concerning the European political right and its nominal association, but substantive dissociation, with the major Christian churches of Europe. Actually there is not much to disagree with in Steve’s post: insofar as my post suggests that the problems that attend church state associations simply have no application in Europe, surely Steve is right to object. Here are just a few additional ruminations in response:

First, I take Steve’s post to be in some measure a friendly amendment to my own. The  principal point I wanted to make about Professor Roy’s column is that to the extent that church-state association or connection is a problem in Europe, that is nothing new and has little to do with today’s particular political trade winds. So that while the contemporary political right makes for a fat target, Professor Roy’s real objection is to the larger model of church-state relations that has predominated in Europe (for good and, as Madison had it, for ill) for the hundreds of years that preceded the last handful. Steve’s post is, I think, consistent with this criticism.

Second, Steve’s post is also a reminder to me that the strength or vigor of a religious tradition is itself a contested concept. A highly Protestant or Evangelical view of religion’s core or essence will see weakness in associational or public institutional characteristics and strength in individual commitment and the purity of interior zeal (I note that Steve cites Stanley Hauerwas!). Here’s some of what I wrote a few months ago (in response to George Will) about the claim that separationism must always and necessarily strengthen religion, much of which seems applicable here too:

The claim is that religion is so vibrant in America only because (or uniquely because) it is so pure, so separate from public institutions. It’s an argument that Madison made famous in his “Memorial and Remonstrance” and that Justice Souter has made in his religion clause jurisprudence (see his dissent in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris)…. It reflects a distinctively evangelical ethic that one sees in full blossom in the writing of Roger Williams (as well as, before him, John Milton), for whom religion could never quite be pure enough–an ethic that hyper-emphasizes the unvarnished, utterly and uncomplicatedly sincere credos of what William James much later would call the gloomily intense “twice-born.”

Notice also the individualistic current on which the claim [of religious strength's source in separationism] rides. It isn’t just that the state is “likely to get it wrong”; that is an argument for disestablishment…. The deeper undercurrent of the separationist claim is that individuals, not entities, are the ones “likely to get it right”–that true-blue, healthfully zesty religiosity depends on a kind of inward exercise of discernment borne from fervent conviction that is always in peril of depurification by associational adulteration. It is a claim made primarily by those whose experience of “bad” religion was group religion– and traditional group religion at that. And the claim retains at least part of its power because of its still vital anti-clerical, anti-institutional foundations….

But is the claim true? In part, perhaps, but only with substantial qualifications of a kind that make it problematic. There is nothing inevitable….about religious strength that follows ineluctably from its complete separation from government. There is no iron law that says: the more we separate religion from government, the stronger religion must become. Such a claim would run headlong into many counterexamples, contemporary and ancient. The ancient examples make the claim appear patently absurd. One wants to ask: “Do you actually mean to tell me that no society which has not observed strict separation between church and state has had a flourishing religious life? So there was no flourishing religious life in any of countless pre-modern societies that existed before Milton or Locke or Roger Williams or whoever got busy?” And to take only one modern case, religion and the state have been strictly separated for some time in laic France and in other extremely secular European countries, and the strength of religious life in those countries is by all accounts much weaker than it was in prior historical periods when there was greater proximity and interpenetration of church and state.

I suppose one might argue that religious weakness in a country like France is the result of the long, noxious association of church and state that preceded separation, and that we just need some more time before a newly flourishing religiosity emerges. That seems highly dubious. Church and state have been separated in France for over a century (since 1905). How much longer is it supposed to take for this delicate flower to bloom in the desert? In fact, it seems much more likely that strict separation of church and state has either contributed to the weakening of religious life in a country like France or (even more plausibly) that it has occurred at a time when religiosity was weakening for reasons of its own–reasons unrelated to, or at least independent of, strict separationism.

If some notion of separation did in fact at one time contribute to a stronger collective religious life in the United States, the reason had little to do with any necessary connection in this respect, and more to do with the unique historical and cultural circumstances of the United States–circumstances in which the Puritan evangelicalism represented by Roger Williams’s particular style of fire-and-brimstone, garden-and-the-wilderness religiosity was much more powerful in the United States than it is today. Church-state separation may be a strategy that makes religion seem stronger, provided that one is beginning from the evangelical paradigm of the twice-born soul. But it is a different matter if religion is commonly perceived in wildly different terms and expected to perform entirely different functions.

I take all of these points to be consistent with Steve’s final paragraph, in which he writes: “The factors leading to religiosity or its decline are complicated and controversial, and the decline in European religiosity is palpable. I would not contend that the close ties between religion and the state are the only explanation. After all, those ties persisted for a long time without a decline as DeGirolami observes. I would add that those ties can be helpful.” Quite so.

Finally, a friend wrote to me indicating that he was dubious that “separationist” was a proper description of Professor Roy’s own views. That’s an interesting observation as well. I made the association because separationism has a long and rich history in this country. It is a view that proceeds in part from the position that the mingling of church and state is a corrupting force for both and it maintains that the cultural and identitarian features of religion which can permeate the political sphere are not a positive thing for either religion or government. I found this latter theme to be very much emphasized in Professor Roy’s piece; indeed, I found it to be crucial to the claims he makes. But separationism is an American phenomenon. And it may be difficult to transplant the flora of particular, culturally contingent church state arrangements to exotic soils and expect them to blossom in quite the same ways.

Olivier Roy on “The Closing of the Right’s Mind”

The distinguished sociologist of religion, Olivier Roy (author of a very fine book called Holy Ignorance), has an interesting op-ed in the New York Times today entitled, “The Closing of the Right’s Mind” (no citation to Alan Bloom?). The large point in the piece has to do with the secularization of certain political parties in Europe that were formerly linked to the Christian churches of Europe, principally the Catholic Church. Here’s the opening:

The longstanding link between the political right and various Christian churches is breaking down across Europe. This is largely because the right, like much of European society, has become more secular. Yet this hardly indicates progress: Animated by an anti-Islamic sentiment, the right’s position is endangering freedom of religion, as well as secularism and basic democratic traditions.

Up to the 1950s, the cultural values endorsed by the right throughout much of Europe were not so different from the traditional religious values of Catholics and Protestants. Homosexuality was criminalized in many countries. Children born out of wedlock had fewer rights than “legitimate” children. The law in most countries protected family values, censored some forms of pornography and condemned what the French call mauvaises moeurs (roughly, loose morals).

The changes brought on by the decades that followed–in which rights and values of sexual autonomy came to dominate the scene–were initially the purview of the political left but eventually, Professor Roy notes, came to be adopted by the political right as well. And that has resulted in the fracturing of connections between the political right and the traditional European churches, which largely do not subscribe to those values.

The “twist,” however, is that the political right has assumed the mantle of Christianity without claiming any of its values. It has dissociated itself from Christianity; it has secularized. But it has simultaneously maintained that Western Europe is Christian. It has done this not because it is truly Christian–”spiritually” Christian–but for political reasons, principally for the purpose of resisting a growing Islam in Europe.

The piece is very interesting, as I say, but what principally interested me is how American it sounds. The claim that religion’s true value is its “spiritual” essence, rather than any number of other values, can be found in American separationist writings dating to Roger Williams. It has deep roots in a kind of Protestantism and Evangelicalism typical of the American experience. I would not have thought that the European experience, in which the political importance of religion was always far more prominent, was the same. And the notion that the association of politics and religion exerts a corrupting influence on religion may be traced in a direct line from James Madison all the way to David Souter’s church-state dissents. But, again, I take it that has not been the European historical experience. Indeed, Professor Roy himself notes in the fragment quoted above a period in which the political right and the European churches were plausibly connected. But if the separationist corruption argument is right, then this period of association was no less corrupt than the current condition of dissociation.

Indeed, in the view of the separationist, the previous period was just as corrupting for politics and religion as the present. This may be the reason that Professor Roy raises the Lautsi case, concerning the display of crucifixes in Italian public school classrooms, a practice which preceded by many years the current difficulties faced by European political parties. The European Court of Human Rights upheld the practice based in part on the religious culture and heritage of Italy. Professor Roy criticizes the ruling on the ground that “to defend a distinct cultural Christian identity is to secularize Christianity itself.”

Again, historically that has not been true in Europe; Christendom coexisted comfortably with Christianity for centuries, well before “secularization” in its contemporary form ever came on the scene. And even if the statement were true, its truth would have little to do with the current conditions of the political right in Europe. That statement reflects a larger vision of the nature of the relationship between church and state–a distinctively American conception of that relationship principally (though not exclusively) embraced today by the political left in this country–strict separationism. Its influence in American law, however, has been steadily declining–there are no more church-state separationists on the Supreme Court. It is striking that separationism of this sort should have such contemporary purchase for the very different historical conditions of Western Europe.

Linhard, “Jewish Spain”

This June, Stanford University Press will publish Jewish Spain, A Mediterranean Memorby Tabea Alexa Linhard (Washington University- St.Jewish Spain Louis).  The publisher’s description follows.

What is meant by “Jewish Spain”? The term itself encompasses a series of historical contradictions. No single part of Spain has ever been entirely Jewish. Yet discourses about Jews informed debates on Spanish identity formation long after their 1492 expulsion. The Mediterranean world witnessed a renewed interest in Spanish-speaking Jews in the twentieth century, and it has grappled with shifting attitudes on what it meant to be Jewish and Spanish throughout the century.

At the heart of this book are explorations of the contradictions that appear in different forms of cultural memory: literary texts, memoirs, oral histories, biographies, films, and heritage tourism packages. Tabea Alexa Linhard identifies depictions of the difficulties Jews faced in Spain and Northern Morocco in years past as integral to the survival strategies of Spanish Jews, who used them to make sense of the confusing and harrowing circumstances of the Spanish Civil War, the Francoist repression, and World War Two.

Jewish Spain takes its place among other works on Muslims, Christians, and Jews by providing a comprehensive analysis of Jewish culture and presence in twentieth-century Spain, reminding us that it is impossible to understand and articulate what Spain was, is, and will be without taking into account both “Muslim Spain” and “Jewish Spain.”

Wolf, “Juan de Segovia and the Fight for Peace: Christians and Muslims in the Fifteenth Century”

From the University of Notre Dame Press, here’s an interesting work in the Juan de Segoviahistory of religion, Juan de Segovia and the Fight for Peace: Christians and Muslims in the Fifteenth Century, by Anne Marie Wolfe (University of Maine at Farmington). The publisher’s description follows.

Juan de Segovia (d. 1458), theologian, translator of the Qur’an, and lifelong advocate for the forging of peaceful relations between Christians and Muslims, was one of Europe’s leading intellectuals. Today, however, few scholars are familiar with this important fifteenth-century figure. In this well-documented study, Anne Marie Wolf presents a clear, chronological narrative that follows the thought and career of Segovia, who taught at the University of Salamanca, represented the university at the Council of Basel (1431–1449), and spent his final years arguing vigorously that Europe should eschew war with the ascendant Ottoman Turks and instead strive to convert them peacefully to Christianity.

What could make a prominent thinker, especially one who moved in circles of power, depart so markedly from the dominant views of his day and advance arguments that he knew would subject him to criticism and even ridicule? Although some historians have suggested that the multifaith heritage of his native Spain accounts for his unconventional belief that peaceful dialogue with Muslims was possible, Wolf argues that other aspects of his life and thought were equally important. For example, his experiences at the Council of Basel, where his defense of conciliarism in the face of opposition contributed to his ability to defend an unpopular position and where his insistence on conversion through peaceful means was bolstered by discussions about the proper way to deal with the Hussites, refined his arguments that peaceful conversion was prefereable to war. Ultimately Wolf demonstrates that Segovia’s thought on Islam and the proper Christian stance toward the Muslim world was consistent with his approach to other endeavors and with cultural and intellectual movements at play throughout his career.

“Irish Religious Conflict in Comparative Perspective” (Wolffe, ed.)

Later this month, Palgrave Macmillan releases Irish Religious Conflict in Comparative Perspective: Catholics, Protestants and Muslimsedited by John Wolffe (Open University UK). The publisher’s description follows:

By setting the Irish religious conflict in a wide comparative perspective, this book offers fresh insights into the causes of religious conflicts, and potential means of resolving them. The collection mounts a challenge to widely held views of ‘Irish exceptionalism’ and points to significant historical and contemporary commonalities across the Western European and North Atlantic worlds. In so doing it enriches understanding not only of the cultural and political legacies of Christendom’s internal divisions, but also of the factors currently hampering the peaceful assimilation of Muslims in Western societies. The ‘on the ground’ experience detailed in several of the chapters shows, however, that religion can be part of the ‘solution’ as well as part of the ‘problem’, and the book develops conclusions and implications that are important for practitioners and policy-makers as well as for academics.

Gilham, “Loyal Enemies: British Converts to Islam, 1850-1950″

In June, Oxford University Press will publish Loyal Enemies: British Converts toLoyal Enemies Islam, 1850-1950, by Jamie Gilham. The publisher’s description follows.

Loyal Enemies uncovers the history of the earliest British converts to Islam who lived their lives freely as Muslims on British soil, from the 1850s to the 1950s. Drawing on original archival research, it reveals that people from across the range of social classes defied convention by choosing Islam in this period. Through a series of case studies of influential converts and pioneering Muslim communities, Loyal Enemies considers how the culture of Empire and imperialism influenced and affected their conversions and subsequent lives, before examining how they adapted and sustained their faith. Jamie Gilham shows that, although the overall number of converts was small, conversion to Islam aroused hostile reactions locally and nationally. He therefore also probes the roots of antipathy towards Islam and Muslims, identifies their manifestations and explores what conversion entailed socially and culturally. He also considers whether there was any substance to persistent allegations that converts had “divided” loyalties between the British Crown and a Muslim ruler, country or community. Loyal Enemies is a book about the past, but its core themes–about faith and belief, identity, Empire, loyalties and discrimination– are still salient today.