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1. Church And State
The study of Western Europe has been until modern times the study of Christendom, and the evolution of fundamental western institutions such as the state and civil society cannot be adequately understood without an analysis of the Church and its institutions. Historical studies of European institutions have been necessarily preoccupied with the development of relationships between the state and the church. During the Roman Empire, the Christian community had been a cult whose millenarian doctrine sharply separated the religious community from the secular world. Eschatological expectations about the Second Coming meant that Christian leaders had little interest in shaping this world. The conversion of Constantine, the foundation of Constantinople as a Christian city and the acceptance of Christianity as the official religion of the empire brought about the end of Christian chiliasm. In the late fourth and ﬁfth centuries, the papacy emerged as a governmental institution that exercised this-worldly rulership.
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The collapse of the Roman Empire and the advance of barbarian kingdoms in the ﬁfth and sixth centuries created the foundations of feudalism. As Christianity came to adjust to the existence of the secular institutions of this world, such as kingship, it was forced to reconsider the relationship between the church and the state. Medieval Christian theology provided basic models of power, legitimacy, corporation, and immunity that have been, and remain an inﬂuence in western political institutions. Throughout the medieval period, Christian theologians struggled to reconcile two problematic principles: the state was an institution of violence, but it was necessary for social order, and the Church, whose foundation was a divine act, depended upon the state to secure its soteriological purpose. What was common to medieval belief and what came to shape the growth of constitutional theory was the assumption that power should exist within a normative framework (Canning 1996).
The medieval Church inherited the impulse of primitive Christianity to disengage from political life, but this impulse could not be comprehensively applied since the Church was ultimately dependent on state institutions ( Wolin 1961). The Protestant Reformation created a new vision of independent, self-governing communities in which the sanctiﬁed individual would be liberated from the tyranny of secular powers and the corruption of ecclesiastical institutions. It was a vision of the transformation of power to godly rule that inspired the American Revolution. Lutheranism embraced a nostalgic vision of the purity of the primitive Church with which to challenge Catholic institutions, but it came to recognise that the congregations of the ‘visible Church’ would need discipline in order to prepare for the ‘invisible Church.’ The sins of this world were the pretext for a theory of the state as a moral authority, but Luther went further to recognise that the state was necessary to release Christian souls from the tyranny of the Church in the world. The fundamental instability of this relationship between the sovereignty of the state and the divine mission of the Church produced an endless cycle of reformation and counter reformation that structured political life in Europe for centuries.
Sociologists have studied the pastoral counsel of Reformation Protestantism as an important cultural foundation for the growth of capitalism ( Weber 1930). Although the ‘Protestant Ethic thesis’ is controversial, there is evidence that Protestant divines contributed both to the ethos of entrepreneurial capitalism and the social conditions that promoted the rise of democracy. Catholicism has therefore been seen as a conservative tradition whose opposition to Protestant rationalism gave rise to the Counter Reformation and to Baroque culture and institutions. The stark interiors of northern Protestantism were clearly demarcated from the exuberant and luxurious interiors of southern Catholic Europe.
The authority of the Church universal was further compromised by the growth of nationalism and the nation-state. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) produced a political system of nation states and forced the churches to operate within national boundaries. The French Revolution created the modern notion of national citizenship and a secular republican tradition that profoundly challenged European Catholicism. Modernization has been necessarily associated with secularism and the growth of scientiﬁc criticism of revelation as the foundation of Christian belief. Radicals like Marx and Engels regarded socialism as a necessary condition for the effective criticism of religion as part of the ideology of a dominant class. In addition, the growth of secularism had paradoxical consequences for European Judaism by offering Jews the possibility of assimilation, when the French National Assembly granted civil rights to Jews in 1791. Marx had argued that ‘the Jewish Question’ could not be solved merely by the political emancipation of Jewry but only by a social transformation of society. The spectre of assimilation broke the Jewish community into reform and counter-reform traditions, but European anti-Semitism continued to exclude Jews from public life and laid the foundations for the Holocaust. Mass emigration of Jews to the USA has profoundly changed the religious demography of Europe.
The dramatic decline of institutional religion in the twentieth century gave rise to the secularization thesis in the 1960s ( Wilson 1966). The contrast between the USA where religion appeared to ﬂourish and the secularity of most European societies was a topic of considerable interest. In America, the consequence of post-war migration was to convert religious identity into a sign of American membership (Herberg 1955), whereas in Europe religious affiliation was more persistently associated with class membership (Thompson 1963). Contemporary research on religious institutions in Europe has been less triumphal in its assessment of secularization in recognising the continuing importance of religion for what sociologists have called ‘collective representations’ (Durkheim 1954).
Whereas post-war studies of religion were preoccupied with the study of church–state relations, the Protestant–Catholic divide, and the survival of religion under communism, contemporary research has been interested in the impact of globalization, the growth of non-Christian religions and the rise of new religious movements. While the Christian churches have institutionally declined, religious cultures continue to ﬂourish in European society.
2. Secularization Thesis
It has been a basic assumption of the sociology of religion that the Christian churches in Europe have, from the nineteenth century, been subject to a profound and ineluctable process of secularization. While there is clear evidence of secularization in the sense that membership of, and participation in, Christian churches have declined, religious identity continues to play a generic role in national identity and consciousness. In The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, Troeltsch (1931) argued that the oscillation between church and sect that had shaped much of European history had come to an end with the ﬁnal erosion of the universal church. Religious life would become a matter of private belief and practice. The growth of an urban industrial society had undermined the social, cultural, and intellectual conditions that made religious attachment and belief possible (MacIntyre 1969). While sects continue to ﬂourish, there is incontrovertible evidence of the institutional decline of mainstream Christianity (Wilson 1976). Within this general pattern of decline, there are however discernible differences between the predominantly Catholic and Protestant regions and states (Martin 1978). Catholicism has remained a dominant cultural force in Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and Poland. In France an estimated ninety percent of the population is Roman Catholic and two percent is Protestant. In Ireland, 92 percent are Catholic and 80 percent attend church weekly.
Catholicism, prior to political liberalization in the late twentieth century, was central to the expression of nationalism in continental Europe and remained a major counter force to communism. Recognition of the importance of Catholicism for moral leadership of the working class produced a notion of ‘hegemony’ in the study of European politics (Gramsci 1971). The social and cultural inﬂuence of Catholicism has been closely associated with its control over education. In Ireland, for example, while the state provides over 85 percent of funding, Catholic boards of managers generally control schools. The dominance of the Catholic Church on the European right guaranteed that regional, party, and class divisions were often drawn along religious lines.
After the Second World War, Catholicism also played an important cultural and political role in relation to atheist communism. The Polish Solidarity movement decisively demonstrated the capacity of Catholicism to survive communism and to act as a conduit of social protest and change, because it is embedded in national identity. Irish national identity and republicanism have also been thoroughly merged within a Catholic tradition. Despite the Catholic Emancipation Act (1829), the Protestant–Catholic divide in Northern Ireland has remained an obstinate fact of political life. Owing to the political alienation of the population to the pre-1922 British state, the majority equate being Catholic with being Irish. With the end of the Cold War and the fall of communism, Catholicism may play a diminished role in the articulation of nationalism and national identity. In Spain, General Franco rose to power in 1936 following his attack on the socialist government. Franco’s regime was decidedly Catholic and supported traditional values against godless atheism, but the collapse of the Franco regime following his death in 1975 has resulted in the diminution of the public authority of the Catholic Church. Economic prosperity and growing multiculturalism in Eire has also brought about the beginning of a partial divorce between state and church.
In Protestant societies, the relationship with the state has been more remote, and hence the political inﬂuence of the churches has been obscured. While the Catholic Church has largely resisted Protestant inﬁltration in France and Italy, the Protestant countries have been religiously more diverse and the churches have enjoyed a privileged rather than a monopolistic position. In the Lutheran traditions of Scandinavia, the churches have been incorporated into the state, where religious functionaries became a component of the state bureaucracy. In Norway, Article 2 of the constitution proclaims both the existence of religious freedom and recognises the Evangelical Lutheran religion as the official religion of the state. In practice, the separation of church and state is recognised, despite the fact that the cabinet has the right to appoint bishops. In the UK, the Church of England functioned as a national church with the monarch as head, but religious tolerance and pluralism have been accepted principles of Lockean liberalism. In the UK there has been no real equivalent to Bismarck’s Kulturkampf to secure cultural homogeneity. The political transition from a confessional state to religious pluralism has been typical of English political gradualism in which discriminatory laws against Catholics and Jews were pragmatically abandoned rather than explicitly rejected by an assertion of religious equality. While the devolution of powers to regional parliaments in Scotland and Wales has weakened the political signiﬁcance of the Church of England, Anglicanism will no doubt remain an important ingredient of Englishness. The UK has been a society of ‘tolerant discrimination’ rather than a fully-ﬂedged melting pot in the American tradition (Boyle and Sheen 1997).
Prior to the uniﬁcation of Germany in 1990, religion played an important part in deﬁning the cultural differences between East and West Germany. In the united Germany, the constitutional right of return to Germany by ethnic Germans (Aussiedler) has insured cultural homogeneity and implicitly reinforced the role of religion as an essential element of being German. Around eight percent of the population are foreigners who are not permitted citizenship, and their children may have difficulty in obtaining naturalisation. The Weimar Republic rejected a state church, but Hitler destroyed the liberal constitution in 1933 and established National Socialism on the basis of one people, one state, and one leader. In the 1949 constitution, the separation of church and state was recognised, but religious education in state schools was a constitutional obligation. In contemporary Germany, approximately 45 percent of the population are members of the Evangelical Church and around 37 percent are Catholic. Because Christian traditions play an important part in national identity, there is some tension between Catholics and Protestants (for example over Christian symbols in state schools).
3. Migration And Multiculturalism
The history of religion in western Europe has been dominated by two issues, namely church–state relations and secondly the cultural divisions between Protestantism and Catholicism. This historic pattern has been shaken by two inter-related processes, namely the secularization of society and the globalization of the European economy. Post-war European economic prosperity has combined with a greying population to produce a multicultural society that satisﬁes its labor market needs by migrant labor. The working-age population of Europe is declining rapidly and by 2030 it is estimated that the ratio of working taxpayers to nonworking pensioners in Germany and Italy will drop to 1: 1. Young migrants, whose fertility rate is typically higher than the host population, are ﬁlling the gap between workers and non-workers. This structural dependency on foreign labor has drawn in signiﬁcant numbers of non-Christian migrants, whose presence is permanently changing the cultural map of Europe. In many European countries, the foreign migrant community is 10 percent of the host population. The most signiﬁcant group, both in numbers and inﬂuence, is Muslim. There are 10 to 13 million Muslims in Europe, and in Germany the foreigners will make up 30 percent of the population by 2030, most of whom will ﬁnd employment in cities such as Munich and Frankfurt.
Global aging and labor shortages in the developed world will insure that immigration and religion remain on the political agenda of European societies. Migrants from Pakistan to the UK, from Turkey to Germany, from the Middle East and North Africa to France, and from Indonesia to the Netherlands have produced a diasporic politics that has raised fears about the impact of Islamic fundamentalism on democratic institutions in Europe. In Germany, Turks and Kurds entered the labor market in the 1960s and 1970s, and these ‘guest workers’ are now a consistent more or less permanent second generation, amounting to approximately two million people. While many of these migrants are secular, Islamic organisations play an important part in their social and political organisation. In France, there is a strong nationalist feeling that North African Muslims (maghrebins) cannot assimilate to French republican culture. The hijab case (l’affaire des foulards) in 1989 caused a divisive public debate about the desire of Muslim girls to wear the hijab in state schools. The French intellectual Left regard secular schools as important for personal liberation from religious ideology, while the Right interpret the hijab as an attack on French national custom. In English culture, there has been an established tradition of distrust towards Islam that can be illustrated for example by hostility to translations of the Qur’an in the sixteenth century (Matar 1998). In recent legislation, there has been some accommodation to the beliefs and practices of other religions, such as the acceptance of customs relating to the wearing turbans by Sikhs, animal slaughter, and solemnization of marriages. However, the ‘Rushdie Affair’ involving the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1989 by the novelist Salman Rushdie and the fetwa placed on him polarized British public opinion, and reinforced the public perception of Muslims as fanatics whose culture is fundamentally incompatible with parliamentary democracy and liberal values. The Rushdie Affair conﬁrmed the view of many intellectuals that European culture is fundamentally racist and that its world-view is deeply Orientalist in which the Muslim has become ‘the Other’ (Said 1978). In France, a poll by Le Monde in 1989 revealed that about 70 percent of the French population associate Islam with fanaticism. Attempts by Muslim intellectuals living in Europe to counteract these negative stereotypes have had little impact on the general population (Ahmed 1992). The difficulties of ﬁnding a peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis and the apparent failure of the Oslo agreement as illustrated by the Palestinian Intifada will continue to fuel hostility towards Islam (Turner 1994).
4. Conclusion: Religion And Civic Culture
Latin Christianity had created a common religious and political culture in medieval Europe. The Reformation and the division of Europe broke this dominant culture into competing states with distinctive national religious traditions. The growth of nationalism in Europe had very diverse consequences for the churches, but religious symbols, often combined with epic literature and folk culture, have been indispensable for the creation of nations as ‘imagined communities’ (Anderson 1983). This vitality of religious symbols in nation formation has been constructed on the basis of conservative hostility to both secularism and communism. The dominant transformations of religion in the twentieth century have been brought about by the secularization of Europe and the decline of communism as a signiﬁcant atheist alternative to theological belief systems. In the twenty-ﬁrst century, the religious map of Europe is changing once more as globalization has created cultural hybridisation. The new component of this ideological cartography is Islam, but there are other changes that have come to the attention of social scientists, namely the emergence of new religious movements and alternative expressions of religious consciousness involving syncretism (Hamilton 1995). Europe governments have frequently attempted to curb the development of such sects by legislative means. There is considerable public anxiety about New Age groups, Scientology and Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1995 the British home secretary refused entry to the Rev Sun Myung Moon who had planned to enter the UK to hold services for the Uniﬁcation Church. In Germany, the federal government has identiﬁed 25 sects that are seen to be a threat to ‘democratic values.’ These religious problems of a multicultural society are now a generic aspect of European politics, and are indicative that the traditional Protestant–Catholic–Jewish divisions of European politics have been further complicated by global hybridity (Robertson 1992). Changes in the nature of the study of religion as a European institution are thus reﬂections of the growth of global religious cultures.
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