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Religion in the New Europe

Krzysztof Michalski

Integration and Fragmentation

Patterns of Religion in Europe

David Martin

Texte intégral

Languages of Religion

1In this essay I shall be making certain assumptions unconnected with any personal views about further European integration. I assume that a question about how religion does or does not contribute to European integration is an empirical question, and, if the answer is rather discouraging, then that is what I have to report. No doubt the question itself is embedded in normative concerns, such as those now focused on the European Constitution, and it might be possible to respond by drawing on carefully selected religious norms relevant to those concerns. But that is not my main task.

2I am concerned, then, with the varying states of religion between Galway and Salonika, not with that particular subset of religious norms—of which subsidiarity is a characteristic example—which are capable of being subsumed within the conceptual abstractions dominating the humanist agenda. That is a game worth playing, but its rules are already set by that agenda.

3Were I to pause briefly and play that game, I would suggest that —classical sources apart—ideas like liberty, equality and fraternity are secular translations of Biblical texts, such as our oneness (irrespective of all adventitious characteristics) in Christ, the unity of humanity ‘under God,’ and the way in which every human being is a king and a priest ‘unto God.’ To this I would add ‘Glory to God,’ ‘The Peace of God,’ and ‘Christian liberty’ by God’s grace. If one removes the references to Christ and to God, one arrives at comprehensive mottos of republican principle and virtue. Since Christian language can in this way be emptied out into ordinary secular currency, the question is whether the specifically religious gold standard, held (literally) in vaults and crypts, is still required as reserve backing, or whether it has been finally converted into the secular. When one repudiates that standard, a relativistic nihilism of the kind brilliantly delineated in John Gray’s Straw Dogs (2002) easily follows.

4I hold that the hidden gold standard provides permanent backing for secular enlightened usage, while resisting all attempts at a final conversion. Religious language is sui generis. In any case, its fundamental grammar of incarnation and redemption, transformation and deformation, acceptance and alienation, sacrifice and resurrection, cannot be incorporated into the public realm without damage and compromise on all sides. A Risorgimento in the secular realm echoes the Resurrection, but cannot be confused with it, any more than a secular Renaissance can be confused with a Second Birth.

5Religious language is embedded in specific angles of vision, specific modes of human association, and in sacred places specifically shaped and informed by the gestures, images, and exclamations of worship. Such sacred places are scattered all over Europe and are part of its unity. Even if you dismiss Christianity as a lingering or malingering tenant, this deposit of faith remains a social presence and a social fact. The normative question can therefore be rephrased to ask how this presence and this fact may or may not be acknowledged in the public realm.

6I referred above to the enlightened agenda as a kind of taken-for-granted—one which, like a media interview, reserves the right to question without being questioned itself. From the protected vantage point of that agenda, enlightened elites presuppose an established universalism that somehow has to cope with, and perhaps override, an awkward, fissiparous and archaic religious particularity. In a supposedly postmodern age, however, one is permitted to think outside this protected vantage point.

7What we have in practice are rivalrous secular universalisms, such as those represented by France, Anglo-America and (until recently) Russia, each involved in a complex encounter with rivalrous religious universalisms. In these encounters there are certainly shared wisdoms, complementary vocabularies and perennial common understandings, such as peace with justice and human responsibility, to be exploited and explored. But unless the protocols of human dignity are threatened or violated either by different religions or by different Enlightenments, there must be respect for difference, and a sense of an unoccupied neutral space. Neither God nor truth can be pre-empted by the secular city. In any case, abstract rights are notoriously capable of being deployed in contrary directions: gays should not be discriminated against when it comes to employment and religious organizations should be able to employ those who share their ethos.

8Enlightenments, then, are in conflict, and the French Enlightenment in particular, as allied to the omnicompetent and secularist state, is challenged by other less statist Enlightenments (English, Scottish, Dutch, German and American). These have had or, in the German case, have lately arrived at, a limited federal view of the state, and all involve piety and reason in a partial alliance. The main historical conflict, which was once between the British and French versions, has now become a conflict between the American and French versions, with the British usually leaning westward once push comes to shove. The Anglo-Dutch genealogy of 1689 and the American genealogy of 1776 have long faced the genealogies of 1789 and 1917.

9Not only are there characteristic and powerful alliances of Christianity and Enlightenments running east and west across the northern tier from Harvard to Halle, but there are also powerful and parallel lines of theological communication, mostly moving westward from German sources. Religiously, linguistically and historically, Britain looks west to North America as well as to Australasia and the global Anglosphere. This is where the sometime Protestant character of Britain retains some relevance in spite of the passionate love affairs pursued by the educated British middle classes with France, Italy and Greece, in search of places where sensuous relaxation can be briefly indulged in beneath a southern sun. All that aside, the post-Protestant north still preens itself on its capacity to internalize rules and laws, rather than to accept them in principle while venally evading them in practice. Whatever may be true of the old border of the magisterial Reformation, mutations of Protestant and Catholic attitudes still remain in force to cause cultural and political misunderstanding.

10If there are such palpable if modest differences between north and south, there are more basic differences between west and east, especially northwest and southeast. In the north there is a socially critical religious leadership, which includes high caliber lay opinion on such matters as bioethics, whereas in the south the weight of a more traditional Catholicism supports the idea of the Church speaking as a collective voice. Media convenience and political convenience collude with this Catholic view. In the east, and especially the southeast, the accepted role of religious leaderships has been, and remains, to speak on behalf of nations, even though the concrete norms governing people’s lives are not at all subject to ecclesiastical guidance or control. Indeed, churches in the east damage their moral credibility by seeking power and status.

11Perhaps I may summarize. These comments outline certain basic contrasts in contemporary European religiosity. There is a socially concerned ‘reformed’ Catholicism, particularly where Catholics are effectively a minority. There is an embedded folk Catholicism with its redoubts in the south, but with northern outliers. There is the ethnoreligion of eastern Europe, sometimes with recently renewed links to the state, but energized by several different kinds of alien rule. Western Europe has also nurtured ethnoreligions, in particular in such niches as the Brittany peninsula and the island of Ireland.

12Then there are the two Protestant types of religiosity found right across the northern tier. One is Anglo-Dutch and Anglo-American, based on religion as generating voluntary social capital, either as passive service station under the shadow of establishment, in the English-style, or active, entrepreneurial and competitive, in the American style. The other is Scandinavian and German, with a strong Social Democratic reflection of Lutheran monopoly in Scandinavia, and a federal state working in partnership with churches to maintain a massive web of social assistance in Germany: Gotteshilfe, Selbshilfe, Staatshilfe, Brüderhilfe, to use a recent formulation by Klaus Tanner.

13The remaining kinds of religion are the cases of successful secularist indoctrination by the state in France, the Czech Republic, the former East Germany and Estonia. This is the obverse of religious nationalism, because the success of counterindoctrination by an ideologically secularist state, whether radical liberal or Marxist, depends to a great extent on whether the Church has been aligned with, or opposed to, the mobilization of national feeling and the nation-state. Religion and ethnicity either divide the sacred between them, or the sanctity of faith and nation are partially merged. So one needs to understand both how the sacred may occupy rival poles, and how it may partially migrate to occupy a new national sacred space. One also needs to be cautious about projections concerning the demise of sacred nationalism or the sacred nation-state, the rumors of whose death could well be exaggerated. Sacred nationalism is palpably alive in Croatia, as is the sacred nation-state in France.

14Since parts of northern Europe are post-Protestant (in spite of the fact that even in secular Britain 72 % identify themselves as Christian), one must also observe the growth of largely unorganized subjective spiritualities, stressing human potential, sacralizing the individual, and creating a kind of Puritanism based, not on self-control, but on passionate judgments about pure air, racism, and green issues. If there is a unifying dimension connecting changes in the Church, charismatic movements, and the subjective ‘self-religions,’ it is the world of the Spirit, Holy or otherwise. Joachim of Fiore would not have been surprised at the arrival of his Third Age of the Holy Spirit.

Some patterns of religion in Europe

15In what follows I will sketch some patterns of religion in Europe that can be mentally superimposed, like a set of transparencies. My aim is to suggest what these patterns mean with regard to the integration and fragmentation of Europe, and I should say that they rest upon two premises. The first is that Christianity embodies a dialectic of the religious and the secular that more easily generates secular mutations of faith than straightforward replacements and displacements. The second is that religion should not be regarded as a separate channel of culture, but as a distinctive current mingling in the mainstream, sometimes going with the flow, sometimes against it. These two premises taken in tandem mean that religious forms and molds are often reflected in secular analogues. The Scandinavian symbiosis of Lutheranism and Social Democracy is one such pre-eminent case.

16Part of the aim of this essay is to lend additional depth to those standard accounts of religiosity that rely on comparative statistics about belief and practice. Counting matters, but one needs some account of religion as a mode of social consciousness and identity rooted in history and geography, time and place. Christianity can be viewed as a flexible repertoire of images and gestures, and as a code simultaneously replicating itself and adjusting to social cues and circumstances.

17It is best to proceed with concrete illustrations of the different patterns, rather than to continue setting out programmatic abstractions. One pattern of changing relations between the religious and the secular can be found at the center of every European city, though most dramatically so in regional and national capitals. In the Byzantine tradition, divine and human sovereignty are placed in intimate juxtaposition at the sacred heart of the city, whereas, in a western renaissance city like Florence, we see the incipient separation of powers in the two distinct spaces of Cathedral and Signoria.

18Rome and Paris are ancient cities where a relatively recent history of conflict between the religious and the secular has been realized in rival architectural emplacements. In Rome, St Peter’s is directly confronted by the vast Victor Emmanuel Monument, though eventually the Via della Conciliazione had to be constructed to bring Vatican City and the national capital back into contact. In Paris, Notre Dame and the Sacré Coeur represent one kind of sacred center, in which France is the eldest daughter of the Church, while the Panthéon and the Place de la Bastille represent sacred centers in which France is the eldest daughter of the revolution.

19This paradigmatic urban ecology, with its rival versions of the sacred, signals two centuries of warfare between religion and progress, Church and state, faith and liberal nationalism, clericalism and anticlericalism, Catholic and Enlightenment universality. It provided a model of conflict, and of the attempted supercession of one sacred by another, disseminated from Paris to the intelligentsias of Europe and Latin America. The governing concept, enshrined in Paris, and taken for granted in France, was and remains laicité.

20Quite different notions, however, are enshrined (and taken for granted) elsewhere. In Germany, Scandinavia, England and Scotland, piety and enlightenment lived to some extent in partnership, partly because the Church was subordinate to the state, and overlapped the middle and ruling classes. In Berlin and Helsinki, the churches were integrated into a profile that included the university, the arts and administration within a classical format conveying the power of enlightened absolutism. In Helsinki, Oslo and Stockholm, monuments to Social Democracy and civic consciousness later complemented the old centers. The modest enlightenment in England and Scotland integrated modest classical churches into civic squares and bequeathed a model of coexistence to North America that has become the main alternative to the model of warfare and supercession emanating from France.

21Clearly, some of these different models of the religious and the secular can be read in the city itself, literally at a glance. On the one hand, Europe is a unity by virtue of the universality of the basic distinction between the religious and the secular, and the deposit of sacred buildings from Syracuse to Trondheim and Dublin to Sofia; on the other, it is a diversity by virtue of the different ways that distinction is realized.

22This mapping in terms of urban sacred ecology can be supplemented by thinking in terms of architectural styles in a way already hinted at in references to the classicism of enlightened absolutism in parts of Europe (Charles III, Joseph II, Catherine the Great), and the more modest bourgeois classicism of the Anglo-American tradition. Europe could be looked at, again quite literally, in terms of zones of Counter-Reformation Baroque, the classicism of enlightened absolutism, and the more modest, domestic and bourgeois traditions found in Amsterdam, London and Boston, New England.

23These three civic cultures, each rooted in Protestantism, pioneered a model of (relative) pluralism, tolerance, federalism and philosemitism between them. They reduced the height and scale of human and divine sovereignty and emptied out some of the potency of the sacred concentrated at the heart of the city. Perhaps the weakening of the sacred center began when the sacred heart of Catholic Amsterdam was forcibly sequestered and turned over to the university. This must be regarded as a major mutation because it shifted the locale of protected space to the university (and eventually the art gallery and concert hall), which was conceived of as a new kind of Church.

24Whether or not that idea holds up in the academic history of sacred representation, it remains the case that the four cities of Amsterdam, Edinburgh, London and Boston have been historically linked by shared forms of politics, economy and religion, as well as by naval power and global trading empires, since the late seventeenth century. They also represent one major linkage and continuity between Europe and North America, just as France represents another. In light of such examples, it is not so easy to formulate principles that unequivocally distinguish Europe from the U.S. so as to render the U.S. distinguishable as ‘the Other.’

25This mapping of the connection between the northwestern peripheries of Europe and the northeastern peripheries of America is really just an extension of the initial map based on such models as Rome and Paris, Byzantium and Florence. It is one that would reach its outer limits, expressed in purely classical terms, with the sacred field of Washington D.C. representing the final separation of church and state. But a second mapping or transparency can be devised, based on the way the historic religious moulds of European societies are mirrored in characteristic secular mutations and transpositions.

26The rigorous state monopoly exercised by the Catholic Church in France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, for example, was transposed into the monopoly eventually exercised during the Third Republic by the omnicompetent secular state. Just as for the Catholic Church error had no rights, so, for the sacred Republic, Catholic error had no right to acknowledgement in the public realm. The continuity of this French tradition of secular monopoly is perhaps illustrated in recent laws restricting the operation of sects and cults.

27Another example of secular mutation is the way the inclusive scope of Lutheran monopoly in Scandinavia has been fused with, and replicated by, the inclusiveness of Social Democracy and the welfare state. In Germany, Holland and Switzerland once again, religious pluralism is mirrored in the federal character of the state. In England, the attempt of the Reformed Anglican Church to accommodate and ‘comprehend’ an inclusive middle, and the eventual evolution of that accommodation into an accepted rivalry between the church-state establishment and religious non-conformity, became mirrored in the flexibility of the political system and its concept of loyal opposition.

28Here another American comparison may be useful. England (and Scotland and Ulster) generated a style of evangelical Protestantism based on heartwork which, in the U.S., became a universal devotion to individual sincerity. However, the retention of an Anglican religious establishment meant that England also acted as a hinge turning, on the one hand, towards American inwardness, and, on the other, towards Scandinavian formality. If these distinctions seem rather marginal to European integration, I nonetheless hope to illustrate how such cultural characteristics belong among others separating the Anglosphere from the European continent, as well as linking England to Scandinavia’s cautious attitude towards European involvement. For a wide variety of cultural reasons, the national traditions of Britain and Scandinavia understand each other, while both regarding the mainland of Europe with suspicion.

29Since the mapping so far has focused to a considerable extent on peripheries and secular translations, I now need to sketch two supplementary maps, the first identifying the historic European center for which Britain and Scandinavia are peripheries, the second tracing the heartlands of secularity and secularism. I will treat secularity as a condition, and secularism as an ideology.

30The historic center of the West is arguably in Charlemagne’s Middle Kingdom and in the bands of territory on either side of Aachen/ Aix-la-Chapelle. Looking back historically even further, this is the point where Latinity encountered the German tribes (as Trent was also much later!), and looking forward it gave birth to Schuman and Adenauer, who, along with Monnet, became the architects of the Franco-German compact after the Second World War. With only the modest extension it undergoes in Frankfurt, the old imperial capital and the city that hosted the first assembly of liberal Germany and that is now a global financial capital, this heartland makes more sense as a center than Rome, since Rome is really the Center of the Mediterranean, north and south, and has lost its southern littoral to Islam.

31This frontier area, broadly understood, is one of mixed religion and contains the three key cities of Brussels, Strasbourg and Geneva. Each is symbolically close to the linguistic frontier that renders them appropriate sites for international co-ordination and co-operation. The capital of Germany is no longer situated in the frontier area at gemütlich Catholic Bonn, but in post-Protestant Berlin. So, the heartland of Western Europe redivivus is neither in post-Protestant Berlin nor in post-Catholic Paris, but in between.

32Berlin and Paris respectively are the centers of European secularity and European secularism. Increasingly the new Berlin looks like the capital of the whole northern plain, and of a secular landscape stretching from Birmingham to Tallinn. The epicenters of secularity lie in the former East Germany and the Czech Republic, in spite of the extraordinary role played by the Lutheran churches of East Germany in the revolution of 1989. The examples of East Germany and Estonia, and to a lesser extent Latvia, suggest that Lutheranism is less able to resist secular persecution in the way Catholicism did in Lithuania and Poland. The crucial point to notice, however, is that a great deal hinges on whether Catholicism or Catholic political powers were hostile to the birth of a modern nation-state: in France and in Czech lands, Catholicism was perceived as hostile, in Poland, Lithuania, Croatia and Slovakia the situation was quite the reverse, while in Hungary the situation was mixed, given the strong connection between the birth of the nation and the Protestant east of the country around Debrecen.

33The countries of east-central and eastern Europe are all, to this or that extent characterized by ethnoreligiosity, due to a long history of alien domination by Ottomans, or Austrians, or Russians—either Orthodox or communist. Some of the variations in religiosity are not entirely explicable, when one compares, for example, the remarkably vital Orthodoxy of Romania and the relatively secular condition of Bulgaria, unless the divisions in Bulgarian Orthodoxy and poor negotiation with the government after the war were serious factors. Certainly Romania, as a country constructing itself both in Latin and orthodox terms, has a very distinctive national identity nourished by the Orthodox Church.

34Serbia presents an interesting case because when at the center of Yugoslavia under Tito it was highly secularized, yet as the federated state went into dissolution it recovered a strong sense of religious identity, particularly in relation to Kosovo. The recovery in Serbia parallels the religious recovery in Russia after the break-up of the Soviet empire, and in both cases the framework of Church-state partnership was renewed with perhaps only a minority of the population much engaged by active religion, and a mélange of magical ideas alive and well in the population at large. Revivals also occurred in those parts of the western Ukraine historically linked to Poland and Lithuania. However, the vitality of ethnoreligion throughout Eastern Europe has brought about no nostalgia for the restoration of ecclesiastical influence over law and personal conduct. The Polish episcopate tried this and failed.

35Greece requires some separate comment because it is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the secularism of France and yet remains the historic icon of western democracy and rationality. Exactly to what extent the Church is a powerful presence in the public realm, and Orthodoxy co-extensive with citizenship and Greek identity, is illustrated by the fierce controversy over whether the bearer’s religion should be noted on the Greek passport. The Greek case also illustrates the vigorous and firm profile of religion brought about by being at a border with Islam in Turkey, by the ethnic cleansings on both sides of the Islamic-Christian border, and by a global diaspora on a scale similar to the diasporas of the Armenians and the Irish.

36The map of ethnoreligion in Eastern Europe overlaps the map of embedded folk religion throughout the littoral of the northern Mediterranean, which is not necessarily marked by conscientious religious practice of a formal kind, but by customs, pilgrimages and festivals. As in much of Eastern Europe and Russia, a confused mixture of magic and paganism, and of ancient and modern notions, lies quite close to the surface.

37This kind of religion is rather different from the conscious and socially aware Catholicism that exists further north, especially in countries where practicing Catholics are a minority, or where Catholicism itself is only locally the dominant religion. Catholicism in Sicily or south of Ancona is not like Catholicism in either France or Holland. On the other hand, what I have called embedded religion is not only found on the Mediterranean littoral, but in the Alps and various extensions like the Veneto, and in the mountains of the Massif Centrale, of northern Portugal, Catalonia and north eastern Spain.

38There is a further extension here related to various micro-nationalisms that may or may not be shaped by geographical niches like mountains or peninsulas. Galicia, Aragon, the Basque country, parts of Catalonia, and parts of the Pyrenees are often regions of quasi-uniformity with respect to Catholic consciousness, in spite of the steep decline of church-going in the Iberian peninsula as a whole. Britanny and Bavaria have been similar areas of intense Catholic consciousness further to the north even though they have also experienced a marked decline in official practice, and Catholic Ireland may well belong in ‘the south’ rather than in the northwest. A similar folk Protestantism exists in niches in northern Europe: the Western Isles in Scotland, and in Jutland, and parts of Norway.

39Speculating a bit as to these regional Catholicisms (often but not always in geographical niches such as highlands, peninsulas and islands), they probably express a resistance to ‘the center,’ whether the center is in Madrid or in Paris, though in the case of Italy there are various centers, with Rome virtually in the south and Milan looking northward across the Alps. That fragmentation is part of the “problem” of Italy: it is nearly all elongated peninsula.

40A combination of embedded Catholicism and resistance to “the center” gives rise to a distinctive political coloring (southern Italy, Bavaria) and is associated with great pilgrimage centers; Fatima, Santiago, Zaragoza, Montserrat, Rocamadour, Lourdes, Lisieux, the Vierzehnheiligen, Einsiedeln and Medjugorje. Where the Virgin chooses to appear, and when, is not entirely accidental.

41The mapping offered so far has covered embedded religion or ethnoreligion or some combination, “conscientious” minority Catholicism and conscientious minority Protestantism, the great centers of northern secularity and French secularism, and has also sketched some special characteristics of the semi-detached northern and northeastern peripheries. What remains now is to fill in some borderlands, enquiring whether the borders are quiet and quiescent or lively and dangerous. Broadly speaking, it is all quiet along the old border of the Reformation, except in Ulster: Armagh with its two cathedrals still marks a dangerous transition. As has already been noted, Strasbourg and Alsace have been converted from borderlands into centers of co-operation. However, the old West-East border, at least as you go south and east is still alive with dangerous tensions. Thus, although Breslau/Wrocław and Pressburg/Bratislava/Pozsony are seemingly settled borders, Timisoara, and even more so Sarajevo and Skopje, are not.

42This is precisely the region of the most intense ethnoreligiosity, characterized by dangerous mixtures of majorities and minorities, with consequent danger of ethnic cleansing, for example, the fate of the historic “seven cities,” of German settlement in Romania, and the creation of ghettos such as now exist in Sarajevo and Mostar. The Hungarians of Transylvania and of areas more isolated and deeper into Romania, feel under pressure, whether they are Catholic or Protestant, and it is significant that the Romanian revolution of December 1989 was sparked off by a Hungarian Protestant pastor in Timisoara.

43In the whole of this area church leaders may also be political leaders, as Stepinac, Tiso and Makarios were in the mid-twentieth century. Indeed, their representative role needs to be contrasted with the role of church leaders in “the West.” These Western leaders have mostly ceased to speak for ethnic constituencies and are rather the spokesmen of a liberal middle class within a more conservative active Church constituency.

44It is also worth suggesting where other distinctive constituencies may lie, even if not on the strictly political map and not overtly present on the ecclesiastical map. Communities can, after all, form around seas, like the Lutheran Baltic and the Celtic Irish Sea. The rise of Celticism around and far beyond the Irish sea, in new spiritualities (or old spirits in Irish pubs) is phenomenal. It has affinities with other ‘constructed’ revivals, not only of earlier Christianities, but also of pagan roots. In the case of the Irish Sea, it is surrounded by highlands, islands and peninsulas with sacred associations, such as Iona, St Patrick’ s Mountain and St David’s, and these harbor both an ancient Christianity and enclaves for modern spiritual travelers of many kinds. There are links here with folklore and mythological revivals all over the continent, also with associated kinds of music.

45This area of spirituality is difficult to chart, not only because it is so varied, but because it insists on fragmentation and resists institutions as such. However, I would like to sketch in a mutation of Protestant and post-Protestant spirituality that does to some extent still respect the old border of the Reformation. Its origins lie in the Protestant pursuit of inwardness and in the Protestant desire to internalize the rules, with the result that rules are taken seriously and to heart. In its most developed form this leads to the secular religion of sincerity or authenticity, in particular in the USA.

46Sincerity and inner seriousness about rules, however, leads to an inability to cope with the necessary negotiated compromises, and, perhaps, the understood corruptions of politics, and therefore to an apolitical cynicism about government. What was once a classically Protestant objection to a Catholic theoretical acceptance of rules, combined with an understood evasion of them in practice, has become an alienation from society as such with strongly religious resonances. Of course, this classically (and stereotypically) Protestant objection is still present in Anglo-Saxon attitudes towards the EU, and towards French, Belgian and Italian politics.

47One version of a looser, more spontaneous spirituality retains links with disciplined life-styles within a vigorous charismatic Christianity. The multitudinous non-institutional forms, however, defy mapping, except perhaps through the proliferation of holistic therapies and green politics. Concerns over pollution and demands for pure air and pure food and political correctness are a version of Puritanism that has relaxed personal responsibility, hard work and self-discipline in favor of complaints about spoliation, war, desecration, and the depredations of global capitalism and misapplied science.

48The fundamental shift, present both in the new spiritualities and the shifting psychological landscape within the churches, is (as a very insightful study of Kendal, Cumbria shows) toward subjectivization. Put dramatically, Protestantism destroys its capacity to reproduce and to retain its vital memory, not because of some problem with the scientific world-view or rationalization, but by going completely inward, becoming personal and inarticulate.

49The churches have mostly incorporated this in the USA, whereas in Europe they mostly have not. Subjectivity militates against obedience, group discipline and personal obligation; it also rejects authority, in particular patriarchy, be it religious or otherwise. It therefore overflows into a feminine or feminist sense of “participation” in the rhythms of the natural world. Nature, human or physical, is good, but sin and evil, sacrifice and redemption, are difficult to comprehend, even though evil is readily identified as malignantly present in the institutional and official social order. If one were to identify this complex of spiritualities negatively, it would be as part of the religious hedonism and search for “goods” of all kinds which has always underlain the more ascetic, and indeed Puritanical, expressions of both the Catholic and Protestant faiths. Protestantism has no monopoly on Puritanism, as versions of Irish and Spanish spirituality indicate.

50The migration of mostly non-Christian populations is not a focus of this essay, except to underline the gulf that separates the Muslim faith in particular from the subjective spiritualities just outlined. In parenthesis Britain is unusually included here, partly because some of the migration into Britain comes from the Christian Caribbean and Christian sub-Saharan Africa, but also because migration comes from global populations not adjacent south and east of the European continent.

51The characteristics of Muslim migrant populations are antithetical to the “advanced” religiosity of much of Europe, to the point where assimilation is perceived as death. Muslim communities have learned how to use a rhetoric of freedom, rights, inclusivity and multiculturalism, while for the most part—whatever their internal fragmentation—remaining integral, organic, monocultural and patriarchal, as well as stirred to some extent by global radical Islam. The relative lack of the religious/secular distinction within Islam has serious consequences. Whether or not there is accelerating tension along this particular internal border depends on various factors, such as the size, location, and the ethnic and class character, of the migrant community. Of course, in this context Turkey as a nation-state seeks a space for neutral civility, rather than the religiosity of which it has had more than enough at home.

52That sheer numbers should play a crucial role is obviously a major anxiety with respect to interreligious tensions and social harmony in general. The official leaderships of the churches mostly express the inclusive sentiments often characteristic of the educated middle classes, while being caught in the classic liberal dilemma as to how far one should include the exclusive. It remains to be seen whether Muslim assimilation will follow the path of Jewish assimilation (bracketing for a moment the horrors of the holocaust) but there are reasons to doubt it. Nor can one assume the tolerance of even the most multicultural of European societies, as the recent Dutch experience indicates. Even Holland has found that it contains a border.

Integration and fragmentation

53In this essay so far I have not gone through the standard procedure of recounting figures of variations in belief, practice and religious self-identification, or assessing such indices with regard to secularization. The object has been primarily to look at kinds of religiosity and kinds of secularity, or of principled secularism, in the historic French and Russian style, as these might bear on the integration or fragmentation of Europe.

54So far as the figures go, what one needs to know is as follows. First, that perhaps between one fifth and one third of the population has some active engagement with religious practice—depending on the criteria employed—within a range between the former East Germany, low on both belief and practice, and countries like Ireland, Poland, Greece, Romania and Malta, high on all counts. That list in itself reminds us that Catholicism accounts for a much higher proportion of active, church-related religion than would be consistent with the size of “Catholic” populations.

55There is, however, an undeniable secularizing process affecting the capacity of churches to reproduce themselves and their historical memory in the younger generations. This process includes pre-emptive strikes by personnel in key educational and welfare agencies under religious aegis in favor of secular criteria, as well as the effects of the media. Throughout Western Europe the secularizing process has accelerated since the sixties, following its arrival at a post-war plateau, and this has been evident above all in the mainstream churches.

56The usual caveats must be made, of course: the acceptance of Christian identity, of God, of prayer, of Christian moral maxims, and of “spirituality.” Protestant Scandinavia ranks low on practice but high with respect to confirmation and, in many areas, nurtures what is known as “personal” religion. Britain resembles Scandinavia in terms of indices of practice, yet (in Grace Davie’s formulation) Britons believe without belonging, while Scandinavians belong without believing. Nearly three out of four Britons describe themselves in a census as Christian, and three out of a hundred as Muslim, even though religious practice in Birmingham is probably more Muslim than anything else, with Catholicism ranking perhaps second.

57These varied profiles could be amplified, but it is only the broad profile that matters. Clearly, Western Europe has undergone a different experience from Eastern Europe, but secularizing tendencies exist even in Poland and Greece. Equally clearly, the decline in church-related religious practice is paralleled by a decline in large-scale voluntary activity, including political activity, as such. This is sometimes described as a deterioration in social capital, even though partly offset, as the Kendal study suggests, by an increase in the activity of small, intimate self-help and mutual support groups, spiritual and otherwise (e.g. Families Anonymous).

58How does all the background sketched in so far bear on questions relating to European integration and fragmentation, cultural similarity and cultural variety? To begin with, questions about the role of the religious sphere with respect to European integration are problematic, since one would not put the question in the same way regarding the role of politics, since we all understand that politics is inherently about negotiated differences as well as about solidarities. The question is also slightly paradoxical in that one would not pose it were there an implicit consensus. The question itself suggests there is a problem, and a serious one.

59One way of stating the problem is to draw attention to the difference between French laicité and its principled secularism, as contrasted with Anglo-Germanic secularity, and the ethnoreligiosity of much of Eastern Europe, where churches or religions may be surrogates for nations. There are parallel differences between an actively chosen personal religion on the Protestant model, and embedded religion on the older, traditional Orthodox and Catholic model.

60Once again, the religiosity of activist and socially concerned Christianity represented by many church leaderships in Western Europe, particularly northwestern Europe, differs greatly from religion as cultural resistance, and from the leadership that goes with it. An Anglican Archbishop is not remotely like such figures as Arch-bishops Makarios or Stepinac, or Tiso in Slovakia, or the leadership of the Hungarian minority in Romania—or Ghamsakurdia in Georgia! In terms of spirituality and ‘sobornost,’ Christians in the West reach out to the Catholic and Orthodox world. In terms of ethnoreligiosity, exclusive claims, and the ethnopolitics of religion, however, they abhor it. (Interestingly enough, it is that very same eastern world, and especially perhaps Poland, now seeking integration in Europe, which most rejects the secularist ideology of France and Russia, and identifies its liberation with the USA and the Anglosphere. After all, there are perhaps nearly as many Poles and Greeks in Chicago, as there are in Warsaw and Athens.)

61Perhaps this is the point at which to highlight some characteristics of Christian leaderships in Western Europe with regard to European integration. Although such leaderships retain some representative role with respect to religion and nation, more particular where religion relates to a micro-nationalism, they are nonetheless likely to be culturally quite close to the secular middle class in modes of expression, attitudes and agenda. This means they are more liberal, ecumenical and European than the rank and file active Christian constituency, let alone the average dormant Christian identity in the population at large. This point was aptly made in the United Sates by whoever it was who joked that the divide between Republican and Democrat in the American Episcopal Church ran along the altar rail.

62There is a wider issue lurking here, brought about by important ethical issues, typically those raised by the advances in the life sciences. In such matters, the views of bishops, treated by the media as the views of “the Church” according to traditional Catholic conceptions, are not the same as those of educated lay persons. There is a Church view articulated by “churchmen” and there are any number of informed lay viewpoints held by Christians. So the question is not simply what “the Church” says or what the Pope pronounces. Indeed, all the evidence suggests that, for the purposes of Catholic identity, the Pope is a charismatic totem rather than a source of authority on life-styles, someone who can prescribe what is appropriate for family organization and sexual behavior.

63In the West Church leaderships as such have this totemic quality without exercising what might be called moral jurisdiction, an area where they tend to lag painfully behind what lay Christians already have decided to do in practice. Italy’s low birth rate is the most dramatic index of this, and even in Poland and Ireland strong Catholic identity does not imply recognition of ecclesiastical authority, or a desire for its embodiment in secular law. Identity is not obedience. Religious identity may and does seek recognition in the public realm with respect to belief in God and broadly Christian behavior, but it is decreasingly “patriarchal” in its attitude toward ecclesiastical moral authority, and looks like was once the case to exemplary figures and models. Some turn to the Bible or the Church for secure guidance, but most do not. Religious conservatism and secularity therefore increase in tandem.

64This in turn is linked to a more general point about Christian morality and secular morality. Christianity is most widely understood as care for one’s neighbors, reverence for life and charitable attitudes and endeavors, and in that respect overlaps ordinary secular precepts. However, Christian language concerning moral obligation is expressed in terms of story and image, and so has greater existential impact than abstract civic principles.

65There is a further divide here that relates to what John Paul II has described as a “culture of narcissism,” and it has something to do with the subjective spiritualities (or “self-religions”) already touched on. It also relates to the shift from ethical attitudes expressed in terms of duty and obligation to criteria of happiness, utility, freedom and self-fulfillment. In its extreme form, freedom expresses itself as limitless permission to transgress and shock. However, this limitless permission is in no way the final advent of human autonomy, but rather the replacement of older exemplars of endeavor and responsibility by peer-group pressure and the often-damaging examples provided by the life-styles of ‘celebrities.’

66What is sometimes referred to as consumer hedonism lies behind the American idea of religious preference, and, to that extent, religion itself is chosen rather than inherited. Once again the difference between Protestant Europe and Islam is maximal. One is talking about different kinds of society, let alone different varieties of religion.

67Such realities pose particular problems for the dominant liberalism of Western societies, more particularly the dominant liberal elites, Christian or secular. It is, after all, they who hold most firmly that one should respect “the other” (and indeed feel nostalgia for Catholic, Orthodox, and even Islamic communal integrity), and yet most firmly condemn the authoritative deployment of scripture or tradition to inhibit freedom, limit choice, or maintain patriarchal authority and images of God. The issue might be summarized by asking whether agreement that all the “children of Abraham” believe in one God is the same as agreement that all believe in the same God.

68No doubt the polite and politic fiction “Judaeo-Christianity” serves its purpose in observing serious differences in angle of vision, however closely affiliated Christianity may be to Judaism. But just how far such ecumenical concepts can be extended to Islam is a moot point, especially because of the difficulty Islam has in recognizing the autonomy of the secular in relation to the religious when it comes to law and the boundaries of social belonging. Conscientious choice in religious matters is inadequately developed. This is an area where contemporary liberals are no more inclined to grant rights to egregious error than Catholics were to concede such rights in the past.

The presence of religion

69At this point one comes to issues that trespass awkwardly beyond the domain of sociology. Such issues turn around the specificity and particularity of religious forms of association and language. They are brought out most clearly with respect to the role churches often play, locally and nationally, as foci of communal grief and rejoicing, as for example at the death of Princess Diana and the sinking of the Estonia. Here, religious solidarity, the commonalities of sacred space, and the depth and range of religious language take over where secular talk and utilitarian venues have little or nothing to offer.

70Religious association has traditionally been expressed through communities of obedience, discipline (internal and external) and sacrifice, based on cumulative reference to deposits of tradition and/or canonical scripture. This is still a crucial aspect of the specific difference exemplified in most forms of contemporary European religion. Religious language also exemplifies difference through being rooted in narratives bearing images of transformation and deformation, transcendence and immanence. It points “beyond” in a vertical as well as a horizontal direction: it aspires, and its grammatical tense is not only the past, but also the future perfect. It conveys solidarity in hope rather than facilitating negotiation over rival interests, as does political language. Of course, it may be that religious hope and aspiration lose some degree of purchase as consumer society offers an interim satiation of human wants, except for the fact that satiation is not satisfaction.

71“European” principles, such as the dignity of the individual, human rights, equality, solidarity, the primordiality of reason, and the rule of law, function at a different level of abstraction from that of religious language, and to an important extent cover a different spectrum of concerns. There are, indeed, mediating concepts, such as subsidiarity or the autonomy of the secular, which can be fed into secular discourse; and governing concepts like liberty, equality and fraternity can be viewed as translations of St Paul respecting the unity and equality of humankind in Christ. But religious language is embedded differently and in a different range of concerns. That human beings are made in the image of God can be translated into such terms as “All men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”

72But the priority of faith, hope and love—above all love—cannot be translated into civic and constitutional terms. Such priorities are laid on human beings by religious commitment in a manner that cannot be articulated as constitutive of the state or as a matter of policy in the public realm. No more can incarnation and redemption be reduced to secular discourse, or churches converted into art galleries and concert halls or civic spaces, without some aspect remaining unfulfilled. Such space is there not for particular social functions, but for the specifically human, and for griefs and joys unmet and unconsidered by other kinds of meeting place. How you treat that specificity and acknowledge it as a presence in the public realm is partly a matter of whether you view religion as archaic survival condemned to continuous erosion by social evolution, or as a constitutive language that is as primordial in its way as reason, and with its own coherence and continuing relevance.

73Beyond that basically philosophical divide, the question is how far and in what manner you do or do not explicitly acknowledge the religious presence. Empirically it is there: but is it a private or a public fact? Historically, after all, without the prior existence of Christianity, in successive mutations of Reform, Humanism and Enlightenment, the “West” and Europe are little more than geographical expressions, or congeries of economic convenience.

74NB The above is a think piece not needing academic reference except in its citation of the Kendal, Cumbria, study by Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead with Benjamin Seel, Bronislaw Szersynski and Karin Tusting, entitled Bringing the Sacred to Life, Oxford, 2004. I have also drawn on Grace Davie Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without Belonging, Oxford, 1994, Religion in Modern Europe: a memory Mutates, Oxford UP, 2000, and Europe: the Exceptional Case, London, 2002. There is further empirical detail in Andrew Greeley Religion in Modern Europe at the End of the Second Millennium, London, 2003.


David Martin is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and Honorary Professor for Religious Studies at the University of Lancaster. Author of Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish, Oxford, 2001; Christian Language and Its Mutations, Aldershot, 2002; Christian Language in the Secular City, Aldershot, 2002; Does Christianity Cause War?, Oxford, 1998; Forbidden Revolutions: Pentecostalism in Latin America and Catholicism in Eastern Europe, London, 1996; Tongues of Fire: The Explosion of Protestantism in Latin America, Oxford, 1990.

© Central European University Press, 2006

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