Religion, Rights and Secular Society

Religion, Rights and Secular Society

European Perspectives

Edited by Peter Cumper and Tom Lewis

The expectations of many that religion in modern Europe would be swept away by the powerful current of secularization have not been realised, and today few topics generate more controversy than the complex relationship between religious and secular values. The ‘religious/secular’ relationship is examined in this book, which brings together scholars from different parts of Europe and beyond to provide insights into the methods by which religion and equivalent beliefs have been, and continue to be, protected in the legal systems and constitutions of European nations. The contributors’ chapters reveal that the oft-tumultuous legacy of Europe’s relationship with religion still resonates across a continent where legal, political and social contours have been powerfully shaped by faith and religious difference.

Chapter 1: Introduction: freedom of religion and belief – the contemporary context

Peter Cumper and Tom Lewis

Subjects: law - academic, european law, human rights, politics and public policy, human rights


Attempting to assess or measure the extent to which the disparate populations of Europe are currently committed to religious or equivalent forms of belief is a challenging task. It is one that is compounded by the fact that today, as a senior British judge has observed, ‘we live in a society, which is at one and the same time becoming both increasingly secular but also increasingly diverse in religious affiliation’ – a comment that seems applicable not just to the UK, but to many other parts of the continent. Given the longstanding co-existence of strong faith and secular traditions in Europe, and the arrival of a multitude of other religious and equivalent philosophical beliefs more recently through immigration, it is perhaps hardly surprising that one commentator has described Europe’s current relationship with religion as being a ‘complicated matter’. Thus, it remains unclear whether contemporary Europe can be best described as a ‘Christian’, ‘secular’, or even a ‘post-secular’ continent. To the extent that it is possible to estimate the religious ‘temperature’ of such a vast and religiously diverse area, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that, in parts of Europe, organised religion is in retreat.