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