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 7: The rise and contradictions of Italy as a secular state

Marco Ventura

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


Conflicts in the civil and religious history of Italy have been reflected in the struggle for the definition of the religious and ideological identity of the Italian state. Since unification in 1861, Italy has been formally a Catholic state – but liberalism until 1922 and Fascism from 1922 to 1943 preferred to design secular policies for an increasingly secularised country. In considering such matters this chapter will offer an extremely simplified overview of the evolution of Italy as a secular state after it became a republic in 1946 and adopted a new Constitution in 1948. Two different periods and patterns will be examined: pluralistic secular Italy (between 1948 and 1992) and Christian secular Italy (from 1994 onwards). The thesis of this chapter is that, over the 150 years since the unification of Italy in 1861, while the country underwent a process of spontaneous social secularisation largely similar to the rest of western Europe, Italians split over how to cope with a society in which the influence of religion was shrinking. Was social secularisation to be resisted and the traditional role of the Catholic Church in Italian society and politics to be preserved? Or was social secularisation to be accepted and even encouraged in view of a more modern, free and developed Italy?

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