Edited by Peter Cumper and Tom Lewis
Chapter 7: The rise and contradictions of Italy as a secular state
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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