Religion, Rights and Secular Society
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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.
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Chapter 13: Understanding religion in Europe: a continually evolving mosaic

Grace Davie


There are different ways of looking at the religious situation in Europe: the first considers the features that are common to Europe as a whole; the second looks at the differences across the continent. Both are important. This chapter will start by looking at a range of factors that can be found in all 27 member states of the European Union, bearing in mind that their relative strength varies. The second section will develop a series of variations based on the different confessional blocs (Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant) that constitute the Christian churches of Europe. It will also consider the contrasts between what is commonly known as western Europe and the parts of the continent that were under communist domination from 1948 to 1989. In the latter, the religious trajectory is noticeably different. The third section points to the paradox that underlies a great deal of this book: on one hand are the relatively high levels of secularity in most if not all of Europe, but on the other is the marked resurgence of religion in public debate – a combination that was not anticipated in the immediate postwar decades. Two points are central to this discussion. It is important to grasp, firstly, that this combination is indeed a ‘paradox’ in the sense that the elements in question are not related to each other but have nonetheless occurred at the same time. Secondly, the paradox is best understood in light of the shifting relationship between the public and private. A short discussion of this relationship, and its implications for the study of religion, concludes the chapter.

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