One might argue that Europe is the most secular part of the world, by pointing out its historical path, yet with the the migrant crisis, the rise far-right parties and of violence towards Muslim communities, and the rise of Muslim violence as well, a logical question would be – Is Europe still secular? I believe that in order to answer the question objectively, I shall look at different aspects – first, at the definition and origins of secularization by presenting the secularisation thesis, then analyse why Europe is the most secular continent, discussing the European law and cultural values, as well as the market based theories with competition and state regulation, but also critiques of European secularism and its challenges.
In order to fully understand the process of secularisation, we must first look at the substantive definition of religion. Max weber (1905) defines religion as system of beliefs where “supernatural factors” such as God, Heaven and Hell exist and is translated through a series of practices such as rituals, prayers. Secularization is the substitution of religious values to non- religious, scientific rationalism, where reason is the source of knowledge, secularization also refers to the idea that in a state, religion and politics should be separated and institutions must be secular. As Pettersson (2003) defines it “Religion may continue within the private space of the body of individuals, but the public space of the body of populations is now subordinated, not to the conscience collective, the sacred canopy or the civil religion, but to secular disciplines, economic constraints and political coercion”. (Turner, 1991: 9 cited by Pettersson, 2003: 3).
When, how and why secularization happens? Beyer (2011) presents the secularisation thesis – religion is linked to traditional values, as opposed to rationalism, a characteristic of modern societies (Beyer, 2011:10) Therefore the more modern the state, the more secular it is – one might oppose the exemple of the United States to this point, yet US is a specific case that we will discuss shortly with the market thesis. As Inglehart and Baker explain, the “concept of modernization theory seems valid today: Industrialization produces pervasive social and cultural consequences, from rising educational levels to changing gender roles. Industrialization is seen as the central element of a modernization process that affects most other elements of society” Modernization cult change and persistence (Inglehart and Baker, 2000: 20). Europe or at least, the western part of Europe started modernizing in the 18th – 19th centuries with Enlightement and industrialisation. The move away from traditional values including religion, to scientific knowledge, technology, mastering of medicine, mass education human development, resulted in a new culture (Weber, 1905 cited by Norris and Inglehart, 2004: 8) where religion was not the solution to problems – “man became in control of nature” (Norris and Inglehart, 2004: 8). Durkheim also argues that the functions carried out by the Church before, now in industrialized societies such as Europe is carried out by different institutions– healthcare, education, social control, politics. (Norris and Inglehart: 2004:9).
Now that we’ve seen the sources of secularisation such as modernity, high level of education, economic growth, democracy, scientific knowledge, we can assume why Europe although very heterogeneous, is a secular continent. Stark & Glock’s (1968) presented five dimensions of religious commitments: practice, knowledge, experience, belief and consequences. In order to compare Europe with other regions, we will use attendance, pratice and belief as criterias. Secularisation in terms of cultural values is very important and should not be neglected. If we look at surveys between 2010-2014, examining the cultural and social values in different parts of the world using data from the World Values Survey – only 13.1% in Germany believe that religion is very important, while this percentage rises to 84,7% in Iraq, and to 58.4% in Mexico. When asked if they agreed to this statement “whenever science and religion conflict, religion is alright”, 2.1% in Estonia answered they strongly agreed, while in Ecuador and Kuwait, this number rose respectively to 24% and 68.6%. In terms of attendance, the numbers are declining in Europe – in post industrial nations, participation in religious rituals is low because of “ rising levels of human security” (Norris and Inglehart, 2004:24) – When the World Valyes Survey examining the period between 1981 – 2001 asked about religious participation “Apart from weddings, funerals, and christenings, about how often do you attend religious services these days? More than once a week, once a week, once a month, only on special holy days, once a year, less often, never or practically never.”, the rates from 1981 to 2001 of “more or at least once in a week’’ are decreasing in most european countries, while increasing in the US, South Africa, Mexico. Figure 2 shows the decline of peopole who said they attended religious services “at least once a week” , specifically in Western Europe. “More over, the clergy have largely lost their authority over the public and are no longer able to dictate to them on such matters as birth control, divorce, abortion, sexual orientation”.(Norris and Inglehart, 2004: 25)
Figure 1: Religious Participation in Western Europe, 1970-1999 used by Norris and Inglehart, 2004
Norris and Inglehart (2004) explain that there are major differencies between agrarian, industrial and post-industrial countries concerning secularisation. Yet if we look at Figure 2, US, Ireland and Poland are considered as the most religious countries, while most of Europe is situated in low levels of religiosity.
Figure 2: World Value Survey 1981-2001 used by Norris and Inglehart, 2004
Why is US less secular than Europe, while it is clearly more democratic, modern and economically more powerful than each European country? This can be explained by the following approach. Using the structure of the market, with a supply and demand. Petersson presents this idea by explaining that a high supply and a high level of religious pluralism play major roles in secularism since it results in competition and competition motivates the supplier to create better goods and adapt to the consumer’s taste (Pettersson, 2003: ) Competition and state regulation play major roles in the levels of religiosity – Religions in Europe are not private but rather public, subsidized by governments, therefore since they have no one to compete with to gain profit, churches in Europe remain weak compare to the United States – As Norris and Inglehart (2004) explain, the market theory argues that – “ Established churches are thought to be complacent monopolies taking their congregations for granted, with a fixed market share due to state regulation and subsidy for one particular faith that enjoys special status and privileges. By contrast, where a free religious marketplace exists, energetic competition between churches expands the supply of religious “products,” thereby mobilizing religious activism among the public.” (Norris and Inglehart, 2004: 94). In Germany and Sweden Church is subsidized, therefore it is less innovative, efficient and not attractive to the “consumers”. The lack of religious competition results in the lack of religiosity in Europe.
What is also interesting to look at is the structure and legislation in Europe concerning religion. As Robbers (2005) underlines, there a three types of civil ecclesiastical laws systems or in other words, three types of approaches to religion, in the legislation. The first type is a State-Church where Church and State are closely linked – England, Greece adopted this type of system. The second type is where Church and State are strictly separated and Church does not interefer in state affairs – France, Netherlands serve as exemples. Finally, the third type of civil ecclesiastical law system is when there is a separation between Church and State yet both of them cooperate and complement each other. A lot of European countries belong to this category – Belgium, Poland, Italy, Baltic States and many more. (Robbers, 2005: 580). Robbers also explains the basic structure of the European Union, which puts forwards religious freedom as number one priority, along with tolerance and neutrality, equal treatment of every religious community and obviously, the respect the civil ecclesiastical law of each Member States (Robbers, 2005: 581) European Law allows individuals to have the freedom to choose their own religion, it is a personal choice. Although the European law proves that Europe is secular, Europe’s diversity in terms of systems can question European secularism as a unity – on one hand, one might assume that West is more secular than East which is not competely true – Poland and Ireland are considered as having high levels of religiosity while Czech Republic and belgium are the most secular countries and least religious countries.
One might argue that Katzenstein (2006) makes a vaild argument explaining why Europe has space for religion in politics – he explains that with European enlargement, religion will become the center of politics, especially catholicism in Europe leading to the rise of discrimination – such as antisemitism (Katzenstein: 2006: 3) Although his point is very much arguable, today with the migrant crisis and european countries accepting refugess, we do see a rise of far-right parties in France with Marine LePen, Poland and attacks on muslim communities and antisemitism –the Toulouse and Montauban attacks on Jewish civilians and French soldiers in March 2012 in France serves as an exemple. Also, he believes that with enlargement but failed cultural and legal europenization which is supposed to influence different values/laws, religion has place in politics. He mentions the “Acquis Communautaire” or Legal Europenization but most importantly talks about the challenges faced by cultural europenization which in his opinion, failed to deliver an european, secular identity. Although the EU launches programms to educate the population about Europe and create a community of europeans, such as Erasmus Programs, changes in education, television – more space to European history and ect, Katzenstein underlines that national identities remain more powerfull, therefore Europe’s secularism has no influence. Katzenstein also argues that the founding fathers of the EU – De Gaulle, Adenauer, where all Christian democrats therefore the foundation of Europe as we know it, is Christianity (Katzenstein, 2006: 17). To support his view, he quotes Scott Thomas “European integration was an act of the political imagination of Christian Democracy” (Thomas, 2005 cited by Katzenstein, 2006: 18). Yet, I personally find this argument less convincing – although the founders of Europe were Christian Democracts, the European legislation can be used as proof that it favors no religion and treats each of them equally.
Europe’s secularism is today challenged by migration, although it does bring benefits to Europe, one must not forget that the migration of thousands of muslims, who come from poor, traditional societies such as Syria, Egypt, as surveys show – with the belief that state and church should be closely linked, that religion is crucial for survival, does question the secularism of european societies. Migration triggers problems. First, it rises anti-imigrant sentiments and allows far-right parties to dominate: Marine LePen won the first round of French regional elections in december 2015, Poland elected a right-wing Eurosceptic Law and Justice party recently, while in Sweden and Denmark anti-imigrant parties are gaining more and more support. This situations puts European values of equal treatment of religions, tolerance and respect under question – is Europe as we know it, changing? Also, the assimilation of muslim refugees to ISIS triggers anti- imigrant sentiments and violence towards muslim communities and vice-versa.
All in all, I would argue that Europe as a continent as proved by secularisation theory, market- based thesis, the European law and finally surveys is secular. Comparative analysis of different parts of the world proves that Europe is one of the most secular continents and the decline in church attendance, the change of cultural values can not be neglected. Yet Europe as a continent is composed of different countries, having different civil ecclessiastical law systems which might be misleading and sometimes, discrepencies between practice and theory is appealing. Today, Europe is facing serious challenges and its secularism along with its values, now are very much questioned, as said previously, with enlargement, failed europenization and migration.
Books with one author
BEYER, P. (2011) “Religious Pluralization and intimations of a Post-Westphalian Condition in a Global Society”. Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion 2, pp. 3–29.
KATZENSTEIN, P.J. (2006) “Multiple Modernities as Limits to Secular Europeanization?”, in P.J. Katzenstein & T.A. Byrnes (ed) Religion in an Expanding Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1–33.
ROBBERS, G. (2005) “State and Church in the European Union”, in G. Robbers (ed.) State and Church in the European Union. Baden-Baden: Nomos, pp. 577–589.
PETTERSSON,T. (2003) “The relations between religion and politics in the contemporary Western world: The Impact of Secularization, Post Modernization and Peoples’ Basic Value Orientations, pp. 1-28
WEBER, M. (1905) “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”, New York: Oxford University Press
Books with two authors
INGLEHART,R and BAKER, W.E. (2000) “Modernization, Cultural Change and the Persistance of Traditional Values”, American Sociological Review, 2000, Vol. 65, pp. 19–51
NORRIS,P. and INGLEHART,R. (2004), “Sacred and Secular”, Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 3-133