Religious Diversity, Collective Identities, and States – European Configurations in Historical-Comparative Perspective

Classical theories of secularization have largely reproduced narratives of European modernity. Processes such as the decline of individual religiosity, the privatization of religion, and differentiation of religion from law and politics were interpreted as crucial components of secularization for which European historical trajectories presumably provided the major blue-print. The contemporary demise of secularization theory therefore constitutes far-reaching challenges to European self-portrayals. Not only have multiple modernities and alternative secularities relativized the presumable universal cultural significance of Europe. European trajectories have also themselves become an object of re-newed attention in sociology and political science. For instance, the decline of church membership over the past decades is increasingly interpreted as part of wider dynamics of confessionalization and de-confessionalization. Historical research on religion and nationalisms has highlighted the public nature of religion in Europe which today is brought to the fore in contestations over the visibility of Islam in Europe.

Even the concept of differentiation is problematized to the extent that variations of church-state-relations and welfare regimes are explained by the lasting impact of confessional cultures and cleavages. Perhaps nowhere else do all these issues intersect more than in current debates over the role of religions in the process of European integration. Vertical integration processes (anti-discrimination policies, religious freedom protection etc.) increasingly challenge national patterns of church-state-relations, whereas horizontal integration gives rise to new constructions of European identity in which religious boundaries figure rather prominently.

While the workshop built on these debates, it took a broader historical-comparative perspective. Thus, instead of starting with varieties of governing religious diversity in European “secular” nation-states and discussing their institutional change under conditions of Europeanization, the workshop analyzed patterns of religious diversity by engaging “Europe” as macro-social configuration. It thus took up recent theoretical discussion on civilizational analysis, while moving beyond their sometimes culturalist bias by linking cultural patterns to structures of power. An important macro-social configurations that emerged after the fragmentation of medieval Christendom, was the Westfalian system of sovereign territorial states, as institutionalized in international law and with far-reaching consequences for religious diversity. The various imperialisms of the 19th century provided other examples for such configurations in which specific modes of relating religions, identities and states were institutionalized. Engaging with these historical precursors shed new light on the political construction of “Europe” in the post-war period and the emerging (“post-secular”?) modes of dealing with religious diversity.

The Workshop took place on 14 and 15 June 2010 and was organized by Prof. Dr. José Casanova (Fellow at the Lichtenberg-Kolleg in 2010) and Prof. Dr. Matthias Koenig (Institute for Sociology, University of Goettingen).