Several articles in the latest issue of the French journal of future studies Futuribles (March) deal with the social and political impact of religions; three of them focus on the European situation.
Pierre Bréchon (Institute for Political Studies, Grenoble) notes how Europe remains strongly divided among different historical forms of Christianity. Despite obvious changes, there is little mobility across religious affiliations: most people remain (more or less strongly) linked to inherited religious traditions (with odd cases, especially the Czech Republic, with low religious belonging). There are people who profess atheism and reject religion entirely, but they are a minority (around 9 percent in Western Europe; up to 18 percent in France). The results of the European Values Study (2008), which covered 46 countries, show the impact of religious affiliation and religiosity on values.
For instance, Muslims and Orthodox are much more attached to traditional moral and family values. At the opposite end of the spectrum are people who no longer identify with a religion (27 percent at the European level, in strong progression) and tend to be quite liberal, with a profile close to European Protestants in some aspects. However, if one considers not only religious affiliation, but the intensity of religious beliefs, it appears that different religions have similar effects on their members: strong believers of all religious traditions tend on average to support more strongly traditional values than people with less intense beliefs.
Thus it appears that both the religious culture of a country and the level of religiosity are the most important factors for predicting social and political attitudes. Regarding church–state relations in Europe, Philippe Portier (Paris-Sorbonne University) notes that three different models can be observed in different countries across Europe: some give a privileged status to one or two religious groups; others have a flexible model of church–state separation; and some have introduced strict church–state separation.
According to Portier, however, legal developments pertaining to different aspects of religion may lead to more similar approaches across European countries, despite different national legacies. In the long-run the result may be somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, writes Portier, in countries where a privileged status is given to one (or more) religion, a process of secularization seems bound to lead to more separation between the political and religious spheres, as well as to create openings for other religious groups: state religion is unlikely to be the way of the future. On the other hand, in countries with a strict church–state separation, such as France, despite an emphasis on issues such as the ban on religious symbols at schools, less visible steps have paved the way for “reassociation:” for instance, financial support for some Catholic (and later also Jewish and Muslim) schools, or indirect subsidies through tax deductions for renovating places of worship.
It remains to be seen how this can really create a common ground. (The potential impact of legal decisions at the European level for creating converging approaches, e.g. rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, is not considered in the article.)Regarding Islam in Western Europe, Franck Fregosi (Institute for Political Studies, Aixen-Provence) reminds that the religion currently represents 4.5 percent of the population and should reach 7.1 percent in 2030.
He remarks that identity-based reactions against Islam are widespread in Europe. Islam is, however, a fragmented reality showing ethnic, national and linguistic cleavages, but also generational and ideological divisions: the whole range of options is present. But with more and more Muslims holding European citizenships (nearly half of the 4.7 million Muslims in France are now French citizens), Islam is bound to become “indigenous.” According to Fregosi, this will go along with more and more Muslims in Europe climbing up the social ladder and becoming better educated.
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