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Religion and Society

The Dossier on Religions Examined by Brussels

 

Author: Bérengère Massignon

 

 

Title: Des dieux et des fonctionnaires. Religions et laïcités face au défi de la construction européenne

 

 

Publisher: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2007, pp. 364

 

 

As the publisher observes on the cover of this book, ‘at a moment when a political Europe is being sketched and when the adherence of Turkey looms on the horizon, the European Union does not escape the religious question. Which identity? Which frontier for Europe? How can sense be produced and influence be exercised in a context of globalisation which accentuates religious feeling? What place should be given to religions within nascent European civil society?’ These are the kinds of complex and debated questions to which this reference book seeks to provide some answers through an appropriate analysis of everything that has been experienced in the field over the last fifty years at the level of the ‘construction of Europe’. With a degree in political science (Paris) and a doctorate in sociology from the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Bérengère Massignon teaches the geopolitics of religions takes part in a project on the teaching of religion in Europe. In this work, which is one of the most supported by empirical references that exists, the author seeks to analyse ‘the relations between the last five Presidents of the European Commission and their advisers in the religious field and the European exponents of religion: Catholics, Protestants, and this is a new fact and rather advanced, Orthodox, Jews, Muslims and secular people’. After a general introduction (pp.9-21), in which the author justifies the title of the work ‘Of Gods and Civil Servants’, she immediately identifies ‘the religions and secularities (using one of the most diversified plurals) that are faced with the challenge of the construction of Europe’, so as to approach them within a methodological framework of a ‘laboratory of studies and debates’.

 

 

The first part describes the ‘comparative trajectories of religious and secular exponents’ and the second part, whose title is ‘managing religious diversity: a challenge for the European Commission’, presents a history of the attempts made in this direction, and the third chapter analyses their ‘genesis, crises and developments’ (109-181).

 

The author then observes that there is an ‘incomplete institutionalisation and pluralisation’ (pp. 183-205). In fact, the European Union is addressing multiple forms of the ‘challenge of religious plurality’ and the ‘case of Islam’ is not one of the smallest given the ‘difficult search for Muslim partners’. Orthodox, Jews and humanists, for their part, are becoming more demanding as regards the institutions of the Union.

 

 

In the third part of the book there is an overall reflection on the current state of the question: ‘making one with many: a European model for the management of the original religious element?’ What is the contribution of the model of recognised cults, and can one speak about European secularity? Every European country, in its own way, is ready to recognise the positive social role of religion but they are very different in the way they organise its juridical relations with the State and civil society.

 

In the general conclusion the author focuses in on what the ‘European ‘compromise’’ (pp. 303-318), the attempt to achieve ‘unity in diversity’, actually is. This is a ‘form of innovative control’ of the phenomenon of religion which has the six following characteristics: ‘subsidiarity, the positive social role performed by religions, the recognition of their specificity in relation to the other organisations of civil society, positive neutrality, the recognition of confessional pluralism, which is extended to groups of a philosophical character, and a juridical arsenal that is structured around non-discrimination according to religion and beliefs’.

 

 

In what way can the religious pluralism of a society be treated fairly without taking into account the real weight of religious communities on the basis of their contribution to the culture and politics of that society? This is a problem that many countries today experience, where Muslims and Christians have to live in conditions of being a minority or a majority, in harmony with other religious communities: the ‘European case’ could without doubt be illuminating here, and it is for this reason that this book deserves to be read with care and attention.

 

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