Religions and Society in Modern Europe

By Sullivan, Charles R. | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2000 | Go to article overview

Religions and Society in Modern Europe


Sullivan, Charles R., The Catholic Historical Review


Religions and Society in Modern Europe. By Rene Remond. Translated by Antonia Nevill. [The Making of Europe.] (Maiden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers. 1999. Pp. viii, 237. $27.95 paperback,)

This book is a volume in "The Making of Europe" series, a collaborative effort of five European publishers exploring both the exceptional creativity of their continent's past and the difficulties that this past bequeaths to the nascent European community. The author chosen to examine what religion has contributed to this legacy is Rene Remond, one of France's most distinguished historians. His qualifications for the task are unrivaled. Elected in 1998 to fill the chair of Francois Furet at the Academie francaise, Rene Remond has written or edited over twenty works on, among other subjects, the history of contemporary Europe, the political history of modern France, and the often deeply troubled engagement between the Catholic Church and the democratic and secularizing forces unleashed by the Revolution of 1789.

The author's ambitions match his accomplishments. Remond proposes "to measure" the place the great organized faiths have occupied in "people's minds, institutions, laws, customs, collective behaviour, and exchanges of ideas" (pp. 2, 54-55). The starting point of his study is the French Revolution, its terminus contemporary Europe. Adopting the perspective of the longue duree, Re mond seeks "to discern a general direction" in which the relationship between religion and society is headed in all European societies (pp. 10,128).

Remond insists that his subject is not a study of the variety of juridical regimes that may govern the relationship between church and state. Yet much of the text is devoted to these regimes. In the opening chapters, the author sketches the essential features of the confessional state of the old regime. Subsequent chapters follow the transformation of the confessional state in the af termath of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen and the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. The nineteenth century was the period of what Remond calls the first era of secularization. The abrogation of confessional discrimination under the auspices of a tolerant liberalism yielded, above all in France, to an intolerant campaign of "laicization" aimed at eliminating religious expression from all aspects of public life (p. 144). The second era of secularization took shape in the twentieth century. The great organized faiths, above all Roman Catholicism, responded to the threat of totalitarianism by shedding their opposition to liberalism and reinventing themselves as Tocquevillian intermediary bodies in a fundamentally pluralistic civil society (pp. 70, 170).

Remond's typology of secularization is a useful tool of analysis. Likewise his insistence on the important role religion may play in a vital civil society is welcome. Nevertheless, these contributions are compromised by a variety of flaws. …

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