Religion in Secularizing Society: The Europeans' Religion at the End of the 20th Century

By Loek Halman; Ole Riis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
CONTEMPORARY EUROPEAN DISCOURSES
ON RELIGION AND MORALITY
LOEK HALMAN & OLE RIIS

1 Introduction

The Christian religion has exerted a strong influence on Europe for many centuries. Social values, norms, and ethics in Western Europe have been shaped and controlled by the Christian churches. The Christian heritage is often considered the foundation of a common European identity uniting all European countries and their citizens in our own time. At the same time, it has been recognized that such a common identity has not emerged, and that 'this common heritage has […] been moulded by a great diversity of contextual factors into a number of subtypes or national variations, some (…) very distinct indeed' (Davie, 1992: 230). An important hindrance to the formation of such a common European 'soul' is found in the historical shadows cast by confessional conflicts and the assumed vast differences between the main religious traditions. Catholic and Protestant cultures have shaped national cultures that persist in contemporary Europe (Therborn, 1995).

Western Europe is often considered the first historical example of thoroughly modernized society, and some commentators still utilize the European experience as a general model. The advancement of empirical science and technology, of industrialization and capitalization, of urbanization and social mobility, of legal bureaucracy, democracy and the nation states contributed substantially to a type of society which many Europeans may see as the paradigm of a modern society. Such a society is characterised by a specific constellation of human agents and social institutions: it is based on a principle of associating autonomous individuals through specific rules. The economic system of the market, the political system of democracy, the cognitive system of scientific observations are in principle based on associating free individuals. The citizens of a modern,

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