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The (re)construction and formatting of religions in the West through courts, social practices, public discourse and transnational institutions

Final Report Summary - RELIGIOWEST (The (re)construction and formatting of religions in the West through courts, social practices, public discourse and transnational institutions.)

As we have witnesses during our research, there are more tensions about religion in the West than there have ever been since World War II. These tensions are not just a consequence of the arrival of new religions (notably Islam) or of a growing fundamentalist trend inside the existing religions (evangelicalism, salafism). They are first of all a consequence of a growing secularization of culture that goes beyond the political conflict between Church and State which has regularly pitched the State against some religions since the XIXth century. Religious communities of all faith tend today to feel alienated from the dominant Western culture which stresses the absolute freedom of the human being (pro-choice, gay-rights, sexual freedom, feminism, gender versus biological sex, surrogate motherhood, freedom of expression, human rights versus divine law etc.). The grey zone and bridges between believers and non-believers are therefore disappearing. In every religion there is a growing split between a hard core of believers (traditionalist or born-again) and secularized nominal members of the denomination who feel less and less in tune with the formers and far closer to avowed secularists or atheists. These tensions have taken the form of a “culture war”, where issues of values, norms and identities supersede the traditional debates on economy and institutions, leading to a weakening of the traditional left/right cleavage in favor of new populist movements, who are xenophobic, but split on the issue of values (the conservative US Tea party shares the islamophobia of the Dutch PVV, but opposes its endorsement of liberal values on sexuality).

Consequently, as Religiowest has tried to demonstate, the public debate on religion is nowadays focused on theology, identity and culture more than on a conflict for power between Church and State. In fact, an explanation of this new conspicuousness of religions is that religions are more and more disconnected with the culture they were associated with. The different fundamentalisms are not the expression of traditional cultures that are resisting modernization; they are on the contrary a product and an agent of the crisis of traditional cultures. In this scenario human rights are often a secular product of European values. They are regularly advocated to “tame” religious norms perceived as anti-feminist or abusive. Secular human rights are regularly opposed to religious norms, a fact that seems to imply that religions per se are alien to the concept of human rights. The contradiction is that freedom of religion is both defined as a human right and as a potential threat to them. This paves the way to an approach that makes of them a tool used to fight culture wars. Given this new scenario, Religiowest has therefore tried to stress the need for a new approach towards religion based on the following four points:

1) taking seriously freedom of religion.
In the universal Declaration of Human Rights, religion is always diluted and associated with other notions (freedom of thought and beliefs; no discrimination according to race, gender and religion). Religion is defined as an opinion and an identity among others, while in fact religion is far more than that: it is also a set of practices and of non-negotiable norms that are shared with a faith-community instead of being just personal. Hence the tensions when a religious practice is not inserted, or no more inserted, in the national culture (as Catholicism is still in Italy). Freedom of religion is not just an individual right, but the recognition that there is a “religious sphere”.
2) taking seriously the separation of Church and State.
The separation prevents secular states to interfere with theology. We should drop the permanent advocacy for religious reforms. Let’s not forget that contrary to the dominant doxa, a reformer is not necessarily a liberal (were Luther and Calvin liberal, feminist, philo-semite and democrats?). A theological reformation might arise only from inside a given religion through the evolution of the interaction of its members and the surrounding society.
3) taking seriously religion as such.
A clear distinction should be made between culture and religion. Culture is passive, religion is a choice, culture is implicit and collective, religion is explicit and individual (a faith community is made of people who decide to join). We should avoid dissolving religion in culture or traditions. We should not approach religion through the lenses of multi-culturalism, either positively or negatively. Cultural values and habits are transient and malleable, but religious dogmas are relatively stable and refer to something that is explicitly sacred for the believers (the religious sphere). To provide religious rights does not mean to request religions to share the same values than the secular culture, but to renounce to impose religious norms on a secular society.

4) taking human rights seriously:
They are not a specificity of European culture. They are a recent construction, fragile, often contradictory, difficult to implement in a systematic way. They are not a legacy of the past, but a project for the future. But human rights are principles on which to set up a polity; they are neither an ideology, nor a set of values. We should distinguish rights (universal) from values (that can diverge or even conflict).

5) outcomes:
The project has produced over 100 publications which include: conference papers, working papers, articles in academic journals, university publications, peer-reviewed publications, books, books' sections.The articles have been published mostly in academic and policy journals but also in the national and international press.
Through the Religiowest project around 27 events (conferences and workshops) have been organized. Most of them have taken at the EUI in Florence some of them elsewhere: one in Germany, one in Berkeley (US), one at the University of Sarajevo, one at Sussex University one at the European Parliament. The audience reached gathered academics, policy makers, journalists, clerics and diplomats.
The findings have already been received as the principal investigator already got invitations from religious institutions (protestant and catholic) to discuss the thesis of the final reports. He is regularly invited by the Ministries of Foreign affairs of several Countries (France, EEAS in Brussels, Singapore, Belgium).

The funds initially earmarked for the national teams and shifted, have allowed the principal investigator to recruit external collaborators and fellows (mainly through the EUI Jean Monnet Fellowships) which have covered the different areas and topic of research. Because these scholars have been based at the EUI their interaction and contribution to the activities of the research team has been exponentially more relevant for the research team as a whole.