The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Europe by Grace Davie and Lucian N. Leustean, editors

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To attempt an overview of the importance of religion in the shaping of Europe is a herculean task. As far as he is humanly feasible, however, Grace Davie and Lucian Leustean, with their army of contributors, have succeeded mightily.

Stretching chronologically from 1200 BCE to 2020, and spanning theology, law, history and sociology, among other disciplines, the Manual of 800 pages and 45 essays present a challenge to summarize adequately. What follows is a selection of his most striking ideas – as well as a reflection on the framing of the project.

The manual is organized into five sections (between six and 13 essays each). These main segments are framed by the editors’ introduction and an appendix, “Religions in Europe: A Statistical Summary”, compiled by Gina Zurlo.

Section I, “Religion and the Making of Europe”, is essentially chronological, although these chapters emphasize topics in distinct periods in preference to a simple narrative narrative.

“Religion and Classical Europe Twelfth Century BCE-600 CE” by Christoph Auffarth argues provocatively that the interchange between the ancient dominant religions anticipated the unity associated with Christianity, and that the latter took up much more of this common heritage than we don’t like to think so. Ryan Szpiech’s “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in Medieval Europe” unsettles perceptions of religious homogeneity, reminding us, among othersthe presence of large peacefully settled Muslim populations, not only in Spain, but also in Sicily and Hungary.

Section II, “Religion, ideology and modernity in Europe”, contains stimulating ideas. Today we look with horrified bewilderment at the willingness of most Christians in Germany to collaborate with the Third Reich. However, as Richard Stiegmann-Gall points out in “Religion and Dictatorship in Europe”, this was, worryingly, in many ways the natural result of continental Christian discourses – since the mid-19th century.

A happier form of shared European heritage appears in John Madley’s “Relations between Religions and States in Europe”. Madley makes a compelling case for a common substrate of reasoning in seemingly divergent national legal approaches to engagement with religious communities.

Section III, “Religious Dialogue, Public Policy, and International Institutions in Europe,” contains awkward repetitions between essays and, in fact, extraneous material. But important information is also offered here

“Religion and the European External Action Service” by François Foret highlights how the EU diplomatic corps is often ahead of member states when it comes to freedom of religion and belief. “The Commission of Episcopal Conferences of the European Community (COMECE)” by Frank Turner SJ articulates intriguing tensions that arise in the organization, due to conflicts both between national episcopal conferences and of the latter with COMECE itself. same – reflecting, perhaps, Christianity’s perpetual dialectic between the universal and the particular.

“Religion and Law in the European Union” by Norman Doe and Frank Cranmer is an important Anglican contribution to the European project.

Section IV, “Religious diversity, world religions and the idea of ​​Europe”, contains some of the Manual of most interesting material. In addition to the chapters on Protestantism and Catholicism (discussed below), those on Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam and Judaism remind us how “Europe” is (too) often thoughtlessly conceptualized as the outer space occupied by Latin/Western Christianity, defined in relation to an “other”.

Attention to the enduring strength of religion in historically Orthodox countries – and to the vitality of European Islam – challenges the simplistic discourse on the secularization of Europe. Josh Bullock and Stephen Bullivant’s “Non-Religion and Europe” attempt to give the census statement of no religion a “positive” content – and make it clear that for many people it is not just a empty space where theism was.

Section V, “Religious and political geography in Europe”, adopts a regional approach. Some countries are given discrete chapters, while others with deeply intertwined histories are handled in pairs or quarters. At Manual of credit, this has much more the effect of highlighting local contrasts than of homogenizing. The specificity of Estonia and the Netherlands within the Baltic States and the Netherlands stands out admirably.

It is difficult to criticize this volume, given its thoroughness, scope and clarity – although a concluding chapter that reflected on the cross-currents and how some contributions implicitly challenged others would have could be beneficial.

A topic worthy of reflection concerns the calm and contrasting (cultural) ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’ responses to European integration. This is particularly pertinent, given the numerous references throughout the volume to David Martin’s maxim “Europe is a unity by virtue of having possessed a Caesar and a God, that is, by virtue of Rome. It is a diversity by virtue of the existence of nations.

“Protestantism and Europe” by Brent Nelson and James Guth vigorously affirms the confluence of Protestantism and the nation-state, claiming that “Protestants never grasped the vision of a united Europe inspiring the project of Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet”. This claim seems supported by Inger Furseth’s observations of Euro-hesitancy in the Lutheran states of northern Europe. It is supplemented by observations on the role of Christian democracy (of Catholic inspiration) in the construction of the EU in “Christian democracy and Europe” by Kees van Kersbergen.

Nelson and Guth, however, overlook the now substantial literature on “international Calvinism” of the modern era. In addition, and conversely, the “France” of Blandine Chelini-Pont emphasizes that the strongly Catholic regions of the country systematically reject stronger integration into the EU during referendums.

Árpád von Klimó’s “Central Europe” also reminds us that in the 19th century, “Catholics increasingly engaged in nationalist discourses”, often (over-)compensating in this way by “defending themselves from accusations of fidelity to an international Church led by the pope”. Should the “Catholic versus Protestant” model be abandoned or revised? Future researchers will decide.

The Manual of its price puts it beyond the reach of most private buyers. Undoubtedly, however, it belongs on the shelves of theological colleges and diocesan libraries. It will be fundamental to the work of researchers in various fields for decades to come.


Reverend Alexander Faludy is a freelance journalist based in Budapest.

The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Europe
Grace Davie and Lucian N. Leustean, editors
OUP £110
(978-0-19-883426-7)
Library of the house of the church 99 €

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