Section on “The Return of the Religious-secular Cleavage in European Politics”

Convenors: Matthias Kortmann (Technical University of Dortmund), Frederic Strack (Sciences Po Paris)


Some decades ago, there was a discussion among political scientists about whether religion might become less relevant in European politics and, consequently, the religious-secular cleavage in political decision-making processes might disappear eventually. However, current political conflicts show that topics involving religion and secularity have once again become contested issues in European societies’ parties. On the one hand, this can be traced back to increasing religious pluralization, particularly resulting from immigration processes that have enhanced non-Christian religions’ visibility in societies that have portrayed themselves as Christian and/or secular. On the other hand, a process of liberalization and technical progress has put topics such as LGBT+ rights or reproductive medicine on the political agendas that religious parties and organizations feel challenged by. Finally, many conflicts also reflect (re)negotiations about the general role religion is supposed to play in the public sphere and the role religion(s) and/or secularity are supposed to play as (national) identity markers. This section will analyze political conflicts along the religious-secular cleavage in European societies. The focus will be on the issues being debated along this cleavage. These issues can refer to both the accommodation of religious diversity (i.e., the construction of religious buildings, the establishment of religious education at public schools, the recognition of religious organizations, the acceptance of immigrants of certain religious affiliations), topics concerning moral policy (i.e., LGBT+ rights, reproductive medicine, bioethics) and issues that touch general questions of the role of religion(s) in the public and political sphere and of national identities (i.e., religious freedom issues, the role of religion in international relations). The section will examine political and societal actors involved in debates along the cleavage. These can be actors that traditionally act as representatives of a ‘Christian’ worldview (i.e., parties and organizations) as well as their ‘secularist’ counterparts (i.e., liberal parties, humanist organizations) or actors that are usually not classified as ‘religious’ or ‘secular’ (i.e., leftist parties, populist parties, Green parties, social movements, human rights groups). This review and dialogue will take place both at the theoretical level, through panels focused on critically analyzing and rethinking the main categories and theses commonly adopted to understand the relations between religion and politics; and through panels focused on the empirical analysis and comparison of different phenomena and cases (i.e., case studies, statistical analyses, experiments, etc.).