The Faith Angle Forum is a semi-annual conference which brings together a select group of 20 nationally respected journalists with 3-5 distinguished scholars on areas of religion, politics & public life.
“Believing Without Belonging: Just How Secular Is Europe?”
Key West, Florida
Dr. Grace Davie, Chair, Sociology of Religion; Director of the Centre for European Studies, University of Exeter
Michael Cromartie, Vice President, Ethics & Public Policy Center; Senior Advisor, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: When we asked Professor Peter Berger who was the best person to discuss how Europeans view American religion, he recommended our speaker, Professor Grace Davie, who luckily is in this country for six months. She’s with the Department of Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Exeter. She is one of the leading sociologists of religion in Europe, and she very graciously agreed to be with us. We’re delighted to have her in the country and even more so in Key West. Professor Davie, thank you so much for coming.
DR. GRACE DAVIE: I’m delighted to be here. I want to make a couple of preliminary remarks before I start. I have two papers that I use to introduce religion in Europe, one that deals with the majority churches and one that deals primarily with minorities. I think my brief was to do the majority churches this afternoon. I am, however, going to give you a trailer for the other one so that if you want to pick my brain on minorities later in the afternoon, that’s fine.
The trailer is essentially a comparison between Britain and France and argues that France is without a doubt a more democratic society than Britain. But Britain, in my view, is a more tolerant society than France. So the underlying question becomes: Is democracy a vector of tolerance? I would be very interested to know how you consider America in those terms.
My remarks are also premised on the fact that you only really know your own society when you leave it. How America looks to a European is what I’ve been learning about this morning. I learn more about Europe the more I come away from it. One of the reasons I’m here, in fact, is to work with Peter Berger on a book that looks at the secularity of Europe through the prism of a comparison with America.
The last preliminary is to put a geographical limit on what I’m going to talk about because Europe is large and diverse. I’m going to talk primarily about the present definition of the European Union, not because I’m particularly wedded to the European Union as such. But the point I want to draw to your attention is that post-May 2004 the European Union is coterminous with Western Christianity, with the exception of Greece and Cyprus. That, in my view, is not a coincidence. What I’m talking about, then, is Europe of the Western Christian tradition. I’m not, for the moment, referring to the Orthodox world and the issues that raises, but by all means raise them when we get to questions.
The way that I want to do this — if you’ll forgive me for being a little egocentric — is to look at the books I’ve published on religion in Britain and modern Europe and show you not only how the situation itself has evolved, but also how my thinking about it has changed. Neither the situation nor the sociological interpretation of it is static. In short, we’re hitting a moving target.
Where we start is nearly 12 years ago, when the book called Religion in Britain since 1945 was published — an unremarkable title. But the subtitle contained this phrase, “Believing Without Belonging,” which retrospectively, was an inspirational moment for me, because it is this phrase that everybody remembers and can associate with my work.
The second marker is 2000, when I published Religion in Modern Europe. The crucial point here is that Britain, in terms of its patterns and structure of religious life, is essentially a European society. It is, of course, a pivot between Europe and America, and denominationally it looks west. But in terms of pattern, structure and state-church, and the legacies of a state-church, it is firmly European. The subtitle “A Memory Mutates” was chosen because the book understood religion as a form of collective memory and then asked questions about how that memory is or is not passed on. Within the book, however, is a key idea, which, retrospectively, is I think its most important contribution, and that is the notion of vicarious religion. Vicarious religion is easy to grasp for Europeans, but sometimes problematic for Americans.
Then just two years later, I turned the camera around the other way and looked at Europe from the outside. In the book is called Europe: The Exceptional Case, I argue that the patterns of religion in Europe are not a global prototype. They are, in fact, an exceptional case. European self-understanding is premised on the idea that modernization implies secularization. Europeans think that what Europe does today, everyone else will do tomorrow; they don’t find it easy to grasp that the European case is, perhaps, sui generic. So it’s the perspective of Europe from the outside that completes the picture — asking in particular if the mutations that are happening in Europe (the change from a culture of obligation to consumption in terms of religious life) are turning Europe toward America or whether this is a mutation that is genuinely European but indicative of different ways of doing things.
What the concept of “believing without belonging” effectively says is that there’s a disjunction between the hard indicators of religious life in Europe and the softer ones. In some ways I think that the phrase “believing without belonging” is a little misleading, because it isn’t that belonging is hard and belief is soft. Both of them can be hard and soft. For example, if you ask European populations — and here I’m generalizing — do you believe in God, and you’re not terribly specific about the God in question, you’ll get about 70 percent saying yes, depending where you are. If you say, do you believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, you’ll get a much lower number. In other words, if you turn your question into a creedal statement, the percentages go down. The looser your definition of belief, the higher the percentage of believers.
But exactly the same is true in terms of membership or belonging. Those who attend church regularly each week are a falling percentage, probably around 10 percent in Britain. It would be higher or lower in different parts of Europe. But if you move to a much looser notion of membership — for example, and I’ve never seen this in a poll, but it would be a very interesting question — where do you expect your funeral to be held or who do you expect to conduct your funeral, not many would “contract out.” And that’s one of your keys. The historic churches are public utilities, and you expect public utilities to be there when you need them.
This is why the market language of American religion goes so badly wrong in Europe. Europeans don’t work in market mode. Many of my American colleagues, for example, do work on “switching,” which is a market thing to do. You change your brand if you don’t like it, including your brand of religion, but Europeans tend not to do this. Some of them, the active ones, do, but the default position in Europe is to be a passive member of the historic churches, to activate that membership only when you need it, most often at the time of a death, your own or someone else’s. And there is deep offense, of course, if that service is either denied or thought to be inadequate.
I think, in fact, that you have two economies of religion in Europe: the first one I would call an economy of birth, which is turning more toward a market; and the second an economy of death, which is the public utility. So if you were to compare Britain, Europe and America, it isn’t the case that all Americans are religious and no Europeans are. Europeans are differently religious from Americans. And because European forms of religion don’t look like their American equivalents, Americans very often don’t see them. Let’s try to do better this afternoon.
Just two or three remarks on believing without belonging, before I move on, because I really don’t want to center on this too much. It is vital to remember that the disjunction of active and inactive, of dropping in or regular commitment, is as common in secular life as it is in religious life. If you look at political parties, trade unions, attendance at football matches, cinema-going, all the graphs go in the same direction. Interestingly, if you look at football and cinema, you find J-curves; they drop very sharply in the postwar period and they turn up from the late ‘80s, and ‘90s into the 21st century. I don’t see why that is not possible for religion, but it hasn’t happened yet.
But the point I want you to grasp is that graphs that go down don’t always go on going down; they can turn. If you look at the statistics for cinema-going and first division football matches in the post-war period, for example, no one would have thought they would turn up, but they did. Why did they turn? Through a lot of effort and careful marketing, not least by making the venues more comfortable. It can be done. But whether it will or won’t be done in the churches is a completely different question, to which we will return.
The second remark is more directed to religious leadership, and concerns the question of value judgments. One reason church leaders have alighted on believing without belonging is that implies, superficially at least, that it’s not quite so bad after all.
But the point I would like to make is that I don’t think a half-believing society is in fact any easier or more difficult for church leaders to work in than a strictly secular society, but it is a significantly different thing. You engage in a different way with a society that half believes from one that is hostile or secular. And most European societies are not, for the most part, overtly secular or hostile toward religion, with the partial exception of France. And I do think that France is an exceptional case.
Predicting the future is interesting. And here I will refer you to the European Values Study, the prototype for the World Values Survey. The European Values Study has now been done three times: in 1981, 1990 and 1999-2000. Those dates slip a bit in different countries. The thing I want to draw your attention to is what came out in the 1999-2000 study, which was a pattern that nobody had predicted; it is, moreover, a very interesting finding to reflect on.
In 1999-2000 two indicators started to rise among younger people. One was belief in a soul and the other was belief in a “God in me.” In other words, a belief in an afterlife, but also in the notion of a personal God, my God, as opposed to a transcendent God — the notion of immanence. The rise occurred right across Europe, but is most marked in those parts of Europe where the institutional churches are at their weakest. In other words, it happens in the UK, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and France. Spain is on the cusp. It doesn’t happen in Poland, Ireland or Italy, where the church is still strong and seen as a disciplinary force and is therefore rejected by young people.
But where the church is no longer able to discipline belief or behavior, which is the case across most of the continent, young people do not, it seems, turn to secular rationalism; they begin to experiment. Now, whether this will be of significance in a decade or whether it will be something that grows, is too soon to say. All I will say now is that nobody predicted the shift in the mid-1990s. Something is happening; something that I need to think about as I prepare a new edition of this book for the 21st century. But so much for believing without belonging.
In my view, vicarious religion is a more accurate reflection of what is happening in Europe. Believing without belonging pulls apart belief and belonging. Vicarious religion draws them back together. The core of vicarious lies in the word vicar. That’s the root, and it means doing something on behalf of someone else. Hence my definition: By vicarious, I mean the notion of religion performed by an active minority — that’s the belongers — but on behalf of a much larger number — that’s the wider population, who implicitly, not only understand but quite clearly approve of what the minority is doing. In other words, there is a relationship between the nominal member and the active member.
I’ve given this kind of paper all over Europe, and the interesting thing is all Europeans understand the notion of vicarious very quickly because they can feel it, and they’ll start giving you examples. You get Croatian examples, Italian examples, Spanish examples; they just come back to you. In America it can be a little more difficult to convey the meaning of the word. .
Let me give you some examples of vicarious religion. First churches and church leaders perform rituals on behalf of others. At the time of a birth or a marriage; a divorce even, though that’s a little problematic because of the churches’ teaching about marriage; but above all, at the time of a death. And in these rituals you can see interesting changes in Europe.
In some parts of Europe, for example, baptism is becoming increasingly the preserve of the active minority, a shift which is closely related to changes in the theologies of baptism, about which, at one level, I am very sympathetic. But if you have lived in a society that for several hundred years has coerced its population into baptism with threats that if you do not have this child baptized, something terrible will happen (like burial in unconsecrated ground), and then suddenly you say that you can only have your child baptized if you come to church so many times, it seems to me that you are projecting the confusions of the church onto a population, which is a very unfair thing to do. In short, it is the church that’s moved, not the population.
In many parts of Europe there is significant change with respect to baptism, but not in the Lutheran countries of Scandinavia, which are often seen as some of the most secular in the world. It is still the case that practically every Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish child is baptized. You need to be careful about generalizations.
Marriage is also changing, but it is important to remember the institution itself is changing, as well as the church’s role in it. Lots of young people now live together before they get married. When they do get married, whether it’s a secular or religious ceremony, they often say, “We want to make our relationship public,” and a significant number involve a religious institution at that moment.
I will develop the question of death in more detail because it is here that you really see that the churches are still very crucial in the lives of Europeans. Think, for example, of President Mitterrand. If anybody in Europe should have had a secular funeral, it was President Mitterrand. He was agnostic; he was the leader of a historically anti-clerical socialist party. His lifestyle couldn’t really be considered Catholic in any conventional sense. There are, moreover, precedents for secular funerals in France — Victor Hugo had one — and yet Mitterrand didn’t. My colleague, Danièle Hervieu-Léger, who has written extensively on this episode, tells us that in his will, Mitterand left a message indicating that “a mass was possible.” (“une messe est possible”). Now what did that mean? Did it mean possible but not necessary? Or did it mean please?
But then you know what happened. There were two masses held simultaneously: one in Notre Dame, which was the official mass attended by Helmut Kohl with tears running down his cheeks, and at exactly the same time a private mass for the family in Jarnac in southwest France.
Let’s go back to vicarious religion. Church leaders and churchgoers not only perform ritual on behalf of others, they also believe on behalf of others. Here I want to draw your attention to the criticism that you will find — in Britain, for example — if a bishop, a senior representative of the church, doubts in public. He is perfectly entitled to doubt in private. The trouble arises when bishops move from the academic arena into the episcopal role because they don’t always realize what they’ve done.
For example, the kind of discussion that could be had around this table or in a seminar room, which might be nothing remarkable, could cause an uproar if developed in front of a microphone and then popularized by the press. The most notorious example is a former Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, whose remarks were seriously misquoted in the press. But the point I want you to grasp is that a bishop who doubts is not doing his job, which is to “believe,” and it’s surprising how many in the population still think that, even if they don’t believe themselves. That’s the point I want you to get, not the theologies as such; it’s the fact that these are scrutinized by the wider public, not least by the tabloid press.
The behavior of religious professionals provokes similar reactions, both at the national and the local level. This is why it is very demanding to be a vicarage or a minister’s family. Not only are you supposed to behave properly, but so also are your teenage children. The tabloid press is very quick to notice misdemeanor among religious professionals and their families. Probably, it is much the same in the U.S.
Now, I know that there’s an element of hypocrisy in this, and everybody loves a hypocrite — somebody who says one thing but does something different. We all want to point that out. That’s human nature. But I think there is something more profound beneath this. In Britain, at least, but also in Scandinavia, these reactions are closely linked to the projections we place on the royal family, whose roles are all the more ambiguous when the monarch is also the head of the church. We love royal weddings, but we feel somewhat ambivalent about royal divorces. We are sorry when they happen because this is a model that we wish to have upheld. Even if most people no longer subscribe to the conventional model of family life, it’s a good thing if somebody does — on our behalf. That’s what I mean by vicarious.
My last example is provocative. It suggests that churches offer space for vicarious debate of unresolved issues in modern societies. This is obviously directed at the debate about homosexuality. I’m not convinced that the society in which I live is clear about homosexuality and the church is not. This is a confused church in a confused society. But I find it very hard to understand why the secular press should pay so much attention to senior appointments in the Anglican Church at home and abroad if this is simply a marginal institution that is no longer important. If it really is a marginal institution in our society, then who cares who does what? But we do seem to care. I’m sorry if I am now being critical of journalists, but there’s an important ambiguity here. More precisely, there is a lot of writing in the press that says the Church of England is now a marginal institution. Yet, on the front page of The Times, for weeks on end, I read stories about senior appointments in the church. It doesn’t stack up. The church cannot be marginal and repeatedly on the front page.
I don’t know whether you know my colleague Steve Bruce, who is at the University of Aberdeen and has a much stronger view of secularization than I do. With respect to vicarious religion, he will say to me: “But how do you know? Where’s your data?” This is where I invite not only you but also my students to be far more imaginative in terms of data because you can’t count vicarious religion. You can get a hint of it by looking at soft and hard statistics; you can feel a gap there. But what do I look at? Why am I convinced that this is what is happening?
One way of working is to look closely at a society when something has gone seriously wrong, or (occasionally) right — a disaster or a celebration. In these circumstances you see something much more reactive, much more spontaneous. And what do you see? America post-9/11 would be an excellent example, and a lot of work has been done on that. But the two examples I have in mind are, firstly, Sweden following the sinking of the Estonia ferry about 10 years ago with a huge loss of life; the other is Britain in the week following Princess Diana’s death.
So what happened when the Estonia sank in Sweden? The sinking of a ferry with 900 lives lost for the Swedes was an enormous shock — something almost unbelievable. And what did Swedish people do? They went straight to their churches. Nobody told them to, but the churches were open, partly because they are tax-funded churches. And religious professionals were there to meet them. They knew they had to be there. And the very next morning on the front of the main Swedish daily, there was an article by the archbishop putting the tragedy into a theological context and giving Swedish people a way of understanding what had happened.
The point I want you to grasp is that there was no instruction. All these assumptions were in place. The Swedish pastors knew they had to be there. The archbishop knew that he had to write the article. The churches were in place and the population came. But nothing would have happened unless there had been a disaster; all of it would have remained implicit and under the surface.
Hence an iceberg analogy: We do far too much work on the bit that sticks out, which is shrinking (that is beyond doubt); I’m interested in the bits under the water. The reaction to Princess Diana’s death was exactly the same. Whatever we did in that week after Diana died, it was neither secular nor rational.
Nor was it Christian, or at least it was very imperfectly Christian. But how did we come to terms with this totally unexpected event? A whole series of things took place, some individual and improvised — flowers, playing cards, Queen of Hearts, Madonnas, prayers — all mixed up together. It was a very confused reaction. But everybody knew that was insufficient, that there had to be a funeral, and the funeral was in Westminster Abbey.
Here is the real point. Had the Dean of Westminster Abbey said, “I’m sorry, I don’t really think I can take this funeral” — bearing in mind that Diana was divorced; she had visited gurus; she was experimenting with different kinds of religion; she was a seeker; her mother had become a Catholic. And at the end of her life, Diana was keeping company with a prominent Muslim. Hence “I’m sorry, but I don’t think this funeral is for us,” that would have been unacceptable. He knew he had to do it. And what did he do? He did what has become in fact a very common model, which uses a Christian framework for the funeral service. It starts with the sentence, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and it ends with a committal. But inside it you have Elton John.
And you have a eulogy and not a homily. I call it a mixed-economy funeral. But you still frame it in the Christian liturgy. It’s perfectly possible to have a secular funeral in most parts of Europe, but it is still not very common.
Diana’s funeral became a prototype for all sorts of other funerals. Quite apart from that, it was a very interesting event because, by the end of the week we had almost forgotten that she’d been divorced at all. The mourners at the funeral were her ex-husband, her ex-father-in-law, her brother and her two sons. Now that’s unusual to say the least. Dodi al-Fayed, of course, was buried the day he died. One of the exercises I do with my students is a “what if” question: Had Dodi al-Fayed not died in the accident, then what would Diana’s funeral have been like? It is an interesting question. If he had been alive at the time of the funeral, what would have happened? It is not easy to answer the question except to say that the occasion would have been significantly different — you couldn’t have written him out of the script.
A further source of evidence for vicarious religion can be found in attitudes toward church buildings: European people get very cross if they are asked to pay to go into a building, because they think that the building belongs to them. They are equally cross if you close a building they haven’t been to for weeks or even years because, once again, they regard is as theirs. If you remove something, the implicit becomes explicit, but you don’t see it in “normal” life.
Church tax in Scandinavia and Germany offers a final example: Church tax is not negligible, and it’s paid by the whole population unless you contract out. The interesting thing in Scandinavia (it’s changing in Germany) is how few people contract out. You’d save money and it’s a very simple procedure to do this, but so far most people don’t do it. And I don’t think Swedish people would pay for something they fundamentally disapprove of. I conclude, therefore, that Swedish people do approve of their churches. They are certainly approved of culturally — church buildings are beautifully kept. Even in the north of Sweden for example, in a small village, the church is lovely and very well maintained. And quite apart from the question of buildings, the church maintains a whole musical tradition, which is an important part of Scandinavian life.
My last remark, concerns an essay title for my students. The title is this: “Is churchgoing deviant behavior in modern Britain?” It’s a profitable exercise because it requires the student to look at the patterns of religion life, which is what I want them to do. Religion, for example, is more deviant for men than women, as it is here. It is also more deviant for the young than for the old. It’s more deviant in England than Northern Ireland. It is more deviant in some parts of Scotland than other parts of Scotland. You can work over local and national patterns to put together a good body of material in order to see if your students have understood that.
But the best students will question the notion of deviance. If by deviance you mean flying in the face of the values of modern society, churchgoing is certainly not deviant, because in my view it upholds the values that many Europeans don’t very often live by but still would like to be there. That’s the point that I want to get across.
That is the current situation. What it will be like in 2050 is much harder to say, as I am much less sure that an implicit understanding of vicariousness is carried in younger generations in the way that it’s carried by older people. Quite apart from this, there is a gradual shift going on in Europe – away from something that I call a “culture of obligation,” a term with an obvious Catholic resonance. We go to church because it’s our duty, because we have to, because it’s a question of discipline. That culture of obligation is collapsing right across Europe — there is no doubt about that — with the partial exception of rural Poland and rural Ireland. It is giving way to something that I call a culture of consumption.
I don’t like the word consumption, but I can’t think of a better one. It really means choosing. It means we go to church if we want to. The shift from obligation to consumption is a continuing mutation. It’s not a question of one minute being in one culture and one minute in another. It’s a gradual shift to a model based on choice. There are good and bad aspects of both. It’s not good to bad or bad to good; it’s simply a question of change. Nobody wants to live in a society in which they are forced to go to church. This seems to me to be entirely wrong in a modern democracy. Europeans were coerced historically, sometimes forcibly, and much more recently by respectability. We went to church to see and be seen, and some politicians still do it. Not very regularly, but it happens before elections.
I expect that also happens here.
You still see hangovers of this. People come to church in England when they want their children to get into church schools, because church schools are heavily oversubscribed and mostly they give preference to churchgoing families. So that’s the old pattern: People are coming, but for nonreligious reasons. Nowadays, people come to church for extraordinarily varied reasons, but they tend to be more rather than less religious — on the whole we would agree that this is a good thing.
The downside is a collapse of a common narrative. Modern students, for example, know very little about religion but are increasingly interested in the subject. Large numbers want to study the sociology of religion, but I cannot assume any knowledge. I learned this the hard way, giving a whole lecture on Pentecostalism in Latin America before I realized that most students didn’t know what Pentecost was. The knowledge they do have clearly comes from schools, not mostly from the family, though there usually one or two exceptions in a class of 40 or so.
Interestingly, students tend to know more about Islam than they do about Christianity, and this worries me a bit. I think the teaching of religion in schools is a very important thing, and given the circumstances teachers do very well. But I’m a little concerned about the curriculum: Are we getting the right things across to these children? Take a young person to an art gallery — to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, for example — and they’re at sea. They just cannot interpret the narrative because they don’t know it. So there is loss. I’m not saying it’s just a one-way story.
Another thing that I really want you to get hold of is that I don’t think a move from obligation to consumption is the same thing as privatization. In my view, seriously-made choices have public implications. The inherited model is eroding and probably privatizing, but something different is emerging. At the same time, you must keep in mind the arrival of Islam in Europe, which is making a huge difference in this debate, because Islam cannot be privatized. Privatized Islam is almost an oxymoron. The presence of Islam is reconfiguring the whole debate in a very interesting way — in some ways a slightly alarming way because Europeans are not responding well. But something is changing, without doubt. Muslims are putting religion back into the public agenda.
The last thing I want to do in this presentation is to point out the two most popular choices of modern Europeans. It is clear that some styles of churches are doing well and some are not — right across the denominations. This is where the statistical models are misleading because I suspect there is a fall and rise in the same denomination. It’s not a question of moving from one denomination to another. It is a shift within, as well as between, denominations. The statistical pattern doesn’t show us that.
There are two models that seem to do well. The first is not really the equivalent of the new Christian right, because that does not exist in Europe, but it concerns the evangelical churches. In every small town and city you will find a relatively successful evangelical church. What does this signify? It signifies the same thing as it does in America. It is a safe place, has clear boundaries, firm teaching, very effective networks, is great for kids and is family-oriented.
But if you look at it closely, certain types of evangelical churches are doing better than others. The ones that are doing well are the ones that have incorporated a charismatic element. Old-fashioned Biblicism is not so popular. It is the churches that include an experiential element in them. They’re much talked about. They’re much written about. Holy Trinity Brompton in London is the most well-known, but you’ll find a little Holy Trinity Brompton in most towns and cities in Britain.
The other example of success, which is perfectly clear in the evidence but is still much less discussed, is what I call the cathedral or city center church, which offers a completely different package. Here you have the seeker as opposed to the convert. You’ve got no boundaries. You don’t have to join. The really crucial thing for many people is that you don’t have to share “the peace.” You can just go there, you can sit behind your pillar, nobody bothers you, but while you’re there, you experience traditional liturgy — very predictable liturgy, which is clearly important (everybody knows what’s going to happen). You have world-class music, sublime architecture and very good preaching. It’s a very high standard. If you look at cathedrals, they are filling at every level. They are filling with regular members, less regular members, pilgrims and tourists.
This shift is very closely linked with the growth of pilgrimage all over Europe, and that’s true whether it’s medieval pilgrimage in Santiago de Compostela, the Marian shrines of Lourdes, Medjugorje, or more modern places of pilgrimage like Taize or Iona. They are all growing year after year after year, and it has something to do with the uncommitted seeker — the person who’s on the journey.
If you notice, both my models are mobile models. The first is the convert, someone who commits to the evangelical church; and the second is the pilgrim or the seeker. These two models have been developed, again by my French colleague (Danièle Hervieu-Léger). The thing that is very misleading, I think, is to divide Europe into people who practice and people who don’t, because most people are somewhere in the middle. It is the mobile concepts that are helping us to see what is coming out from the old model.
But the other thing that the two types of worship have in common is that they are both experiential. Indeed if you turn that question around the other way, the thing that is not doing well is the purely cerebral. Old-fashioned Biblicism, as well as liberal Protestantism, is in trouble at home, as it is here. The purely cognitive does not seem to appeal to today’s population. And although you have two completely different patterns, in fact they have a common element. It’s not so much what you learn when you get there; it’s the taking part that is important. It’s the fact that you’re lifted out of yourself that counts. And the big one-off occasions — candlelit carol service or evangelical conventions — are what do the trick, which of course is the same in politics. Very few people go regularly to political party meetings. What draws them are the one-off rainbow coalitions in, say, the countryside. This is not a political platform — a kind of theology, if you like — it is something that draws people together who are very different but who come together for a one-off occasion.
So I rest my case that if you really want to understand the patterns of religion in modern Europe, you need to look through quite sensitive glasses. And you will be badly misled if you isolate the religious factor from the changes going on in the rest of society, which I believe has happened too much in the sociology of religion. Once you begin to see that this is part of an economic and social change rather than simply indifference to religion, you begin to understand what is happening a little better.
JANE LITTLE, BBC: Last week the new black archbishop of York was enthroned — great ritual, historic occasion, but also very novel. And he issued a clarion call for consumers of religion — he used that phrase — to become once again Disciples of Christ. There was a lot of the Pope Benedict argument in there, this dictatorship of relativism, all of this amorphous stuff that is not Christian, and to return back to these roots, and to return Britain to being a Christian nation.
You talked about the J-curve, but I can’t see reversing the trend when they don’t understand this massive phenomenon you’ve just been describing at the end: these seekers who are out there. It’s very difficult reporting it because you can’t measure it, much as you were saying. But experiential religion is massive, and it’s partly about believing without belonging, but it’s also not what you believe, but how you believe it. And it’s about practice. So it’s really difficult to get a handle on this, but I don’t see how these religious leaders, who are trying to reverse this secular trend, as they see it, are going to do it when the age of deference is over and globalization is here. There is so much choice out there, and people are aware of it.
I was wondering, A) how you think they might address that? And, B) I think it’s hugely important to know what we mean by the term secular. Pope Benedict will use the term secular in a very different sense, as though it’s something very antagonistic to religion, but many others will just say it is not religious. So some people will describe Britain as not being a secular state because it has an established church. Others will say it’s secular because 7 percent of people go to church regularly. And then others will say, “Well, is it secular if 17 percent of young people say we’re spiritual but not religious?” So I am just wondering how you would define that.
DR. DAVIE: Let’s start by taking apart secular, secularity, secularism and secularization. They all have different meanings. Secular is an adjective. It shouldn’t be loaded, but it often is. Secularity is a state of affairs. Secularism is an ideology, like rationalism or communism, and there’s very little of that in Britain, but much more in France. And secularization is a process.
Now, do the same exercise another way. America is a secular state; the First Amendment is very important to American self-understanding. There is no privileged church, no financial support for churches, but it is highly churchgoing society relatively speaking. How high we’ll leave for the moment. Britain, like Europe, has a history of a state church, which colors the present. In fact, most of Northern Europe still does have a state church. In other parts of Europe, there’s been an acrimonious rupture, the most acrimonious being the French one. So which is more secular: America, Britain or Europe? You have to define your terms. I would say Britain is a society with relatively low levels of churchgoing, high levels of implicit religiosity and a still-respected, though reduced, state church.
That’s where it gets tricky. I think there’s a very interesting study to be done on the advantages of a weak state church. Strong state churches are excluding and exclusive. That’s one reason why people came to America. Weak state churches can become the umbrella of faith, which is what has happened in Britain. The weak Anglican Church — nobody’s frightened of the Church of England because there’s nothing to be frightened of —
— now becomes the spokesperson for the “religious” minority in Britain, of whatever faith. You ask Jonathan Sacks or the Muslim leaders; on the whole they don’t want a secular state because they see what’s happened in France, where the secular state is much less tolerant than a weak state church.
It’s very subtle. That’s one of the things I’ve tried to convey to you this afternoon. It’s not as obvious as often appears because you’ve got to find the realities underneath the surface. And you can certainly find the person who says, “I want to go to the carol service on Christmas Eve.” You can find the person who is moved by a spiritual occasion and doesn’t see any antithesis between this and a presumably secular life.
One important thing to remember is that people are not consistent in their thinking. If you do any investigation into real life, in politics or religion, people believe incompatible things all the time. So in some ways I think this is a social scientific problem; our paradigms impose coherence when there is none. This is just how life is.
JAY TOLSON, U.S. News & World Report: I’ve observed a more vigorous vicarious religiosity. And I quote one example: I interviewed Cardinal Martino, the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice, last year on the issue of tolerance of Muslims, among other things. And he was very straightforward and critical of most European countries saying that they wanted the Turks and North Africans to come and work in the factories but that they wanted them to check their religion at the borders, and now they’re very upset to see that these Muslims want to practice their religion.
It seemed clear to me, without his saying so, that he felt almost an ambivalence about the vitality of resurgent religiosity among Muslims in Europe. He thought Christianity, obviously, was going in the opposite direction and saw this as a challenge in a way. I think he saw it as an interesting moment and that he thought there should be tolerance of it, but he was clearly hoping that there would be a reaction among cultural Christians to becoming more active Christians. The other response, of course, is the one that you mentioned, which is basically to press for a more aggressive secularism.
Even in Britain, as in the recent controversy over Muslim faith schools, the degree of hostile reaction among the liberal elites in England to state-supported Muslim faith schools when there are so many religious schools of other faiths supported by the state is another example. There was all of a sudden this great anxiety about state support for faith schools. The Islamic challenge, it seems to me, is one of the most interesting spurs to this whole thing about vicarious religion. But I wonder whether it will also bring out a more aggressive secularism.
DR. DAVIE: To me, the presence of Islam in Europe is not simply another religious choice; it’s a catalyst of change. And this includes both the Muslim minorities that are now settled in Europe as well as the Turkish accession. Religion is reemerging into public life in a way that is unfamiliar. This is something that we are very ill-equipped to deal with. So something is changing, and very dramatically.
It’s still quite early to see how it will work out. One or two bits of background are important: In France, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands we’re now in our third generation of Islam, and all the notions that Muslim populations would gradually assimilate and become much more like the host population are rapidly coming apart. That’s clearly not happening. Some of the most interesting studies are done, for example, on women in the third generation, who are now of university age. One of the things they are trying to do is to work out what it means to be a Muslim woman freed from the Pakistani patriarchal culture that came with her grandparents. The ones I meet, for example, in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies in Exeter are struggling with this question.
MR. TOLSON: I’d think they would be more pushed back into that patriarchal —
DR. DAVIE: I think it would depend on whether you are freed up to go to university. The ones who are really caught in their culture wouldn’t even get to university in the first place.
MR. TOLSON: Sure. No, I’m just saying that is a very unrepresentative sample of what’s really going on in these families.
DR. DAVIE: Changing ideas come from the elite or intellectual segment of a society: this is maybe where change will come. The young Turkish women I see in a Hartford Seminary (in Connecticut) are struggling with exactly the same issues. The point I want to make is that the notion that they’re going to become more like the host population is collapsing. That’s not happening.
In the Nordic countries, Ireland and Southern Europe, this is a much more recent phenomenon. It has occurred only in the last decade. The interesting thing in Greece, Italy and Spain is that traditionally, countries of emigration have turned very suddenly into countries of immigration. Dublin, for example, is now a city of immigration. And that’s almost unimaginable. It’s very, very rapid change. The drivers in the 1960s and ‘70s were economic. We were looking for populations to do jobs we didn’t want to do. The drivers in the ‘90s are demographic. Europe does not have sufficient working people to pay our pensions. The Turkish issue is fascinating in this context. Is Turkey seen as a source of young, relatively well-trained labor or as a threat? It all depends on who you are. You can see this as a huge potential of labor for Europe, but it’s also seen as a threat to some Europeans.
In terms of public and private, probably the best example I can give you is the role Muslims played in promoting a question about religion in the British census in 2001. Britain introduced a question about ethnic origins in 1991, which was moderately controversial, and then in 2001, we introduced a question on religion, which was very controversial. The secular liberal elite felt this was inappropriate in a multicultural society. But this was a difficult position to hold because the prime movers in the debate were Muslims.
In any kind of statistical analysis on either nationality or ethnic origin, Muslims were almost invisible because they were so dispersed. They wanted a clear index of how many Muslims there were in Britain. All sorts of things happened because the Muslims were driving the debate. Christians thought, “what a good idea,” and joined in (well, some Christians). The discomfited were those who had to write the question, the civil servants who worked for the Census Bureau, because they had little idea what to do. The result was a wonderful British compromise: it was a voluntary question, and it was different in Scotland than in Wales and in Ireland. In many respect it’s a mess.
But it’s a very interesting mess because we know now that we have 1.5 million Muslims, which is about what I would have expected. No real surprises there, but more interestingly, over 70 percent of British people claimed to be Christian. What were they saying? Were they saying they were not secular or were they saying they were not Muslims? I don’t know. I suspect they were not all saying the same thing, but we have not yet done a qualitative study on a sample of people who said “Yes — Christian” to that question, in order to ask, what did you mean? And is this an index of religious commitment or religious identification, or is it really something else? We still are not clear.
I think the nominal Christian is somewhat threatened by Islam, though not so likely to mind about different theologies. The seriously committed Christian is in a different bind, because on the one hand he or she respects Islam and thinks, “If they can do it, we can do it,” but on the other hand, it is this kind of Christian who feels a stronger obligation to evangelize and make a claim for a one true God.
So I think there’s a considerable ambiguity there, but clearly the serious believer reacts in a different way from the nominal believer, and the secular civil servant had an evident problem when Muslims asked for a question on religion. It’s a good example of British compromise, and the results are very interesting. It’s a little incident, but it tells you quite a lot.
CLARE DUFFY, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS”: I was just wondering if the movement on the curve can be engineered from without. I’m thinking particularly about Pope Benedict XVI saying that one of his priorities was the re-evangelization of Europe. Can that be done? Can it be forced when at the same time you’re concerned about a dictatorship of relativism and building in, at least in the case of the Catholic Church, a smaller, more muscular faith? And if you’re kind of wishy-washy, seekers, whatever, don’t let the door hit you on the way out; they’re really not that interested. But at the same time, re-evangelization of Europe is a priority and filling those cathedral churches with something other than tourists is a priority.
So is it possible to force movement on that curve that you describe or does it just have to be more organic?
DR. DAVIE: I don’t think anybody wants to force movement on any curve. I certainly wouldn’t. What I want to draw to your attention is that, at the moment, the collapse in obligation is a stronger force than any rise in consumption. Again, I don’t like that word, and I don’t think it means consumer. I think of seriously made choices. At the moment, the going down is more than the going up. What I can’t discern is when the going down stops.
But what I do see is within denominations or within traditions certain kinds of churches can make a visit on a Sunday worth somebody’s while. If you can do that, people will still come. That’s the point. And the two examples I gave you were the evangelical option and the cathedral option. You could find others. Some churches in London do it through art or creativity, and some, but not very many, do it through commitment to developing world issues.
They won’t just come because they ought to. That’s the thing that’s gone and collapsed, but different kinds of churches in different ways can still attract. I mean, far more people go to church on a Sunday than go to football. And look at the changes in football: Manchester United gets huge crowds, and so do Chelsea and Liverpool. . .
MR. CROMARTIE: You mean soccer.
DR. DAVIE: Soccer, well that is football.
I mean soccer. But look at the small clubs like Exeter City where I live. Now, you’re hardly knocked over in the rush of people going to watch Exeter City, which has therefore all the financial troubles of the average parish. No people, no money. The little clubs are feeling it all over the country. The big clubs are changing because they’re professional, and it’s even clearer to see in rugby, which has professionalized much more recently.
Old-fashioned rugby clubs used to look like parishes. You had first, second, third, fourth teams; the children; the teenagers and people training there every week. As soon as you become professional, you put your money in your first team and all the other parts drop out. The point is that the shifts are not only occurring in religion; the movement is across the whole voluntary sector, and that’s why you need to embed the understanding of religion in a much broader analysis of economic and social change.
KATHLEEN PARKER, Tribune Media Services: My question is just to you as an observer and as a visitor to this country. You were saying earlier that clearly the Muslims were not being assimilated into the European culture. How do you see that process here? And do you think the U.S. is doing a better job, and if so, why or why not?
DR. DAVIE: I think I probably misled you. Muslims are not becoming like Europeans in terms of their religious habits, but I don’t want to imply that there is no place for Muslims in Europe.
Here I think there is very interesting comparative work to be done on different European societies and which models work and which models don’t work. The big tension is between the communitarian model of Britain, the multicultural model, and the individual assimilationist model of France, where to have a separate group identity is very problematic. This is why you can’t count the number of Muslims in France, because that would reify the group and reify the notion of Muslim.
I may be biased on this, but I do think Britain has done a better job. It’s very interesting to look back to the summer at what has happened from July until now. After the London bombings, which were horrific, local Muslim leaders were immediately sought both to calm the population and identify the bombers. The British government and church officials turned to their Muslim colleagues and said, “Help us. We’ve got to work together on this.”
In France, the Muslim leader who says, “Can we do anything?” is often met by a response along the lines of “Public order is the responsibility of the secular state, and we deal with it, not you.” It goes back even further than that in colonial policy. Britain ruled through local elites and France ruled directly, so it’s a very deep-seated difference. And which one works and which one doesn’t work is largely a matter of opinion. Personally, I think the British model does work better. And if you speak to Muslims in Britain, they don’t want a secular state.
I’m not really sure that I could judge the American case. I think it’s different again. If the American Muslims are going to play a role in America, they have to learn the American rules, which is to become a denomination. If you want to purchase property or organize in America, you have to do it the American way, and I’m not quite sure what the impact of that is on Islamic communities in America. What I don’t think you can do is to say that the French or whoever does it better than us, so we’ll do it their way. You have to acknowledge your own history, acknowledge your own past and find your own solution. What you can’t do is “borrow” a solution.
I would say that on many issues. For example, evangelicals in England often want to borrow American solutions and to say if we deregulated — i.e. if we disestablished the church — our religious activity would rise to American levels. I don’t think it would. It’s like saying Japanese children do much better at math than European children or British children, and Japanese children are taught in classes of 70. So if European children were taught in classes of 70, they would do better in math. You can see that would be a fallacious argument. It’s like saying if we took a little bit of your system and tried to make it work in ours, we’d have your solution. It doesn’t work like that.
DELIA RIOS, Newhouse News Service: You had said “they” know more about Islam than Christianity. Did you mean young people? The follow-up to that is, whichever group of people you’re referring to, how is it that they know more about Islam than Christianity?
DR. DAVIE: The point is that the major source of knowledge for young people about religion is school. And I think religious education (RE) teachers do an excellent job, but they cannot put back a lost narrative. That is a cultural not an educational thing. I suspect that they are concentrating on Islam because Islam is so topical. Sometimes you get a student who is from a committed Christian family, and he or she will have a good knowledge of Christianity. Occasionally, I teach students from the theology department, and they have a better knowledge of Christianity.
What you cannot assume is that most students will have picked up the narrative from their families and their churchgoing because that does not happen. So what they learn in class depends a lot on what the teacher has chosen to teach them. As I said, I suspect that there has been a lot of work on Islam because Islam is obviously an important issue both in global politics and their own society.
But you will always find exceptions. For example, one of the most interesting things about modern Europe in terms of the debate about secularization is the current anxiety about the relatively few students who want to do science at A-level, which is our final school exam. Instead, large numbers are opting to do religious studies. Now, how do you read that? Do you read that as an interest in religion? It tends not to be in traditional Bible teaching. Students are more interested in ethics and the philosophy of religion.
Numbers applying to do theology in universities are going up; numbers applying to do physics and chemistry are going disastrously down. That doesn’t fit with the traditional reading of the secularization thesis, but what does it fit with? It’s not what people thought would happen. This is why when you talk about the shift, the J-curve; it seems that what you expect may not happen.
I may be wrong in my anticipation that it will rise, but the idea that it’s all going to stay the same and go in the way we thought it was going to go 15 years ago doesn’t seem likely to me. There are too many things changing. The choices of young people, in terms of the subjects they study at universities, are just not what people thought they were going to be and are causing big difficulties in universities, in terms of restructuring. My own university, for example, has closed its chemistry department.
CARL CANNON, National Journal: You mentioned an interesting historical fact. In Great Britain after World War II, attendance at soccer matches was down and the interest in sports was down, but that changed in 1966, 1965, and why did it change? Well, to stretch this metaphor, there was a great cathedral and it was wherever that great national team that won the World Cup played and the pubs where they played the games on TV. They had a star preacher, George Best, who Pele said was the greatest player he ever saw, but they had charismatic leadership.
It got me to thinking, who are those people in religion in Britain now? Is it Nicky Gumbel? Who are the Billy Grahams and the Rick Warrens in England? And will that model work there anyway — the evangelical model? That’s my question.
DR. DAVIE: I can’t think of a Billy Graham and a Rick Warren. Nicky Gumbel has it to some extent, but it’s a much smaller constituency. That’s interesting.
In terms of football, the rise in attendance is much later than that, of course. You have to be very careful how you read it because the big clubs are doing very, very well, and the smaller clubs are not doing so well. The whole game of football has changed. It’s Europeanized. It’s a shifting pattern all over Europe. Particular cities have their football team as an emblem, as opposed to local clubs.
MR. CANNON: Tell me about evangelicals there. That’s really what I want to know about.
DR. DAVIE: The nearest you get is Holy Trinity Brompton and Nicky Gumbel and the Alpha course. Nearly a million and a half people have done Alpha, but there’s is a lot of preaching to the converted. Many of these people were in church anyway, but I would maintain that if a million and a half people went through a secular equivalent, it would have achieved much more attention in the press.
If you look at the reaction to Alpha, some people think it’s too conservative, and some think it’s too liberal. So it’s probably about right. My guess is that it’s a win-win for the following reasons: It’s a course in basic Christianity in a society that has lost its knowledge of basic Christianity, and because of its emphasis on the Holy Spirit, it has a strong experiential factor. It’s that combination that I think is drawing people.
ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE, The Economist: I’d rather jumble the questions about American exceptionalism versus European exceptionalism. It strikes me that you’ve understated, as far as I can see anyway, the extent to which you have a very aggressively anti-religious, pro-secular culture in Europe and certainly in Britain. When Tony Blair was being asked about going to meet George Bush, according to newspaper reports, they got down on their knees and prayed. His spokesman Alistair Campbell immediately left, remarking that in Britain “We don’t do God.”
DR. DAVIE: “We don’t do God.” Yes.
MR. WOOLDRIDGE: And I think that that’s something a lot of British people profoundly believe. The spirit of H.L. Mencken may not suddenly be alive that much in this country, but he’s certainly alive in Britain. If you pick up Private Eye, you have Tony Blair presented as the vicar of St. Albans, and George Bush is presented as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Morons.
DR. DAVIE: Yes.
MR. WOOLDRIDGE: You don’t see that sort of really aggressively secular language in this country. I think one of the reasons why the British and the Europeans in general initially, even before Iraq and the rest of that stuff, took against George Bush is because he wears religion on his sleeve. Whether it’s the wearing on the sleeve or the being religious, I don’t know, but it’s certainly something that turned them against him more I think than the death penalty.
But I want to make two sort of related points. One is of religion as a nationalized industry in Europe and in Britain, and that strikes me as explaining a lot of what you were talking about, partly because it is connected with the nation-state. So when you get these great national events like the royal wedding or the funeral of Diana Spencer, it’s not just about religion or God. It’s about the nation; a lot of what is important about religion is your sense of national identity, which is why the Islamic thing is so important.
But the second thing about a nationalized industry, as we all know, is that nationalized industries are very, very badly run, so you deal with them as little as you have to. You have to deal with them at a funeral or maybe just at birth, but you don’t that often because it’s just not very good service that’s provided, so it’s sort of a residual service.
The other thing I wished to ask you about was the intelligentsia. It seems to me that in this country you have a very large and significant pro-religious intelligentsia. You have evangelicals; you have the opening of the evangelical mind. You have people like Mark Noll, who are really quite serious intellectuals. I didn’t see that very much in Britain.
And secondly, you have intellectuals who are approaching religion from the other end, either from a sort of Straussian position that is useful to us, so let’s latch on to it, or actually because they really believe. Again, that lack of a religious bloc of intellectuals in Europe or certainly in Britain strikes me as being a big difference in the two cultures.
DR. DAVIE: I think you’re right, but not wholly right, if you see what I mean. One of my heroes in this unlikely scenario is Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, who is a very good example of a low-key (cultural) Christian. I think you can do both. In fact, I think the script for Private Eye owes a great deal to his knowledge of the Church of England. That whole parish analogy requires knowledge. I simply read that evidence differently.
I also think Ian Hislop was extraordinarily brave in his remarks on the Rushdie controversy. He’s an iconoclast if ever there was one, but he has said publicly, “I will never mock another person’s faith because it is not a sensible thing to do.”
MR. WOOLDRIDGE: Apart from George Bush.
DR. DAVIE: I think that’s hard to say, but go back and look at his record on Rushdie, which was extremely revealing to me, as to where he drew the line. I think there’s a considerable subtlety to what Hislop will and won’t do.
MR. WOOLDRIDGE: “Latter-day Morons” — is that subtle?
DR. DAVIE: Mormons might be offended by that.
MR. WOOLDRIDGE: Yeah.
DR. DAVIE: I think they were —
MR. WOOLDRIDGE: I think it’s just safe to mock evangelical Christians in Britain, but if you mock Muslims, they kill you.
DR. DAVIE: Well, I would give more credit to Ian Hislop for reading that really very sensitively.
I’ve lived a great deal of my life working in social science, and for a good 25, 30 years I have heard that religion is really something else. Now, the thing that is happening in the modern world is we’ve finally got over that and realized that it is in fact religion. This is where the European paradigm has been pervasive and intrusive. It has given us very bad guides to religion in the global context because we assume that the European case is the norm. The paradigm of secularization comes out of the European past, and we have applied it elsewhere. And the way we’ve got round the problem that some things don’t very well into the paradigm is by saying that it isn’t really religion. It’s really nationalism — it’s really identity or whatever.
MR. WOOLDRIDGE: But a nationalized church is doing something different from a church in a free market. It’s got two functions.
DR. DAVIE: We have a history of a state church. We cannot get away from it. It has a good and bad aspect, and we will never shed it. That’s why the mentalities are so strong. It doesn’t necessarily take on all the attributes of a bad national industry. I rather reject that.
NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY, The Wall Street Journal: Maybe this is the bias of being a journalist, but I’m unhappy with the attempt to describe what is or isn’t religion in the abstract. For me and for probably some other people in this room, what matters in determining whether someone is religious or not is how it affects the rest of their life.
So, if the determination of whether someone is religious is basically: will they go to someone’s funeral or will they have a church funeral themselves, and between marriage and death or birth and death, it has absolutely no effect in the way they act from a community perspective, from a political perspective or on their life when compared with their secular component, then — and this is sort of obnoxious — why do we care whether they’re religious in that sense or not?
DR. DAVIE: I think there is a big difference between whether you work on a contracting-in or contracting-out model. You’re working on a contracting-in model. You sign up and it makes a difference. I think I’m implicitly working on a contracting-out model. In the European-inherited model, everybody was a member unless they said they were not. In the American model, you join. Now I see both patterns emerging. In fact, the joining pattern, I think, is becoming more and more significant in Europe. We’re losing the old model, but we haven’t lost it yet.
But I just want to return a minute to Adrian’s question about the elite. And related to it is a very important point, which is how the Enlightenment figures in all of this. Because in Europe, and particularly in its French versions, the Enlightenment is seen as a freedom from belief and this is what’s still playing in the French mind very clearly.
By the time the Enlightenment got to America, it had mutated into a freedom to believe, hence contracting in. You need to grasp that different configuration if you’re going to understand both models. Europe is a freedom-from-belief model and it’s the intellectuals who contract out and the masses that stay in. And in America it’s a freedom to believe: Everybody contracts in, including substantial numbers of intellectuals.
What I also think is happening — certainly in Europe and I think it’s also true in America — is that secular liberals cluster around the media and their voice is amplified. Whether the sound of the voice is representative of the size of the group is a question for empirical investigation. But I think the way in which you configure the Enlightenment is a very crucial thing in understanding the difference between Europe and America.
Do remember, in all sorts of ways, Europeans assume what Americans articulate. If you go to America as an academic, there is a welcome committee. You are taken here, you’re taken there, you’re given dinner parties, you’re given parties, you’re taken on excursions. It’s a wonderful experience. You are made so, so welcome.
The equivalent person comes to Europe and they say, “There’s your desk. We’re very pleased to see you. Now get on with it.” And that doesn’t mean to say you’re not welcome, but we don’t keep on saying so. It’s just a different way of behaving, and it figures in religion just like it does in everything else.
MS. RILEY: Americans think that religion is supposed to change their lives and be very involved in it, and Europeans assume it as part of their cultural baggage or not. Maybe you’d just elaborate a bit about this idea that Europeans’ churchgoing is not a deviation for them, because it upholds the values that they would like to be there, regardless of whether they go or not. And yet, in the argument and the rejection of the Christian roots in the European Constitution, we didn’t really see that upholding of those views or a desire to uphold those values. I wonder if you’d comment on that.
DR. DAVIE: I’d say two things about the European Constitution. Go back 10 years and I don’t think you would have anticipated the debate at all. I think the fact that it occurred was significant, even though eventually it was a fudge — the term they finally chose was “spiritual” rather than Christian.
And, of course, we have rejected the constitution altogether, or some of us have, so it has become a very confused debate. But the thing you need to hold onto is the fact that it occurred at all. It’s one way in which Europe is reconfiguring itself, which is still not at all clear, and there are different voices in Europe. Old Europe is playing one way, and the new post-communist countries are playing another way. I still don’t think it is quite clear how it’s going to work out in the future. If we get a chance to work it out at all.
Then of course the Turkish issue becomes very complex indeed. If we are rejecting Turkey because Turkey is an Islamic nation, what are we? The question is driven back to what is Europe? Crucially important issues are lying underneath this discussion.
To go back to your first question, evangelical Christians in Britain or Europe get terribly frustrated by this. They don’t like it at all. They want to be like America. That’s for sure.
MS. RILEY: I was fascinated by what you were saying about the cathedrals, and people going to them because of the great music and the great architecture and being able to sit there without participating if they didn’t want to. I’ve talked to Jews my age in America about this, and some of them are trying to recapture in their synagogue life what they had when they were younger, when they went with their families and before they started thinking about whether all this was true and exactly what they believed. They really enjoy the tunes and the prayers, and they enjoy being in that communal environment. But I can’t imagine that it’s a sustainable phenomenon. I have trouble imagining that their children are going to go participate in some kind of institutionalized religious practice for the same reason. There seems to be a great element of nostalgia there, and I wonder if the same is true among these cathedral goers, and if it is, whether you see it as a sustainable movement?
DR. DAVIE: Funnily enough, I don’t see it among cathedral goers. I see it rather in the average parish. You’ll still see it, for example, in a village church which is full at Christmas and that kind of thing. That is pure nostalgia, and I don’t think it is sustainable. When I was talking about the cathedral congregation, I’m more focused on a pattern of choice. People are definitely choosing this, and by choosing, sustaining it.
If they go to a cathedral service, people will experience both good liturgy and a good sermon. They will emerge instructed much more than they might in a smaller parish because the level of preaching is higher. Why do people do it? Why do people turn up for these services? They’re choosing to do it. I don’t think it is nostalgia. I think that something else is at stake, but I’m not absolutely clear what.
If you read the statistics of church life, cathedrals do well. It’s not huge and it’s not comparable to American numbers, but relatively speaking, they’re doing more than holding their own. In terms of tourist attractions, they’re one of the most popular attractions of all. There’s plenty for tourists to choose from in a European society, but the cathedrals draw huge numbers of visitors. There’s very interesting work to be done on that, and at the moment it’s a much understudied phenomenon.
DR. EDWARD J. LARSON, University of Georgia: I’m one of those tourists. I get to England at least once a year, and I always go to the local cathedral that has a boys’ choir, and I enjoy it. I find spirituality there. But is that any different from the rise in England of druidism now? I’m not trying to be baiting. There is a bigger interest in the traditional Celtic religions. Isn’t it just a general spirituality that everybody seeks, rather than a specific Christianity?
DR. DAVIE: Not in cathedrals. But as soon as you lose the knowledge level, the whole thing becomes much more amorphous because you’re not necessarily aware that you’re mixing or matching. Druidism, as such, hits the press in terms of Stonehenge and the solstice and that kind of thing — very small numbers. Celtic Christianity more broadly, which is different, is popular. And it is, of course, experiential.
Can I just make one correction? I hope you don’t not go if it’s a girls’ choir in the cathedral.
DR. LARSON: I rarely have that option.
DR. DAVIE: It’s becoming more and more common that the cathedrals have a girls’ choir as well as a boys’ choir, and there’s a heated debate about whether you really can hear the difference in the voices.
MARC GUNTHER, Fortune: What you’ve described in terms of vicarious religion sounds very familiar to me to something that anyone Jewish understands. The synagogues are flooded with people on the High Holidays who never show up any other time during the year. And my question is similar to the one Naomi asked: If that is religion, what impact does it have on peoples’ lives in any kind of day-to-day way? In other words, now that England is more secular, are people voting differently? Are they raising their children differently? Are their attitudes toward sexual preference different? Are they doing their jobs differently? What does a more secular society look like in respects outside of religion? Is there any content to the religion that you’ve described?
DR. DAVIE: Just on your first question, I didn’t think I’d find the word vicarious in an analysis of American religion, but Will Herbert uses it about Jews in America.
MR. CROMARTIE: You mean in his book, Protestant, Catholic, Jew?
DR. DAVIE: Yes, somebody found it for me and sent it to me. He used it in a slightly different sense because there’s no question of the state paying for religion, but there is the notion of a group doing religion on behalf of the wider community.
What does a more secular society look like? I’m going to answer that obliquely. The real difference between Europe and America is not so much in the existence of a state church, but in the existence of a state. Europe is different because the state does more. So the whole thing about welfare and state-based welfare is a different debate. It’s a common European assumption that the state should look after us. The state does this very imperfectly and is now struggling badly because the financial base of the welfare state is coming apart.
In terms of individual behavior, I would say nominal membership makes very little difference to behavior at all. But I would not draw from that conclusion that it’s meaningless. There you find the difference between Europe and America. I guess you’re familiar with Chris Smith’s work on adolescence? He says that mainstream adolescents have difficulty articulating their beliefs. I think we’re probably more like the mainstream. Does religion really make a difference to those children?
What I do think is significantly different is the presence of the evangelical constituency in America. Well, you tell me. Does it play out in culture? Does it play out in behavior? How does it play out? I can tell you that constituency doesn’t exist in Europe. But I don’t think Europe has an alternative secular ideology that motivates its behavior. The whole thing is just much more understated, and in Europe there are a lot of what Nancy Ammerman [of Boston University] calls “Golden Rule Christians,” [people who say that the most important aspect of being a Christian is caring for the needy.] I think Golden-Rule Christians exist in Europe. But in America they probably go to church, and in Europe they probably don’t.
MR. GUNTHER: I don’t know how long this situation that you describe has taken to evolve, but is it possible that these nominal or vicarious religious folks are living off the fumes or living off the legacy of their parents and grandparents, and they’re not going to leave enough legacy or fumes for their children and grandchildren to live on?
DR. DAVIE: I think that is one of the most crucial questions. And if that were the only factor, I would say this is a very serious situation for the churches in Europe. If you were a secular person in Europe, you would say this is a very good thing. But, it is not the only factor. Think of the other things that are happening. I didn’t think in my professional life I would see a debate about religion in the Constitution of the European Union. I didn’t think I would see the arrival of Islam in such numbers. I didn’t think I would see Afro-Caribbean Christians coming in to evangelize in Europe. I didn’t think I would see Ghanaians coming in to evangelize in the Netherlands. I didn’t think I would see religion as a major factor in international relations. So your question would be entirely pertinent, and my answer would be that there would not be much of a future if all other things were equal. But I have never lived at a time when I’m more convinced that they are not.
JOHN TIERNEY, The New York Times: Adrian’s analysis of this as a nationalized industry resonated with me. It sounded as if this is something that doesn’t do a very good job, but it makes it hard for upstarts to start the way they do in America, where you’ve got all these churches coming along. I wonder if one possible alternative is how much is environmentalism there becoming sort of a religion? You’ve got these new groups that are starting up, and you’ve got this devout belief in it there so that the Kyoto Treaty is now probably more believed in than the Nicene Creed.
DR. DAVIE: It’s not all that resonant. I think it’s possible to analyze environmentalism as if it were a religion. It comes in the category of secular religions. Nationalism can be analyzed as if it were a religion. So can feminism, so can a whole range of things, all these -isms. None of them address the existential question. When the chips are down, it’s not going to do what you need it to do. They can’t do a funeral for you. Well, you can have a “woodland” funeral, so in a way that’s not strictly true. But it doesn’t give you answers when you need them. It’s perfectly possible to see them as if they were a religion. All ideologies can be looked at in that way. But I simply don’t think that it works when the really big questions of life assert themselves. It’s clearly important for a considerable lobby, more important than it is in America, much more important. It’s a major player. But if you go back to the environmentalist groups that you can join — you can indeed join and pay with a credit card, but do you do anything?
DR. LEIGH ERIC SCHMIDT, Princeton University: But there are an awful lot of protests.
DR. DAVIE: Protests are one-off — they’re like pilgrimages.
DR. SCHMIDT: I think for a lot of people it’s a way of life for them, isn’t it? I’ve heard the comparison that environmentalism has succeeded Christianity and Marxism as the great new millennialist socialist movement. And they’re all going to prelapserian conditions, trying to restore this sacred age of the past before there was sin.
DR. DAVIE: It’s a minority issue. You could find it, but where is your evidence?
DR. SCHMIDT: Even in America where it’s not as intense as Europe, 90 percent of people call themselves environmentalists. This view of nature; it’s like Thoreau and transcendentalism again.
DR. DAVIE: Where I would see the connection is with the younger generation that I talked about earlier who are seeing a “God in me” and the notion of a soul and this kind of thing. In particular, in Scandinavia you’ll find a lot of people for whom nature is the important thing. They’d much rather be on a mountain or on a beach than in church.
DR. SCHMIDT: That’s a daily sacrament they perform I think.
DR. DAVIE: I don’t think we’re going to agree on that. I’d see it as a quasi or “as if” religion. I think we’ve had many quasi-religions over the years and this is the latest one.
JASON DePARLE, The New York Times: Is there any more to say about why religious conservatism hasn’t been a parallel force in British politics? Much of what you said addressed that indirectly, but can you talk about that more directly?
DR. DAVIE: To turn it round the other way: Why is there a new religious right in America and not in Europe? It’s a very difficult question to answer. It lies in the way American society is built, which is quite different from European society. European society is a much older and more homogeneous society, though it is changing now. America has been largely built in the last 200 years. European society is horizontally patterned. The class system is very important, and religion is very much linked to that. When people begin to reject political authority, they reject religious authority at the same time, whereas America is built in slices. Each group comes with its religion historically, and religion sinks vertically and very much deeper into American society. The black churches are a very obvious example of that. But simply look at Chicago or look at an American city and the churches and the communities they represent. You have a completely different pattern, a different embedding of the religion into society.
David Martin is the best exponent of that. Go back to his general theory of secularization. I think it’s the way religion is embedded into society and the potential access to politics, which is very different in different societies, and has produced different outcomes. We do have conservative politics, but they don’t look anything like your conservative politics. One branch of conservatism can be found among traditionalists. Historically, it’s the closest to the Anglican Church, though that relationship is collapsing. The other branch of conservatism is a free-market right.
One of the things that bewilders Europeans is the dominance of moral issues in your political debate. I’ll give you a very good example. When I visited the University of North Carolina, a student said to me, “How can Sweden be a more religious society in the way that you are implying if the standards of morality are this or that?” And she meant sexual behavior. To which I replied, if you lost your wallet in Sweden, you’d be more likely to get it back than almost anywhere else in the world, and I think that’s a moral issue. She was just constructing the debate in a different way.
DR. DAVIE: Obviously these things are relative. When I listened to the debate over Harriet Miers, for example, the moral issues were so strikingly central for a European listener. I just do not think that debate would have — well, of course it wouldn’t have happened because we don’t have a Supreme Court and we don’t have nominations and all the rest of it — but the debate itself was so strikingly different. In this respect, there is a very profound difference in the two societies. Adrian, do you think that?
MR. WOOLDRIDGE: The big reason is that the Supreme Court and the judicial branch in general have short-circuited a lot of debates that went on in Europe in the legislative branch or through referenda. They overreached in a sense and then created the religious right as a reaction against that. You wouldn’t have the debate about Roe v. Wade in this country if it had been decided through the legislative branch. It was because a lot of people felt disenfranchised by the process. It’s a power grab by the courts essentially, I think.
That’s what created a lot of the energy behind the religious right, so it’s a new development and a result of a certain overreach in the ‘60s. If it had gone down the democratic route, America would look a lot more like Europe does. These debates would have happened, they would have been played out and we would have a consensus in favor of abortion in this country, for example.
DR. DAVIE: One of the most obvious differences again is that Americans use their courts in a very different way from Europeans. Here the debate concerns what goes on through the court, whereas we tend to go to court when the debate has failed.
DR. LARSON: I’m a first generation Swedish-American. I go back all the time, and I’ve taught all over Europe. Your view of what’s happening with Christianity in Europe resonates with me; that is, this combination of charismatic revival in some evangelical churches, plus this cathedral Christianity. But you were going back and forth about whether these were fumes of the parents and grandparents and would it die out, and I don’t think either of those phenomena is.
From my experience, the parents and grandparents were secularized as well. These aren’t the fumes coming down; this is a genuine spiritual phenomenon that is not time-limited, in the sense that the charismatic and the evangelical have no roots. As for the cathedral element, it’s the architecture, the artwork and the literature of the West that resonates and leads people to go into the cathedrals, a native spirituality that is pulling people back. It’s a Christian framework, not because their parents or grandparents were Christian, but because there is this living existing architecture, this living existing heritage. And so I don’t see it as a time-limited phenomenon at all. I can see it continuing.
DR. DAVIE: I’m just wondering whether I’ve explained this badly or whether I’m not hearing you right. I started by explaining the vicarious model, which I think is gradually receding and shrinking. I still think it figures in a lot of issues, and I tried to give you examples of where it comes to the fore. Then, I moved from the notion of obligation, which was very dominant in the European past to this gradual shift into choosing and consumption. And the two choices were the evangelical church and the cathedral, and, of course, there are others. Now I don’t think they’re depending on the past and the old model, which is definitely shrinking.
Let me try another way. One of the very marked differences — in fact, it’s the crucial one between Europe and America — is that European religion was premised on territory. It was built on the parish system, which historically was civic as well as ecclesiastical, and they’re often coterminous. For centuries, that was the way European life was organized. For this reason religious life was profoundly dislocated by the Industrial Revolution because at that point large sections of the population moved to cities, which surrounded factories. So you get the growth of a Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Birmingham, and a move away from an Exeter, Gloucester or Worcester.
And it’s at that moment that European religion is shaken to its core. And that’s why Europeans think that modernization, urbanization and secularization all go together. Couple that with the notion of the Enlightenment that sees religion as freedom from belief not freedom to believe, and the spiral goes downward. And you could argue that it’s still going downward. But I am beginning to think that there is some movement in a different direction.
In America, there was nothing before the Industrial Revolution. Chicago was built on land, not on lots of little villages that were there before for several hundred years. Each group coming to Chicago brought its own religion, so you then have an Industrial Revolution, rapid urbanization, a sense of nation-building and religious vitality — supported by a version of the Enlightenment that says freedom to believe and the spiral goes up. And so you have two very different stories.
In the social scientific paradigm until recently, the European story was the dominant story, and the notion that modernization implied secularization was pervasive in social science. It still is, up to a point, but challenged by America, challenged even more by the developing world. And then someone like Peter Berger goes through 180 degrees in his thinking, realizing that modernity does not imply secularization. And you have two models of modernity – one European and one American. The notion that one body of thinking can be applied to both is where the thing goes badly wrong.
E.J. DIONNE, The Washington Post: By the way, I think Adrian is onto something on Roe v. Wade and why there is a Christian right. I think it combines with the peculiarities of Southern culture in the United States, and those two things explain a lot about the difference between us and Europe. Europe is just a big blue state, because if you look at the similarities between the Kerry states and European attitudes, they are actually not substantial. But that’s not what I want to talk about.
Two questions: The first is, I wonder sometimes when we have this discussion if our notion of the past is correct. And I wanted to ask you to look back further than the last 50 years. You have two points you made about what you see as new phenomena. Yet all across Europe for hundreds of years, popular religion was experiential. And church attendance and participation, I presume, was quite low at other points in European history. So I wonder if this whole discussion (and not your discussion, but the general discussion) is informed by a view of a religious Golden Age that never existed as we now remember it, or misremember it.
The second question is about one of the peculiar things about this notion that secular Europe is full of Christian Democratic parties. There is this very strong Christian Democratic tradition. France used to have one, and obviously in Germany and Italy it’s weaker than it used to be. Is that tradition simply vestigial? Does that have any connection with what’s going on now or is that just something that according to your theory would just die out?
DR. DAVIE: With regard to the first point when you were referring to Adrian’s comment, I don’t know which way we should put the question. Should we try to explain why there is a religious right in America or why there isn’t one in Europe?
The notion of the Golden Age is a crucial point in the secularization theory, and people have come to different conclusions. I would refer you to the sharp exchanges between Rodney Stark and Steve Bruce. Rodney Stark would say that there has always been the potential for a growth in religion. Europe really wasn’t that religious in the past, and if we stripped away all the props of the established church and all these people worked harder, then Europe, like America, would become more religiously active. Personally, I don’t think that would be the case — here I agree with Steve Bruce.
But where, of course, it has changed is in Latin America, where the market does seem to be opening up and where Pentecostalism has developed. There, I think, Rodney Stark may have a point — i.e. that something has to die before something else can grow. And when we all come back here in 50 years time or whatever, it will be very interesting to see who is right.
If I were to go back to my book on religion in Europe, the chapter that should be in there and is not is about political memory. I wish I had developed it more because Christian Democrat parties are clearly one carrier of Catholic identity. They are less important than they used to be. Indeed in some ways, you can say they’re Cold War parties, because they had to have an antithesis. And (certainly in Italy) the whole thing imploded after the collapse of communism.
MR. DIONNE: The whole idea.
DR. DAVIE: Yes, I mean the two things were leaning on each other, and when one fell, the other did too. When I read about current Italian politics, it’s extraordinary. But I’m not at all sure what’s going to come out of the present debate.
MR. DIONNE: There’s a great Christian Democratic poster in Italy that showed a hangman — he was red — and a priest in black. And the slogan was: Better the priest today than the hangman tomorrow. And it was an anti-Communist Christian Democratic poster.
MS. LITTLE: If Europe really isn’t all that secular, and I agree with you, why therefore do we see so many religious leaders, both Christian and non-Christian, donning their battle armor and going into battle together to defend religious values they see as being trampled on or ignored. I’m thinking Spain, church-state, major clash there, and the Church defending its historical influence. The Buttiglione case in the European Parliament — the Pope came out in support of Rocco Buttiglione, saw it clearly as an attack on religion, and Buttiglione incidentally goes on to try and found a religious right. [Buttiglione was forced to withdraw as a candidate for commissioner in the European Union after his remarks that homosexuality is a sin.]
DR. DAVIE: The Spanish case is difficult because it’s so colored by its history. The Catholic Church in Spain is still disentangling itself from the aftermath of the Civil War. In fact, it’s done surprisingly well in light of that history. But I think it’s going to be a little while before it can move on.
Buttiglione is a different matter. One of the things I like to think about is whether Buttiglione or the secular opposition represent the hard line, or, if you like to use the word, the fundamentalist position.
I’ve worked through this in some detail. Clearly the secular elite in Europe is disturbed by the re-emergence of religion, whether in its Christian, Catholic or Islamic forms. As a result, the secular elite is regrouping. Hence the question: Do you see Buttiglione as the conservative religious reaction, or do you see the secular opposition as the reactive force, having held the middle ground for so long and now fighting back? And I don’t think it’s clear which of those two is in the ascendant at the moment. I think it’s very confused.
The Buttiglione case is also interesting because nobody else was challenged on their religious belief. But I’m very two-faced on this, because I don’t think the acquis communautaire was very safe in Buttiglione’s hands, and I think he was being offered the wrong job. I do feel that he was discriminated against unfairly. So I didn’t think he ought to have the job, but I didn’t think he was fairly treated either.
LIBBY COPELAND, The Washington Post: We were talking about the lack of an equivalent of the religious right here — just to use the UK as an example — but you also spoke about the two models that are successful, the cathedral and the evangelical churches. But when I think of evangelical churches in the States, I frequently think of alliances with the religious right, and I wondered if in England that is the same or not?
DR. DAVIE: No. It’s absolutely different, and I’m glad you asked that because it needs to be clarified. For a start, there isn’t a religious right. It just is all different. Evangelical churches in Britain have a stronger social justice agenda than their American equivalents, as far as I know. You will find them being very active in social justice issues. So the whole mapping of religion and politics is completely different. There are connections between religion and politics; they’re just different from the American ones. And here I think is one of the places where the centrality of moral issues in American life makes religious constituencies relate differently to the political agenda.
MR. CROMARTIE: What is the effect of Christian immigration from countries such as Africa, where Christianity is growing rapidly, to the UK and Europe?
DR. DAVIE: I’m glad you’ve asked that as well. Of course, when European countries looked for cheap labor, they looked to their former colonies, with the exception of Germany, which looked to Turkey. That meant Britain looked in two directions — to the subcontinent bringing Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, and to the Caribbean. So half the British nonwhite population is Afro-Caribbean and Christian and more formed in its Christianity than the host community. This is a very interesting combination because these groups are both immigrants and in the dominant tradition.
It’s a strong indictment of British society and not a good chapter at all that the historic churches of Britain were distinctly unwelcoming to these communities, who reacted by setting up their own churches. So the Afro-Caribbean churches grew in some British cities — Birmingham and London, particularly — and turned into some of the most vibrant Christian communities in contemporary Britain. A very substantial proportion of London’s churchgoers are black. Some have moved into the mainstream. Bishop Sentamu, who is now Archbishop of York, is a very good example. He’s a Ugandan Christian. Most Afro-Caribbean Christians have, however, stayed in independent churches, which are role models, if you like, for the host society.
Much more recently, Ghanaians have arrived in the Netherlands. There are good studies of Ghanaians in Amsterdam. What would be interesting to know is whether, in the longer term, these are going to be black churches for black people around the edges of European society or whether they will infiltrate the mainstream. I have a Ph.D. student currently working on the concept of reverse mission. Do remember there are understandings of mission in other faiths that operate quite differently, but if you think in Christian terms, mission is often conceived as North to South, initially Europe to the developing world, and then America followed. Europeans are very good at taking answers to other people.
It is now a discredited discourse in many ways because it’s associated with colonialism and cultural imperialism and all the rest of it. What is interesting, of course, is that those who criticize Christianity don’t see that their imposition of secularism or secularization is doing the same thing. But it’s exactly the same phenomenon with a different content. Yet what we’re seeing now is not only mission from South to North, but mission from everywhere to everywhere else. The largest number of missionaries in the modern world come from South Korea.
Mission predates globalization and I cannot understand why people do not study mission as an absolutely central feature of it. It’s extraordinary. If you work with people in the mission field, their international connections are phenomenal. But now, of course, they are arriving in Europe, and Europeans take a somewhat negative view of this. They do not like people from the developing world telling them that they should be believers. We are not gracious receivers. That’s for sure.
MR. CROMARTIE: Well, on that note, you’ve been a wonderfully gracious speaker and we’re very grateful. Let’s thank Professor Davie.
Speakers at Pew Forum events are given an opportunity to review and approve their remarks. This transcript also has been edited for clarity, spelling and grammar.