Western countries are secular

Religion and modernity

Ariane Sadjed

To person

Dr. phil .; Research assistant in the Austrian Society for Political Education, Mayerhofgasse 6/3, 1040 Vienna / Austria. [email protected]

Are secular societies more modern and democratic than religious ones? Is there a predisposition for certain religions to be more or less violent? In the following I would like to show that the formulation of such questions is based on a rigid essentialization of the religious. Instead of understanding the religious in connection with other social factors such as politics and economics, a misleading dichotomy is often made between "Western" and "Islamic" societies. In contrast, the anthropologist Talal Asad advocated genesis and functional mechanisms instead of the popular concern with the religious of the secular to be put up for discussion. [1] He criticized the perception of the secular public as neutral Space per se: the articulation of the religious has become intolerable in public because this space is already occupied by the secular. According to this understanding, the secular is not the civilized form of the religious, but a set of mechanisms of order and regulation of societies that compete with religion.

According to Asad, this development can be traced back to the formation of the nation states in Europe and the associated state sovereignty at the beginning of the 20th century, by people who were not subject to any such state law as "inferior on a civilizational scale centered on the emerging political cultures of North-Western Europe "[2]. Asad localized transnational forms of community and social integration as well as the idea of ​​free consciousness in the religious traditions of the Middle Ages, which dissolved with the emergence of nation states or were incorporated into individual state legal codes. In this process of inscribing the secular in national and international law, the religious also became essential. This is based on the transformation of the religious from socially integrative functions and relative flexibility to a sphere that now had to position itself vis-à-vis the new institutions of the nation. The sociologist Armando Salvatore describes this process using the example of Andalusia in the 15th century, where Muslims and Jews faced an increasingly fanatic partnership between the Spanish crown and Catholicism. [3] The state-building, which the Spanish crown pushed forward with great zeal, was linked to religious uncompromisingness, and its goal, the homogenization of society, became a political imperative.

The splits and offshoots of the Protestant Reformation - both moderate and radical currents - as well as the subsequent religious wars in Europe up to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 served as a further basis for the centralization of power in order to make different religious convictions and religious activism controllable. This was accompanied by ideas of cultural and linguistic homogenization that became fundamental for the creation of the later nation-states. Homogeneity and secularity - as a new form of government - were the prerequisites for neutralizing religious currents.

According to Salvatore, the primary function of secularity for the modern European state is not to marginalize and privatize religion, but rather to enable the secular to shape religion in a certain way. The religious, redefined through its privatization, has become a place of control by the state, since the state domestication of religion has become a basis of national unity and thus a factor in the political transformation of Europe. In other words: secularization did not mean "liberation" from religion, but a new form of its regulation. An increasingly consistent and self-confident idea of ​​secularity became a core element of ideological homogeneity in Europe, which was redistributed on the basis of denominational affiliations. The secular manifested itself in concrete forms of governance and in the way in which religion was restricted to the private sphere. At the same time, the private became a sphere whose inviolability was considered to be protected by the state. This protection was based on the condition that in its complementary counterpart - the public sphere - loyalty to the state in the sense of national unity was preserved. In the middle of the 17th century, the course was set so that openly outwardly carried religiosity was only allowed if it was compatible with the political interests of the state, that is, did not "interfere" in political and public discourses.

The concepts of law and ethics, which were fixed inside and outside of the individual, shifted: the state took over the function of the "outside" by guaranteeing security and the observance of agreements; the internalization of the moral power of religion was meanwhile increasingly secured by modern methods of liberal government, which aimed to create (self-) responsible persons. [4] For the guarantee of the reformulated inner freedom Meanwhile more and more differentiated mechanisms became necessary on the part of the state. The religious neutrality of the state was based on a complex discursive and institutional machine that guaranteed and at the same time restricted religious freedom.

According to Salvatore, the separation between religion and politics in the course of the formation of modern, secular nation-states has not taken place linearly even in European history to the extent that the discourse of secularization claims. Rather, the relationship between religion and state in modern Europe represents a "field of permanent and shifting tensions more than into a stable configuration of institutional and constitutional separation". [5] The current vehemence with which the discussion about Islam in the European public is related to this fragility of the boundaries between public and private, religion and state in European states themselves.

What is now called the "social sphere" in Western societies, the secular area, which is conceptually differentiated from variables such as "religion", "state" and "national economy", did not exist before the 19th century. Yet it was precisely the emergence of society as an organizable secular space that enabled European states to regulate the incessant changes in the entire population regardless of their religious affiliations by redefining religion as a separate, individual matter from the state. This process also gave rise to the current perception, according to Asad, that religion becomes a source of disagreement when it comes to light.

From the representations, the historical development becomes clear, which in large parts of Europe has led to the state defining religion - either autonomously or in cooperation with religious institutions to which the state grants factual or legal privileges. The forms of regulation of modern societies that arose with the principle of "secularity" ultimately went hand in hand with an essentialization of the religious, that is, with an increasing isolation of this area from other social spheres. But theories that regard religiosity as an essentialist variable fail to capture the dynamic character and changeability that shape the religious in its interaction with other social factors. So religion usually remains a synonym for backwardness - which subsequently hardly allows any knowledge about the interaction in which it develops which social forces.

The anthropologist Robert Hefner describes how differently the influence of the religious can develop depending on the social context. [6] The fragmentation of religious authority takes place in the interplay with the pluralization of social forces and the associated democratization. He found that radical religious attitudes owing to radical developments or stressful situations prevail more easily in other areas of society: civil wars, economic crises, ethnic conflicts or violent attacks on the part of the state therefore favored the emergence of neo-fundamentalism, pluralism, women's rights and advocates is hostile to an Islamic civil society. All transnational religions face similar challenges here. As it turns out, the fate of modern religions is never determined by the religious alone, but by their respective contextual embedding. [7] This is important because the reverse is often drawn here: the state of failed states, unstable legal systems and human rights violations are associated with increased religiosity. [8] The religiosity of the people is an indicator of the intensity of conflict and destabilization.

This argument is not only misleading because it whitewashes the socio-economic imbalance between the so-called First and Third World with an alleged "civilization scale". [9] Alleged recipes and solutions are also available, which, however, raise new questions: separation of religion and state, suppression of the religious from the public. Because it does not take into account that these solutions arose from a specific cultural and social development (which on top of that were quite conflictual and contradictory) and that different societies here have completely different developments behind and ahead of them. For example, one cannot see that many social and emancipatory movements in countries of the "Third World" were founded on and supported by religious discourses, such as liberation theology in Latin America. Not infrequently they were the driving force against the colonial aspirations that most of these countries faced. In the 20th century, "Islam" also became an "indigenous" and later also a transnational position against Western claims to power, which is why the demands often heard from Western countries to suppress religion in public life are met with suspicion. promoting more democracy in this way does not immediately make sense for many on the ground in view of recent history, in which movements for national self-determination in Islamic countries were either directly suppressed by Western powers or with their help. [10]

The concatenation of religion and radicalism ultimately also lacks the differentiation between more personal and politicized Religion. It is not uncommon for protection and support to be sought in religion in an unstable life situation. The question that should be increasingly discussed here is whether conservative and authoritarian structures are not easier to maintain in countries where people are exposed to unstable life situations?

The sociologist Mansoor Moaddel illustrated this process outlined above using the example of the radicalization of Islamic movements. [11] In Iran, for example, the contemporary form of political Islam emerged as an opposition movement during the (strictly secular) Pahlavi monarchy, that is, in a climate of political oppression. Islamic activism grew from the 1950s onwards due to the monolithic cultural order that was imposed "from above" by a secular ideological state - and thereby contributed significantly to the politicization of religion. After the 1979 revolution, this paved the way for a modern constitution under the leadership of the Islamic regime: the Islamic revolution transformed the exclusion of the religious into integration - albeit under total control by the state. [12] In the 20th century, many states in the Middle East found themselves in a situation that was characterized by severe social fragmentation: in Algeria, an upwardly mobile intellectual class faced a traditional petty bourgeoisie that was threatened with decline and therefore angry. In Egypt there was tension between bourgeois intellectuals (including members of the Muslim Brotherhood), popular sheikhs and leaders of non-state mosques. The strictly secular state ideologies played a key role for many Islamic movements: in Egypt, Syria and Iran they offered a favorable context for a radicalization of political Islam. In Jordan, however, the overthrow of the monarchy or the establishment of an Islamic state was never called for. According to Moaddel, this is because Islamic reform actors were involved in the political process at an early stage. The democratization process initiated by King Hussein in 1989 promoted the moderation of the Islamic movement.

These cases can be interpreted as indications that radical currents developed depending on pluralism and the extent of their integration in society, and that the partial political integration of religious movements supported a pragmatic Islamism or fragmented ideologically radical movements. The question remains to what extent, instead of suppressing Islamic or religious movements in politics at any price, the focus should not be on working out those factors that have already proven themselves or could be conducive to the plurality and flexibility of the respective society.