Religion in Europe after the “Secular” 1960s

AHA Session 142
Saturday, January 3, 2015: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
New York Ballroom West (Sheraton New York, Third Floor)
Philip G. Nord, Princeton University
Hugh McLeod, University of Birmingham

Session Abstract

The 1960s have come to be seen as a time of “religious crisis”, the final chapter in the story of secularization that led Time to pose the question, “Is God Dead?”  Numerous explanations have been offered for the apparent secularization of Europe: the rejection of religious definitions of sexual morality; the implausibility of supernatural belief in the face of scientific rationalism; the corrosive effects of materialism and globalization on established religious communities; and the internal modernization of religious institutions, most evident in the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.  But in spite of the dramatic decline in many indices of belief and practice, religion did not disappear in Europe.  This panel explores how religion underwent transformations that were unexpected by those who saw religious decline as inevitable.  The papers examine how religious activists, atheist intellectuals, and church leaders all grappled with the changing religious landscape to develop new ideas about the place of religion in a modern society.

Piotr H. Kosicki’s paper, “The Catholic 1968: Humanae Vitae and the Global Shift from East-West to North-South” explores the global reactions to the 1968 papal encyclical that definitively rejected the use of artificial contraception.  Divergent opinions from across the Iron Curtain and the Global South fractured Catholic political movements and led to a re-evaluation of what a transnational political Catholicism should look like.

In “From A Society Free of Religion to Freedom of Conscience: How Toleration Emerged From Within Totalitarianism”, Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock traces the emergence of religious toleration in the late Soviet period as a development that took place within the Communist party.  Atheist cadres reflected on the lived religion they encountered in their efforts to promote official atheism, and tried to make sense of what, if any, place religion was to have in a modern socialist society.  The paper examines why atheist cadres lost confidence in state-led secularization and how the atheist crisis produced new forms of religious toleration.

Daniel S. Loss’s “From ‘Christian nation’ to a multi-faith society: Reimagining religion in multicultural Britain” analyzes the impact of post-colonial immigration on England’s religious landscape and the mainstream churches’ role in securing the rights of new religious minorities.  The reconceptualization of England as a multi-faith country shored up the position of the Church of England as the state church, newly imagined as a defender of religious groups in a society increasingly seen as secular.

Spanning Europe from Great Britain to Russia and considering connections between Europe and the rest of the world, this panel incorporates comparative and transnational perspectives to develop new insights into the fate of religion in "secular" Europe.

See more of: AHA Sessions