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Beyond Constitutional Patriotism: Religions as a Cultural Source of European Identity

On 9 October 2023, another virtual workshop discussion took place as part of our interreligious program "Cohesion through Conflict". Christina Sawatzki, Director of Studies for Theology and Interreligious Dialogue at Evangelische Akademie zu Berlin, made introductory remarks on the topic "Cultural Identity of Europe? The question of religion as a culture-shaping force".

According to Sawatzki, neither the EU's single market nor the "cultureless culture" associated, for instance, with constitutional patriotism are sufficient for the formation of a substantial European identity. Religions could make a valuable contribution here. However, the fundamental treaties of the EU betray its difficulties in dealing with religions - a result of attempts to avoid religion as a source of conflict for the secular state and to guarantee openness for participation. But this blind spot means that the integrative potential of religions remains unused. In Europe in particular, religion is perceived more as a disruptive force than one of cohesion.

According to Sawatzki, it is also necessary to break up the monistic perception that equates religion and Christianity in Europe with the established institutionalized churches. For her, the prevalence of such "block thinking" is not only an obstacle to dialogue between different religions. Rather, the perception of inner-Christian difference and plurality could help to raise public awareness of present-day religious pluralism. In this context, participants also raised the difficult position of Islam in Europe. Here, Sawatzki emphasized the need to distinguish between religion and culture to prevent oversimplification and fundamentalist conflations. However, she questioned the possibility of a complete separation of religion and culture as well as that of politics and culture through concepts of constitutional patriotism.

In light of the resurfacing monolithic claim of the nation as a source of identity, the roughly 20 participants also grappled with the role of religion as a driver of productive disintegration. Diverse religious narratives could play into a discourse context about Europe as a historically, geographically, and politically open construct that offers not a firm identity but opportunities for identification. Sawatzki recommended a reasoned discussion of religions in the public sphere, pointing out the negative effects that could accompany the desocialization or privatization of religion, visible not least in the increasingly acute fundamentalist instrumentalization of a "virtual umma". In addition to religion as an historical inheritance and institutionalized organization, Sawatzki also stressed the importance of religiousness as a lived expression of faith. Ultimately, she argued, we should hone our capacity for religious dialogue to arrive at a deeper concept of European culture.

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