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Religion and Secularism in the European Union

State of Affairs and Current Debates


Edited By Jan Nelis, Caroline Sägesser and Jean-Philippe Schreiber

The present volume monitors new developments concerning religious issues, faith-based organizations, State-Church relations and secularism in the EU, which especially during the past two decades have undergone profound changes, changes which continuously and increasingly alter mentalities and habits, whether belief-related or not. In this collective work, authors develop the major themes that are relevant to their country of expertise, while a final chapter is devoted to the role of the European Courts (ECHR and EU). The different chapters show that in recent years, religion, once thought to be of minor importance in a highly secular society, has made quite a vigorous political comeback. Thus Europe seems to have reached a crucial point in its history, a moment in which future tendencies in the field of religion and secularism are being defined, and negotiated. There is little doubt that the outcome of this process will influence the continent’s future outlook, as well as its role and relevance in an increasingly globalized world.

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Austria. The Pluri-Religious Challenge of a Secular State Ready to Integrate Religion into the Public Space (Richard Potz)


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The Pluri-Religious Challenge of a Secular State Ready to Integrate Religion into the Public Space

Richard POTZ

Vienna University

Austria has, on the one hand, a strong Catholic tradition and on the other hand, has had long experience in coping legally with religious pluralism, due to its geopolitical position in the center of Europe, which created a multi-confessional society in earlier times. Over the last decades this system has expanded, but has also been subject to multiple challenges from developments which are partly converging and partly conflicting: an on-going secularization, a steady increase in religious pluralisation mainly ensuing from a growing number of Muslim and Orthodox immigrants – as well as Catholics with a foreign cultural background –, new forms of spirituality and a growing public interest in religion.

Austria is a secular State. The Austrian Federal Constitution of 1920 contains no preamble due to its underlying positivistic concept. The first Article reads: “Austria is a democratic republic. Its law emanates from the people”. This formulation not only refers to the democratic and republican principle, it is also seen as a rejection of a transcendent legitimacy. Nevertheless, the system is characterized by a principal openness to religion – which is not banned from the public space and reduced to privacy and spiritual practice. Therefore, the legal order provides for legal recognition of Churches and religious societies as incorporated bodies with public-law status.

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