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The Contested Polity: Europe's Constitutional Identity between Religious and Secular Values

38 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2009  

Daniel Augenstein

Tilburg University

Date Written: April 1, 2009


In the process of European constitutionalism, the European Union continues to struggle for a constitutional identity that can generate widespread support amongst its peoples. This problem has triggered two polarised visions of a 'Christian' versus a 'secular' Europe. While the former contends a renaissance of Christian values as embedded in Europe's national constitutional traditions, the latter stresses the value of secularism as providing an allegedly neutral ground for accommodating religious diversity. I shall argue that both accounts fail to provide an accurate description of the relationship between Christian and secular values in the European states, and to develop a convincing normative vision of a European constitutional identity. More precisely, proponents of an either Christian or secular European constitutional identity misperceive the way Christianity and secularism have mutually influenced each other in the process of nation-building; do not recognise that the European nation-states build on hybrid constitutional traditions that continue to endorse both Christian and secular values; are parasitic on a parochial view of national culture that fails to transcend the normative horizon of the nation-state towards a supra-national European perspective. Distinguishing between 'constitutional identity' and 'constitutional tradition' I submit that a European constitutional identity must define its own stance on the relationship between religious and secular values that is only collaterally connected to Europe's national constitutions: for the purpose of a European constitutional identity, national constitutional traditions cannot serve as justifications for curtailing religious claims for recognition in the European public sphere; at the same time, a European constitutional identity does not encroach on the epistemic core of national constitutional identities. This, finally, nurtures the hope that the European Union will one day live up to its self-perception of an open and pluralistic polity.

Keywords: Europe, European Union, constitutionalism, constitutional identity, constitutional tradition, supra-nationalism, human rights, values, religion, Christianity, secularism, headscarf, Locke

Suggested Citation

Augenstein, Daniel, The Contested Polity: Europe's Constitutional Identity between Religious and Secular Values (April 1, 2009). U. of Edinburgh School of Law Working Paper No. 2009/13. Available at SSRN: or

Daniel Augenstein (Contact Author)

Tilburg University ( email )

P.O. Box 90153
Tilburg, DC 5000 LE

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