Religious Freedom, National Identity and the Polish Catholic Church: Converging Visions of Nation and God
Religions, 10, 293, 2019
19 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2019
Date Written: April 1, 2019
In the most common representations of the Polish people, the Catholic Church is not simply considered as a part of the Polish nation; it is the Polish nation. This is reflected in the constitutional relationship of the Church and the State, in the form of a Concordat. Yet, despite a formally constitutionally warranted separation, the Church retains heavy weight in the legal and political debates to the point that currently, in time of resurgence of populism across the globe, a number of right-wing parties adopt positions based on those of the Church, establishing a dangerous nexus between religion and nationalism.
The aim of the present contribution is to map this unique process within Eastern Europe in order to show how, in the case of Poland, religious identity and the exercise of religious freedoms, despite its fragmented nature at the individual level of believers, has acquired the features of an autonomous field of intervention, with clear consequences on morality, the exercise of politics as well as religious rights and freedoms of citizens.
Using the example of religious education in public schools, the paper will demonstrate the complex paths of the process of secularization in the light of the historical dynamics of state, nation and Church in Poland. In fact, it will argue that we are gradually moving away form the triumph of secularism as a ‘teleological theory of religious development’ but firmly entering the perilous territory of religious belief as a ‘traditional carrier of national identity’.
Tasked with the mission by Pope John Paul II to ‘restore Europe for Christianity’, upon joining the EU in 2004 and based on the premise that ‘majorities have rights too’, this shift implies for Poland new forms of religious nationalism that significantly affect religious freedom by creating dichotomies between “Us” and “Others”. It also offers, similarly to other Eastern European countries, a nuanced interpretation of religious equality, that assumes the role of law as limited to protecting religions recognized by reference to established traditions, ignoring the realities of pluralized religious markets.
Keywords: religious freedom, Poland, Catholic Church, religious education, populism
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