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New Political Purposes behind the ‘Judeo-Christian’ Construction



Scholars of European populism (including Rogers Brubaker recently in Foreign Affairs) have identified the shift from nationalism to ‘civilizationism’ among European populist-nationalists. Rather than positioning themselves solely as defenders of their nation, like the far right of the past, today’s populist-nationalists brand themselves as defenders of a wider civilization, namely the “Judeo-Christian West”, against the supposed threat of “Islamization”. However, key features and implications of this development have gone unexplored. First, those European-Populist nationalists working to construct a taken-for-granted civilizational boundary between the Judeo-Christian West and the Islamic are not working alone, but rather as part of an unholy trans-national and even trans-civilizational alliance. Their open partners are US Conservatives and the Israeli right – each one promoting this identity divide for their own domestic political purposes – with growing channels of mutual political, institutional and even financial cooperation. But the silent partners and beneficiaries are the Islamists. The ‘Judeo-Christian civilizationists’ and the Islamists mutually reinforce one another’s political project to define the West and Islam as inherently incompatible mutually threatening, making a self-fulfilling prophecy of Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations thesis. Second, the very idea of a “Judeo-Christian” civilization or tradition (as opposed to Christian, or secular), that provides the consensus ground of Western values, is a dubious claim that has always been driven by political agendas. A historical analysis shows the extent to which the idea of a distinct “Judeo-Christian civilization” is contingent and constructed. The very notion of a shared Judaic and Christianic tradition would have shocked most Jews and Christians until quite recently. The European emancipation project to redefine Jews as a legitimate part of European society was a theological and political struggle, resisted by anti-Semites, for which the Holocaust was the symbol of catastrophic failure. It was in early and mid-twentieth century America that the notion of ‘Judeo-Christian civilization’ gained wide acceptance, serving a liberal political purpose of including Jews and Judaism within the boundaries of ‘Western civilization’, in opposition to anti-Semitic racism and “godless Communism”. In 1980s America it was harnessed for a new purpose, to lend legitimacy to socially conservative values in America’s culture wars. In post-Cold War Europe, the “Judeo-Christian” discourse, largely a US import, was utilised to push back against secularising and homogenising versions of modernity, as highlighted in debates about whether the phrase should be included in the preamble to the draft EU constitution. It is in the post 9/11 world that “Judeo-Christian” discourse was morphed to serve its latest political function. Now references to the “Judeo-Christian” are a rhetorical tool in the hands of populists, who wish to define themselves as the true defenders of European values against mainstream politicians whose fetish for multi-culturalism, they claim, is surrendering Europe to “Islamization”. Uncovering the entirely contingent and inessential nature of the Judeo-Christian construct clears the way for a clear sighted view of the alternatives. Four other version of civilizational identity are competing with the Judeo-Christian idea to shape the identities of Western societies: secular-universalist; neo-Marxist; white-Christian supremacist; and Abrahamic. The outcome of this struggle has profound implications for the relationship between Western societies with large Muslim minorities, for the future of European integration, for relations between the Western and Muslim majority countries, and for the international politics of the Middle East. The problem is, mainstream politicians in Europe seem barely to be aware this game is afoot, much less have a strategy to advance a version of Western identity that supports their liberal and inclusive values. For international relations theorists this essay will highlight new features of the evolving significance of civilizational identity politics in international affairs. For policy makers in western societies it will serve as wakeup call and orientation map to a struggle of great consequence, to define a social and cultural identity for Western (and Islamic) societies that promotes cooperation and not conflict.
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The past decade has seen renewed interest in the notions of “civilization” and “civilizations” in many parts of the social sciences. In particular, Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis (1993a) has attracted an enormous amount of attention, both for its simplicity in dividing the world into mutually exclusive communities characterized by deep-essential differences, and for its pessimistic conclusion that these differences are so fundamental as to make the communities in question more or less implacably opposed to one another. Both of these aspects of Huntington’s argument—essential differences, and implacable opposition—have been scrutinized and criticized on both empirical and theoretical grounds, as part of a scholarly effort to forge the concepts of “civilization” and “civilizations” into useable analytical tools.
This paper argues that the national populisms of Northern and Western Europe form a distinctive cluster within the wider north Atlantic and pan-European populist conjuncture. They are distinctive in construing the opposition between self and other not in narrowly national but in broader civilizational terms. This partial shift from nationalism to “civilizationism” has been driven by the notion of a civilizational threat from Islam. This has given rise to an identitarian “Christianism”, a secularist posture, a philosemitic stance, and an ostensibly liberal defence of gender equality, gay rights, and freedom of speech. The paper highlights the distinctiveness of this configuration by briefly comparing the national populisms of Northern and Western Europe to the Trump campaign and to the national populisms of East Central Europe. It concludes by specifying two ways in which the joining of identitarian Christianism with secularist and liberal rhetoric challenges prevailing understandings of European national populism.
Civilization is a notoriously complex term the meaning of which has evolved and shifted across time and context (Arnason, 2001; Braudel, 1995; Mazlish, 2001). It has stood for many different ideas across history (Salter, 2002). In order to understand this complex term we often draw upon associated concepts, locating civilization in particular geographies, linking them with particular forms of society, economy, or with collective ways of thought (Braudel, 1995: 9–23). The term civilization therefore is often associated with concepts such as society, progress, development, religion, culture, empire, and even humanity. These associations suggest that in some respects the concept of civilization is synonymous with community; with societal evolution; with particular ontologies or intersubjective frameworks; with systems of governance; with the heritage of humankind. Yet at the same time, civilization remains a distinctive concept, first, in the breadth of its associated meanings, and second, in the way the concept suggests a blend of material and ideational dimensions of human existence (Braudel, 1980). Robert Cox expresses this in his definitions of civilizations as the fit between material conditions of existence and the intersubjective meanings (Cox, 2002: 4). Mehdi Mozaffari similarly chooses to define civilizations as a specific world vision realized through a historical formation (2002: 26).
Recent efforts by the United States and its allies to promote democracy, security, and stability in the Middle East owe much to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) - also known as the Barcelona Process - an important region-building plan in the Mediterranean region since 1995. The Convergence of Civilizations represents the output of an innovative and much needed collaborative project focused on the EMP. Editors Emanuel Adler, Beverly Crawford, Federica Bicchi, and Rafaella A. Del Sarto have set out to show that regional security and stability may be achieved through a cultural approach based on the concept of regional identity construction, and aim to take stock of the EMP in relation to this goal. The contributors to this collection focus on the obstacles Mediterranean region construction faces due to post 9/11 regional and global events, the difficulties of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, tensions between the EU and the US over Iraq, and the expected consequences of EU enlargement. They also seek to bring the EMP and region-making practices to the attention of American scholars in order to promote a more fertile academic exchange. Ultimately, the contributors demonstrate that the EMP and related region-making practices, while failing so far to promote the development of a Mediterranean regional identity and to achieve regional stability, suggest nonetheless a viable model for regional partnership and cooperation, and thus, for preventing a 'clash of civilizations' in the long haul. The Convergence of Civilizations will be an important tool for meeting the current global challenges being faced by nation-states as well as those in the future.
Conflicts involving religion have returned to the forefront of international relations. And yet political scientists and policymakers have continued to assume that religion has long been privatized in the West. This secularist assumption ignores the contestation surrounding the category of the "secular" in international politics. The Politics of Secularism in International Relations shows why this thinking is flawed, and provides a powerful alternative. Elizabeth Shakman Hurd argues that secularist divisions between religion and politics are not fixed, as commonly assumed, but socially and historically constructed. Examining the philosophical and historical legacy of the secularist traditions that shape European and American approaches to global politics, she shows why this matters for contemporary international relations, and in particular for two critical relationships: the United States and Iran, and the European Union and Turkey. The Politics of Secularism in International Relations develops a new approach to religion and international relations that challenges realist, liberal, and constructivist assumptions that religion has been excluded from politics in the West. The first book to consider secularism as a form of political authority in its own right, it describes two forms of secularism and their far-reaching global consequences.
In recent years, Islamophobia has become a useful tool for right-wing parties to mobilize electors in many European nation-states. The general xenophobic campaigns of the 1980s have given way to Islamophobia as a specific expression of racism. It is not only the new incarnations of right-wing populist parties that are making use of Islamophobic populism, but also right-wing extremist parties, whose traditions hark back to fascist or Nazi parties. This development appears unsurprising, as Islamophobia has somehow become a kind of ‘accepted racism’, found not only on the margins of European societies but also at the centre. Another interesting concomitant shift is the attempt by such parties to gain wider acceptance in mainstream societies by distancing themselves from a former antisemitic profile. While the main focus on an exclusive identity politics in the frame of nation-states previously divided the far right and complicated transnational cooperation, a shared Islamophobia has the potential to be a common ground for strengthening the transnational links of right-wing parties. This shift from antisemitism to Islamophobia goes beyond European borders and enables Europe's far right to connect to Israeli parties and the far right in the United States. Hafez's article explores this thesis by analysing the European Alliance for Freedom, a pan-European alliance of far-right members of the European parliament that has brought various formerly antagonistic parties together through a common anti-Muslim programme, and is trying to become a formal European parliamentary fraction in the wake of its victory in the European elections in May 2014.
"The most honored discussion of American religion in mid-twentieth century times is Will Herberg's Protestant-Catholic-Jew. . . . [It] spoke precisely to the mid-century condition and speaks in still applicable ways to the American condition and, at its best, the human condition."—Martin E. Marty, from the Introduction "In Protestant-Catholic-Jew Will Herberg has written the most fascinating essay on the religious sociology of America that has appeared in decades. He has digested all the relevant historical, sociological and other analytical studies, but the product is no mere summary of previous findings. He has made these findings the basis of a new and creative approach to the American scene. It throws as much light on American society as a whole as it does on the peculiarly religious aspects of American life. Mr. Herberg. . . illumines many facets of the American reality, and each chapter presents surprising, and yet very compelling, theses about the religious life of this country. Of all these perhaps the most telling is his thesis that America is not so much a melting pot as three fairly separate melting pots."—Reinhold Niebuhr, New Yorks Times Book Review
A community of Europeans
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Risse, T. (2010). A community of Europeans. New York: Cornell University Press.
Address to the UN General Assembly at the United Nations Memorial Ceremony on International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust
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