Thursday, January 30, 2014

Secularization and cultural defence:
The case of Greece /

Εκκοσμίκευση και πολιτισμική άμυνα:
Η περίπτωση της Ελλάδας



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A variant of modernization theory, the classical secularization paradigm postulates that as a society modernises, it also becomes secularised. Secularization may be defined as: (a) the privatisation of religion in terms of the decline of its relevance in the public sphere, and (b) as the emancipation of the secular spheres from religious institutions (Casanova 2007: 101). Secularization tends to be associated with modernization because the latter entails certain processes including social differentiation and/ or the rationalisation of thought (Martin 1978; Norris and Inglehart 2004).

The key to understating secularization as a process of structural differentiation is specialisation. In modern industrial societies, specific tasks are carried out by specialists, thus entailing the disentanglement of the Church from previously held social functions and its marginalisation to the private sphere. Institutions become differentiated in accordance with their function. This specialisation entails that institutions are no longer dominated by the Church (Dobbelaere 1981) and that the modern bureaucratic state takes responsibility for the social provision of welfare. Health and education, on the other hand, are officially channelled through the state and are run by professionals. Welfare support for underprivileged sectors of society in the form of unemployment benefits, pensions and disability allowances becomes the formal responsibility of the state, rather than being a Church charity.

Secularization, conceived as part of the process of rationalisation, goes back to the ideas of the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment. The key factor here was the substitution of divine rule by democratic representation and accountability, and by the principles of pluralism and tolerance. The spread of enlightened, pluralist ideas challenged the cognitive monopoly of the Church, which held one single truth in society. The acceptance of the right to hold a plurality of beliefs within a given society entails the competition between different ideas and leads to the adoption of secular policies, which weaken the authority of institutions that lack democratic legitimacy. Similarly to modernization theory, the secularization paradigm emerged as a grand narrative attempting to explain the co-existence of modernity with the declining power of the Church. This theory was particularly prominent during the early and mid-20th century. However, certain developments, including the 1979 Iranian revolution and the rise of Evangelism and Islamic fundamentalism, have questioned the validity of this paradigm (Huntington 1997; Juergensmeyer 1993, 2000; Kepel 1994). These developments indicate that there is no necessary causal link between modernity and secularization. Although in some instances modernity may be associated with a decline of the social and religious relevance of religion (e.g. Western Europe), in others it is associated with either the maintenance or upsurge of its power (e.g. United States, Middle East and Latin America). Some European states that have not become secularised are particularly puzzling, especially since Europe is considered to be the paradigmatic example in the secularization literature.

Greece is a particularly interesting case, as the social and political power of the Greek Orthodox Church has been and remains very strong. In Greece there is no constitutional separation of Church and state. The Greek Orthodox Church became an autocephalous organisation when it was nationalised in 1833 following the establishment of the independent Greek state. It is effectively an institution of the state rather than a branch of an Ecumenical Church. It enjoys a privileged status secured by the Constitution, which includes legal prerogatives that do not apply to other religious groups. Greek clerics are paid as civil servants and are guaranteed a productivity bonus. The Church owns large amounts of land and property and enjoys preferential taxation. This has entailed both its constitutional accommodation to the Greek state and the reverse: a de facto disproportionate influence of the Church in political matters (Ramet 1988:13). This influence has been manifested on a number of occasions and Greece has often been the focus of criticism by human rights groups on the basis of discrimination and lack of religious freedom. In 2012 the US Department of State published an International Religious Freedom Report in which Greece appeared as a highly discriminatory and xenophobic society (US Department of State 2012).

Athens is the only European capital without a functioning mosque, leaving the thousands of Muslims who reside in the city without an official place of worship, praying instead in garages and warehouses that do not meet health and safety regulations. The initiative to build a mosque in Athens began as early as 1940. Part of the problem is that the construction in Greece of a place of worship that is not of the Orthodox Christian faith requires the approval of local Church authorities, who tend to be reluctant to grant this. Even though the law has been passed, the construction of the mosque has also faced problems of implementation. The final decision of location was a lengthy process. The final design for the mosque, whose construction is still pending at the time of writing this paper and is expected to commence in 2013, is that of a modern European building rather than a traditional Mosque with minarets. Some members of the Church continue to oppose the initiative; notably the Metropolitan of Piraeus, Serafeim, who has sought to halt the process arguing that the law is unconstitutional and ‘anti-Hellenic’ (Ta Nea). The basis for opposing the construction of the mosque in Athens is therefore ethnic and religious, since the Church’s justification is premised on the argument that such a development would undermine Greek national identity (Ta Nea 2013).

Muslims are not the only religious group who faces discrimination. Christian denominations, which are considered to be sects by the Orthodox Church, also lack constitutional privileges. For example, the canon law of the Catholic Church is not recognised, and other religious groups such as Jehovah’s witnesses and the Baha’i’s are not exempt from military service, as is the case of the clerics of other known religions. As a result, they have often been imprisoned for failing to enrol in the Greek army. The Muslim minority in Thrace is also discriminated against in terms of access to public sector employment (US Department of State 2012). Equally controversial has been the issue of the cremation of the dead. Following a long series of discussions, the law applying to non-Greek Orthodox religious groups, was only passed in 2006. Any Orthodox wishing to be cremated would have to waive the right to a Greek Orthodox religious funeral. Similar to the issue of the Mosque, the issue of cremation has also been facing problems of implementation. Despite the fact that the law was passed almost a decade ago, there is still no formal crematorium; instead, families of the deceased must take the remains of their relatives to countries such as Bulgaria, the United Kingdom or Germany to be cremated, which not only incurs high financial costs, but is also a highly emotive process (Kathimerini 2011).

The above instances not only indicate that religion remains politically relevant in a country that has been a member of the European Union for over 30 years, but also that this persistent politicization of religion to a large extent differentiates Greece from other Western European states where religion and politics are increasingly separate. To what extent should we have expected Greece to secularise like most of its European counterparts? Here, the identification of patterns may be particularly constructive since scholars have demonstrated that secularization is not a ‘one size fit all’ theory, but one that takes place differently, according to circumstances and domain-specific constraints (Martin 1978, 2005; Halikiopoulou 2011). The emergence of various patterns of secularization may be conditioned by factors such as the constitutional relationship between the Church and the state, the doctrinal stipulations of specific religions, political culture, the course of the process of modernization itself and the relationship between religion and national identity. This latter condition is of main interest for this paper as it serves as a valid explanation for why secularization has failed to take place in countries such as Greece, where religion and national identity are inextricably linked.

According to Martin’s (1978) ‘cultural defence’ paradigm, secularization is likely to be inhibited altogether in cases where the Church has served as carrier of national identity. Cultural defence cases, including those of the Republic of Ireland, Malta, Israel and Greece are characterised by the maintenance of the social and political relevance of religion. Whereas certain cultural defence cases have commenced a process of secularization, thus gradually diverting from the pattern, for example Ireland (Halikiopoulou 2011), Greece remains a paradigmatic case of secularization failure, largely due to the role of the Church as carrier of Greek national identity. The Church in Greece draws its power not only from its relationship with the state, but also and more importantly from its close relationship with national identity (Halikiopoulou 2011). National identity may be defined as
The maintenance and continuous reproduction of the pattern of values, symbols, memories, myths and traditions that compose the distinctive heritage of nations and the identification of individuals with that heritage and those values, symbols, memories, myths and traditions (Smith 2000: 796)
Scholars have distinguished between different variants of national identity. Starting with Meinecke’s Staatsnation and Kulturnation and Kohn’s differentiation between the civic and ethnic aspects of national identity, Smith has made a distinction between the territorial and organic variants. Essentially, the civic/territorial variant of national identity draws on voluntaristic characteristics such as citizenship, institutions and common boundaries. On the other hand, the ethnic/organic variant draws on ascriptive characteristics such as blood, race, creed and language. Religion is associated with the ethnic, ascriptive criteria of nationhood, since creed tends to be something one is born into.

In the case of Greece, there is an ethno-religious understanding of national belonging. The signifiers of national identity are simultaneously both religious and ethnic. What defines Greekness is Orthodoxy and the Greek language. The role of Orthodoxy as carrier of Greek national identity is historical and symbolic in character. Religion has served as a symbol against imperial rule by preserving the Greek language during the Ottoman years (Georgiadou 1995). Although the support of the independence movement is often contested in specialized literature, the fact that the lower clergy did support the revolution (Smith 1999) has further symbolic implications, mainly that many of the clerics who fought in the war are seen as national heroes and celebrated as such. The role of religion was consolidated during the period of nation building, particularly by the Greek mass education system, which portrayed the Church as the main force for the preservation of Hellenism during the ‘dark’ years of Ottoman rule.

Given the role of religion in the construction of Greek national identity and the extent to which Church discourse draws upon Greek nationalism, the ‘cultural defence’ paradigm may explain the Greek case and its resistance to secularization (Martin 1978; Halikiopoulou 2011). In other words, Greece remains a society where secularization has been inhibited due to the close bond between religion and national identity. As a result, the Church-state nexus remains intimately secured by the Greek Constitution. Structural differentiation is limited, as is exemplified in the merger of Church and state affairs in the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs. Clerical status remains particularly high, while anti-clericalism is low (see table 1). Although there is a debate on the relationship between Church and state, in practice the role of the clergy remains largely unchallenged.
* "Political Instability and the Persistence of Religion in Greece: The Policy Implications of the Cultural Defence Paradigm"
["Πολιτική Αστάθεια και Εμμονή της Θρησκείας στην Ελλάδα: Οι Επιπτώσεις της Πολιτικής τού Παραδείγματος της Πολιτιστικής Άμυνας"],
Daphne Halikiopoulou & Sofia Vasilopoulou,
Research Networking Programme or the European Science Foundation, Working Paper No. 18,
October/Οκτώβριος 2013.
[English/Αγγλικά, PDF]


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