How Europe could get religion again

Take a look at Polly Toynbee’s column in The Guardian (major British newpaper) last week. She has many interesting things to say about the official religiosity emanating from Britain lately.

It also gets me thinking about how irreversible European secularization really is. I’ve generally been impressed with the work of sociologists such as Steve Bruce, who argue that since the institutional structures that help reproduce organized religion in Europe have been severely disrupted, the population has been losing interest in religion and the decay of religion is now quite irreversible. But that still leaves open the possibility of revival if religious institutions manage to adapt to their new circumstances (something they seem to be doing better in the United States). If I can speculate (and what are blogs for, after all), I can see two (non-independent) mechanisms that may turn the tide of secularity in Europe:

  1. Top-down political efforts such as those of the Blair government: The political climate affects institutions. If the trends Toynbee denounces continues—more faith-based education, more government deference to religious communities, clergy being recognized as the moral experts in society—we may yet see the day when talk of Britain’s de-secularization is in the news.
  2. Reaction against Muslim immigrants: Muslims are not just directly bringing religion back to Europe with their overwhelming levels of belief, they could provoke a religiously-colored reaction among the native population. They could embrace their own ancestral varieties of religion as a means of cultural defense.

As I said, sheer speculation; I wouldn’t make any predictions. And living in a religion-mad country like the United States, I wish I had the problems secular Europeans face. Still, I have to wonder if European secularity will turn out, in the long run, to be a lull between episodes of religious fervor.