Religioni di minoranza tra Europa e laicità locale [Minority religions between Europe and local secularism]

Alberta Giorgi (forthcoming 2018)

Milano: Mimesis

This book concerns the place of minority religions in Italy, against the scenario of the processes that characterize contemporary societies – secularization, laicization, Europeanization, immigration – and of the tensions that they trigger or bring to light. Does the process of secularization have the same effects for the different religious communities – their internal organization, their ways of understanding and expressing the faith and the religious, how they are dealt with in the public and the political spheres? What is the configuration of secularism, in the sense of separation between religious and political institutions, in the light of the transformations of the contemporary religious?

And what is the impact of the Europeanization process? In particular, how does the redistribution of competences to supra- and sub-national governments impacts on the geometries of secularism? Does Europeanization have a secularizing effect? How the ‘religious’ dimension of immigration is dealt with, from an intersectional point of view?

These are the questions that orient the volume. In particular, specific attention is given to the complex interweaving (local, national and international) of laws, norms, regulations and jurisprudence which constitute the normative scenario of minority religions in Italy.

Drawing mainly on data collected in the framework of the ERC project “Grassrootsmobilise Directions in Religious Pluralism in Europe – Examining Grassroots Mobilisations in the Shadow of European Court of Human Rights Religious Freedom Jurisprudence” the volume is structured in five chapters.

The first chapter deals with the definition of minority religions, reconstructing the complex entanglements with the topic of immigration and how and when minority religions became the ‘religions of the others’. In parallel, it analyses the process of ‘invisibilization’ of autochthonous minority religions, putting it in relation to the specific form assumed in Europe by the relationship between modernity and religion, read through the concepts of secularization and secularism. At the national level, the government of religion crystallized around a model of reciprocal autonomy between a supposedly homogeneous religious field and a political field embodied in the nation-state. By keeping the attention to Europe, the second part of the chapter analyzes the government and governance of religious diversity at the European level, considering two elements: first, the migratory processes make evident the non-homogeneity of the religious field; second, the long and complex process of European unification modifies the ‘political’, which is re-located and spreads – at the level of government, in supra- and sub-national authorities and, at the level of practices, in forms of regulation that involving the governed in the elaboration and implementation of policies. In this direction, the chapter explores the impact of Europeanization on the normative and practical dimension that involves religions, and highlights the importance of considering not only the national level, but also the European and local levels in analyzing the place (space, role) of religions, especially minority religions.

The second chapter explores in more detail the normative dimension that structures the opportunities for minority religions. The chapter deals primarily with the issue of the diffusion of: the ‘language of rights’, ‘the government through instruments’, and the forms of legal regulation, connected to the process of Europeanization. In particular, the chapter discusses the debate around the ‘judicialization’ of politics, expression indicating the increased relevance of the judicial arena in the traditionally political sphere of collective decisions. According to some, this importance results in a form of democratization of the political space, redistributing power and offering a voice opportunity to marginal – or marginalized – minorities who fail to access the traditional channels of political representation. In light of this hypothesis, the chapter continues by analyzing the case of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), whose characteristics make it a potentially favourable place to give voice to religious minorities. In this direction, first of all the chapter addresses the religious jurisprudence, highlighting its ambivalences and effects. Then it is discussed how and to what extent the “opportunity structure” theory can be applied to explore if and how the ECtHR can offer a space for voice. In this direction, the various strategies and options of legal mobilization are discussed, together with the interactions between different repertoires of actions, and the specific relationships between religious actors and the legal strategy.

The following chapters – 3, 4 and 5 – present the empirical analysis. The third chapter situates the topic of analysis within the Italian case. First of all, it gives an overview of the national state-religions regime, which configures different spaces for religions according to their legal status. In the absence of a framework law on the topic, this diversity of treatment leaves ample room for decision to local administrations. In this direction, the chapter continues by reconstructing the context of religious diversity in Italy, which presents different geographical profiles, and by shedding light of the crucial issues, in particular: the definition of religion, the admissibility of some religious practices, and the relationship between national legislation and local level. In this framework, the European level is a relevant point of reference – both in discursive terms, and in practical terms: despite the fact that there is no specific European policy for the religions, in fact, the whole formed by the European convention of human rights, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, rules, regulations and policies constitute a framework of attention and protection towards of religious diversity and in this sense it can be a useful resource for minorities in Italy. In the rest of the chapter, therefore, attention is paid to how Europe and the ECtHR are dealt with in the Italian mass media, and how minority religions consider Europe – a horizon of action, or a resource.

The fourth chapter focuses instead on the ECtHR and, more generally on the juridical and legal strategy. On the basis of the field work, the representations and difficulties that the actors express are reconstructed: the difficulties in accessing the judicial arena, the theme of the necessary resources (money, time, mediators), and the need to adopt a individualist vocabulary of rights to mobilize a legal strategy – a question not irrelevant to religious actors. The chapter then goes on focusing on the analysis of the perception of the effectiveness of legal action, and on the awareness of the successes and failures of the others: all relevant elements in explaining both the adoption of a legal mobilization and the reluctance to do so. The last part of the chapter focuses on the other strategies that religious minorities adopt (and recount to adopt) to improve their position: the legal process of recognition and, more generally, the attempt to sensitize the context towards a political and cultural recognition; lobbying actions that attempt to change the regulatory framework; and the practices of institutional mimicry – that is, the non-activation of a ‘religious’ identity (which sometimes results in a paradoxically more beneficial situation).

The fifth chapter focuses on the local dimension of minority religions’ practices: on the one hand, the local appears to be the privileged horizon of action; on the other hand, it is a relevant context of analysis, especially in the light of the social and political transformations described in first part of the volume. First of all, the text explores the representations that emerge from the words of the actors, and it offers some examples of local collaboration practices between the public administrations and the committees and forums that organize the different religions, analyzing in particular the (different) cases of Milan and Turin. Subsequently, in light of the redefinition of the competences of government among the different territorial levels, it pays attention to the tensions between the municipal, regional and national governments in the case of regional anti-mosque laws, in particular in the first exemplary case, involving Milan and Lombardy and the judicialization of the ‘places of worship’ issue. The chapter also analyses the trans-local effects and the effects this case had on the strategies of religious minorities.

Although the theme of places of worship is the one that most exemplifies the tensions that emerge between the different levels of government of religions, it is not the only one: in the chapter we highlight other problematic issues, which concern, for example, the appointment of ministers of worship or the localization other services (such as burial spaces). In the last part of the chapter we propose the analytical instrument of the ‘local secularism’, exemplified through the analysis of two regional contexts, which allows us to pay attention to sub-national differences in terms of governing religions and to contextualize the practices of action.

The conclusions come back to the general questions that drive the analysis and they outline the contributions that the empirical analysis brings to the different literatures mobilized, highlighting the open questions for future research, in particular in relation to the issues concerning secularization and secularism, the process of Europeanization and the legal-juridical opportunity structure.

Finally, some points of reflection are highlighted, in relation to the transformations of contemporary societies, in particular with respect to the theme of ‘truth’ and the relationship between consensus, conflict and human rights in the political sphere.