Western European Catholic Societies

Karel Dobbelaere

in The Oxford Handbook of Global Religions

Published in print October 2006 | ISBN: 9780195137989
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology

Western European Catholic Societies

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Western Europe has historically been considered the heart of Catholic Christianity. Yet it is fair to ask whether there are still Catholic countries in Europe. France, which was once called “the oldest daughter of the Church,” has become what might be described as a laicized republic with a Catholic culture. This suggests that, although laicized, its culture is still imbued with the Catholic meaning-system that is attested to by some of its symbols, mores, and folklore. In fact, only the Irish republic is not completely differentiated from Catholicism. In all other so-called Catholic countries—Austria, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Spain—there is a separation of church and state: they are politically secularized. The laicization of the state, which is an antagonistic form of secularization, characterizes the difference between France and the other European Catholic societies. For Catholics and Protestants alike, pillarization was a radical reaction to the process of functional differentiation that accelerated in the second half of the nineteenth century. Functional differentiation produced not only secularization but also the concomitant processes of functional rationalization and societalization.

Keywords: Western Europe; Christianity; France; secularization; pillarization; laicization; Catholic societies; functional differentiation; societalization

Article.  3978 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Interfaith Relations ; Christianity

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