How does religion shape Euroscepticism?

There are many historical, ideological, and institutional reasons to suspect that religious factors influence public attitudes towards integration.

(Nelsen et al. 2011: 2-3)

Despite being almost absent from studies of British Euroscepticism, the notion that religion might affect how European citizens feel about integration is not new. Since the early 2000s, interest in the relationship between them has grown, developed in seminal studies such as Nelsen et al. (2001), Nelsen and Guth (2003), Minkenberg (2009), Boomgaarden and Freire (2009) (see also de Vreese et al. 2009 for a discussion, and Nelsen and Guth 2015 for a more recent and detailed study). Some - such as Boomgaarden and Freire (2009) and Hobolt et al. (2011) - argue that religion does not affect Emoscepticism at all, and that the association between the two reflects confounding characteristics related to both (such as attitudes towards immigration) that scholars frequently do not account for in their analyses. Most research, however, argues that religious characteristics do affect attitudes towards European integration and that these relationships are more or less constant throughout EU Member States. The common positions of such research are:

  • • Catholics are the most supportive of European integration, and people living in traditionally Catholic and/or majority Catholic countries (such as France) are less likely to be Eurosceptic;
  • • Protestants are typically the most Eurosceptic, and people living in traditionally Protestant and/or majority Protestant countries (such as the UK) are more likely to be Eurosceptic;
  • • Orthodox Christians tend to sit between the two, but are closer to the Catholic pro-EU position;
  • • Religious behaviour and belief are almost universally associated with being less Emosceptic, regardless of the national context or one’s religious community.

While the characterisation of how religion affects Euroscepticism is fairly straight-forward, however, the theories describing the mechanisms through which this relationship is manifested - particularly the effect of religious belonging - are not. Here, we group the main theories accounting for the

Theorising religion and Euroscepticisni 21 effect of religious identity into three categories based on their focus: (1) the historic relationship between religious and political institutions; (2) the effect of religion on political ideology; and (3) the effect of religion on national identity. These are not contradictory accounts of why identification with particular Christian communities affects Euroscepticism; rather they are complementary and collectively account not only for why some religious conununities are more Eiuosceptic than others but also (as we argue in Chapter 6) why the voting behaviour of Britain’s Christian conununities has evolved over the past 40 years. After detailing the theories for how religious belonging affects Euroscepticism, we mm to religious behaviour and belief, which relate primarily to the influence of religious teachings and tenets, the cues from religious elites, and social capital.

Religious belonging and Euroscepticism: the history of political and religious institutions

Boomgaarden and Freire (2009) describe the EU as an institution with a distinctly ‘Catholic nature’. Not only does the principle of European integration -in which a supranational institution possesses authority that supersedes that of national governments in certain areas of political and social life - adhere to a political structure they have been a part of and supported for centuries in the Catholic Church, but also the notion that Catholics are a conununity that transcends national borders is central to their identity (Madeley 2007; Nelsen and Guth 2003,2015; Nelsen et al. 2011; Davie 2019; Guerra 2016). Moreover, the social and political values promoted by the EU are consistent with those central to Catholicism and frequently promoted by the Vatican, including charity, peace and social democratic conceptions of social justice (Coupland 2004; Madeley 2007). The history of European integr ation is the development of a political institution that fits closely with Catholic conceptions of their conununity and their preferences for international cooperation and supranational government. It is little wonder that many of the political parties that have most passionately advocated European integration have traditionally been related to Catholic values and communities, such as Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (Nelsen and Guth 2015).

Protestantism, on the other hand, is characterised by a break with the Catholic Church and/or a rejection of notions of transnational religious conununities and supranational authorities. Historically, many Protestant conununities have relied on strong national governments to protect them from the persecution and dominance of the Vatican and its allies (Nelsen and Guth 2015; Scherer 2020). They have an interest, therefore, in protecting the sovereignty of the nation-state and are unlikely to find the idea of pooled sovereignty and supranational institutional authority appealing.

Indeed, the Euroscepticisni of many Protestant communities originated in their view of European integration as a means of achieving Catholic dominance through a ‘pro-integrationist nexus of the Catholic hierarchy and Catholic politicians’ at the core of the European project (Philpott and Shah 2006: 63). hi addition, many Protestant denominations - such as the Church of England -have played and continue to play a key role in the shaping of national identities. European integration may be perceived as a threat to the clarity of such identities, not only because it weakens national borders and pools political power but also because of the stated objective of the EU to facilitate the growth of a European identity (McLeod 1999; Scherer 2020). Some such communities have even played a direct role in national government, policy-making, policy delivery and legislating, meaning that any loss or pooling of sovereignty at the European level poses an even more direct challenge to then social and political standing and influence (Smith and Woodhead 2018). The Church of England was key, for example, to delivering welfare and social policy in England and Wales for centuries, its senior bishops are still appointed by the Prime Minister, and both its budget and rules are subject to parliamentary oversight (McLean and Linsley 2004). For an institution so closely connected to English national identity and government, it is easy to see how Anglicans could perceive anything that weakens or challenges the English national identity and the British state to be a threat or challenge to their own church.

In short, it is easy to see how the history of Catholicism and Protestantism, and the way this was interwoven with the formation of modem Europe and countless European wars, would predispose certain religious communities towards a more or less supportive view of European integration. Anybody identifying with such communities, or raised in families identifying with such communities, would be exposed to lived experiences, beliefs and values that could shape how they view the effect of European integration on the identity, status and even security of their religious conununity. The result, numerous studies have argued, is a less Eurosceptic outlook among Catholics and a more Eurosceptic outlook among Protestants (Nelsen et al. 2001, 2011; Nelsen and Guth 2015; Scherer 2020; Guerra 2016; Smith and Woodhead 2018). That said, while history would lead us to expect Catholics to be more supportive of European integration, and Protestants to be more wary of it, we should not ignore the recent path of integration that has given many Christian leaders cause for concern (we return to this below).

While political history gives a good insight into how Catholicism and national church Protestantism might affect Euroscepticism, it is a less informative guide of how free church Protestants might view the process. The existing literature does not distinguish between Protestant conununities when studying religion and Euroscepticism; however, we argue that this is extremely problematic because not only do different Protestant conununities express differing support for European integration (Kolpinskaya and Fox 2019), but also their distinct history means they cannot be expected to view the process in the same way. Free church Protestants share the rejection of Catholic notions of transnational community and supranational-ism of national church Protestants, but they do not play the same role in the articulation of a national identity or national government, and they do not have the same relationship with the state that may predispose them to be wary of its power waning. Indeed, many free church Protestants were persecuted by the state for failing to recognise the authority of the national church; Methodists and Baptists in Britain, for example, were labelled ‘non-conformists’ and persecuted by the government and the Church of England. While such communities may have less reason than Catholics to welcome European integration, therefore, they also have less reason than national church Protestants to fear it. (Kolpinskaya and Fox 2019; see also Chapters 3 and 4).

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