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The Masks of the Political God by Luca Ozzano

European Culture Wars? A Theoretical Perspective on the Role of Religion in EU Abortion Politics

European Union
Émilie Mondo
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Émilie Mondo
Université Libre de Bruxelles

This paper suggests using the conceptual and theoretical contributions of the American literature on religion and politics in order to study the polarization sustained by EU morality politics. The growing politicization of values in the European Union sheds light on the increasing salience of morality issues at the EU level. Although member states remain sovereign to legislate on such topics, diverse social, religious, and political actors now consider the Union as another kind of venue to defend specific worldviews. Abortion, for example, is regularly debated through soft law instruments such as parliamentary resolutions on gender equality. The EU-level debates between the pro-choice and the pro-life illustrate how religion (re)gains power as a conflict-driving force within a secular environment. The interplay between religion and politics, values and conflict, has been widely investigated by the American religious restructuring theory. Popularized under the ‘culture wars’ label, it explains how ideological differences between conservatives and liberals crosscut denominational lines and create new religious alignments with political parties. This paper considers the possibility of transposing the American theory to the European Union; how and to what extent do the American culture wars provide a useful theoretical framework for studying EU abortion politics? Taking into account the institutional and cultural limits of such a transposition, I develop how to operationalize the study of European culture wars. For this purpose, the concept is given two different – not necessarily antagonistic, rather possibly complementary – meanings: 1/ a political style emphasizing group differences in order to substantiate policy positions and to attract public attention; 2/ a polarizing force creating new and sustainable cleavages between and within religious, social and political groups. This paper argues that EU abortion politics correspond more to a sensationalizing and absolutizing political style than to new ideological cleavages with lasting and structural effect.
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