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The project

religiowest logoReligioWest is a research project that was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) between 2011 and 2015. Its aim was to study how courts, publics and states institutions in Europe and North America redefine their relationship to religions in the context of a vibrant manifestation of religious expressions in the public sphere. 

While it is often assumed that the growing presence of Muslims in Europe and the United States has been the main factor of conflict, ReligioWest postulates, instead, that the growing controversies around religions express a broader tension due to the success of an assertive form of secularisation that alienates religious communities of all faith. Believers and non-believers do not share the same values any more. There is no more grey zone between them. Contemporary secular values (on sexuality, marriage, gender, procreation) have ceased to be secularised religious norms. Until the 1960’s the definition of marriage, family and genders were in fact shared by secularists and religious people: abortion and homosexuality were criminalised in most of Western countries. The separation dates from the 1960’s: Paul VI’s encyclical letter, Humanae Vitae (1968), was the first acknowledgement of the divorce on values. But this split is not just about Catholicism. All religions witness a growing split between a hard core of believers and the secularised society. This is what we define as a process of ‘deculturation’of religion, which is at the core of the crisis about religion.

The project analyses how religions re-formats themselves, under pressure to adapt to secularism. They may try either to ’reconquer’ the lost space (lobbying parliaments to pass or cancel specific laws), or to translate their norms into socially acceptable values (’life’, ‘natural law’, ’ethics’), or to ask for ‘religious exemptions’, thus acknowledging their minority status. This ‘formatting’ pushes many religions to adopt a common discourse and a common model of religious institutionalisation (for instance, ‘Muslim chaplains’ in the army).

More specifically ReligioWest has elaborated perspectives for a new approach to religion based on the following four hypotheses: 

Religion is not just an opinion or identity

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, religion is always diluted and defined as an opinion or an identity among others (race, gender), while in fact religion is far more than that: it is a set of practices and non-negotiable norms that are shared within a faith-community instead. Freedom of religion is not just an individual right, but the recognition that there is a ‘religious sphere’.

Religion is not reducible to culture

A clear distinction should be made between culture and religion. Religious tensions are not a consequence of a clash of cultures, but precisely of a deculturation and globalisation of religions. The deculturation of religion is very often at the basis of what appears as purely religious violence (like global jihadism).

We should not approach religion through the lenses of multi-culturalism: cultural values and habits are transient and malleable, while religious dogmas are relatively stable. The contemporary phenomenon of massive individual conversions (to evangelical Protestantism or to Islamic salafism) shows how the fundamentalist versions of the different religions are able to bypass and ignore the cultural boundaries by offering a global, deculturated and normative form of religious life.

The call for top-down theological reformation is misplaced

We should drop the permanent advocacy made by secular states for religious reforms. Theology is more a tool box for argumentation, and not what makes people believers. A theological reformation might arise only from within a given religion through the evolution of the interaction between its members and the society. The state cannot ‘manage’ religion in a top-down approach. Moreover what motivated the believers is less theology than religiosity, that is the way they experience their emotional relationship to religion. 

To share a common society does not mean to share an identical set of values

We should distinguish rights that are universal (human rights) from values that can diverge or even conflict. Religious people who share conservative religious values (whatever their religion) are certainly requested as citizens to respect human rights; but they also have the right to defend and promote their own values. Secularism opens a space for debate and tolerance but should not appear as a new ideological set of norms.  

The project produced over 100 publications including books, books' sections, peer-reviewed publications, articles in academic journals, working papers, conference papers, and articles in the national and international press. About 30 events were organised, reaching an audience of academics, policy makers, journalists, clerics and diplomats. The findings of the research carried out during the project were well received and Professor Olivier Roy, as the principal investigator, got invited several times by religious institutions as well as governments to discuss the project’s outcomes. We also closely cooperated with other projects such as Religare and Politics of Religious Freedom

Although the funding is terminated, the project continues. It aims at analysing tensions between the religious and the secular, while proposing a new kind of dialogue between religions, and between faith communities and the secular society. How to ‘re-culturalise’ religion on one hand, and to make room on the other hand for collective forms of spirituality in an individualistic and secular society?

RELIGIOWEST was funded by the  European Research Council  under the European Union’s  7th Framework Contract Ideas

LOGO-ERC160    Logo RelW


  • Maria Birnbaum – EUI Research Assistant; Currently – Postdoctoral Fellow - Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo
  • Arolda Elbasani – EUI Jean Monnet Fellow
  • Elyamine Settoul – EUI Jean Monnet Fellow; Currently – Associate Researcher Institute for Strategic Studies IRSEM, Paris
  • Hamza Meddeb – EUI Jean Monnet Fellow; Currently – Visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations
  • Sophie Lemière – EUI Jean Monnet Fellow; Currently Postdoctoral Fellow at the Weatherhead Scholars Program, Harvard University
  • Stephanie Pouessel – EUI Jean Monnet Fellow
  • Ronan McCrea – EUI Jean Monnet Fellow; Currently – Senior Lecturer at University City London
  • Kritina Stoekl – EUI Visiting Fellow University of Vienna; Currently – Assistant professor and leader of the project Postsecular Conflicts'' at the Department of Sociology, University of Innsbruck
  • Jessica Northey – EUI Researcher; Currently – Associate Research at Centre of Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University
  • Michael Matlak – EUI Researcher

Researchers who joined the project in 2015:

  • Jenny Holmsen – EUI Researcher
  • Cynthia Salloum – EUI Research Associate Robert Schuman Centre; Lecturer at the Instituts d'études politiques, Sciences Po Paris

  • Olivier Roy – EUI Principal Investigator. Joint chair at the Robert Schuman Centre for Adavnced Studies and Social and Political Science Department, European University Instuitute
  • Pasquale Annicchino –  Visiting Research Fellow European University Institute e Associate Researcher Bruno Kessler Foundation
  • Nadia Marzouki – EUI Research Fellow; Currently Tenured research fellow at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris; and visiting fellow at Yale Law School, Kamel Center for Islamic Law and Civilization (2017-2018)



  • Final Religiowest Conference, EUI, 25-26 May 2015 
  • Strategies of Religious Warfare: Historical Reflections on Contemporary Religious Violence, 18 May 2015
  • International Politics, Diplomacy and Religion, EUI, 4-5 May 2015 
  • Conference on populism and religion, June 2013



  • K. Stoeckl & O. Roy (guest editors)  Special issue on Prison Chaplaincy. International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society Vol. 28, Issue 1, 2015
  • K. Stoeckl & O. Roy (guest editors): Muslim Soldiers, Muslim Chaplains. The accommodation of Islam in Western militaries, special issue, Religion, State and Society, Vol. 43, Issue 1, 2015 
  • Arolda Elbasani, Olivier Roy (ed): Managing Islam and Religious Pluralism, Governing Islam in Plural Societies, special issue of Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, Vol 19, 2017


Page last updated on 07 November 2017

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