What is the significance of religion for shaping the social lives of European citizens? Public life is said to privatize, pluralize and commercialize. Europeans live in welfare states and the market increasingly addresses their needs and concerns. The contribution of religions to the basic concerns of social life – so influential in many countries over the past centuries - has often been overhauled by the institutional provisions and public insurances for our care and wellbeing. Is there any room left for the social tasks of religions and the churches? Or does religion grow into a marginalized phenomenon: more a private concern in family life than a public effort to realize societal concerns? There are both normative and descriptive sides to these questions. The normative side concerns the issue what religions’ contribution to modern societies should be. What are the moral concerns that motivate their contributions? The descriptive side assumes simultaneously a preceding and subsequent question: does religion in fact represent a social force and if so, to what objectives does it successfully contribute? Answers to these normative and descriptive questions do not necessarily match.
Some of the intricacies of this issue I hope to clarify in this lecture at the Netherlands Institute in Saint Petersburg. After sketching some religious differences among European countries and their church-state dependencies, I will clarify the notion of solidarity from the idea of social capital. In doing so I hope to discuss religions’ opportunities and inevitable limitations in morally engaging in social issues.
Prof. Dr J.B.A.M. (Hans) Schilderman (1959) is professor ‘Religion and Care’, and key domain chairholder in Empirical and Practical Religion at the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies at Radboud University in the Netherlands. His teaching interests and research expertise cover a variety of topics ranging from spiritual care, ritual and ethics to cross-national research on social and political issues in religion. He has been engaged in the NORFACE funded research program on religion and solidarity (EURESOURCE) and has been president of the International Society of Empirical Research in Theology (ISERT). As supervisor of the master 'spiritual care' he publishes on professionalization issues in spiritual care, and is currently studying the religious significance of quality of life in suffering.