Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the University of Groningen's online course, European Culture and Politics. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds Europe has long been considered a laboratory for new ideas and practises of citizenship. Mobility and the transgression of boundaries, free trade in the Schengen area as well as slogan unity in diversity. Europe may be set up of nation states, but the way these states cooperate and are interconnected in Europe does not fit to traditional ideas of national borders, identity, belonging, and participation. Methodological nationalism envisions a political entity that’s made up of people who share a common historical, political, and cultural background. If we look more closely at many states of Europe, this does not apply, if it ever has. In the political discourse, Germany, for example, was for a long time not considered to be a country of immigration.

Skip to 1 minute and 1 second The data census published in 2013, however, has shown that 16 million of those living in Germany have a so-called “migration background.” And half of them hold a German, and thus a European, passport. Germany has also the highest number of foreigners living in a country in Europe. What would make a citizen a citizen? Which characteristics, which qualifications does she or he need to possess? In order to answer these questions, philosopher Patricia Mindus suggested asking whether it is plausible or reasonable to demand an attribute x, in order to fulfil the function y, of citizenship.

Skip to 1 minute and 45 seconds With regard to political participation, she concludes, it would be difficult to substantiate why the right to vote in a political election is determined on the basis of one’s ancestry. The same holds for the question of religion. We have heard in the previous sessions in this week that the European constitution grants freedom of religion and belief, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We have also heard that Germany, our example here, cannot be understood as a state in which religion does not play a role but a state that allows for holding and learning about religion. Being of a certain faith or not, however, is irrelevant for holding or not holding a German passport.

Skip to 2 minutes and 33 seconds It is not irrelevant, however, for the negotiation of belonging and participation. The philosopher James Tully has said that we all have our own civic identity, and that is our idea of how we belong to a social and political group, and that we unfold this identity within this group. We do that in a constant, intersubjective negotiation process that aims at recognition. It is this recognition that is crucial. It is because given the many fluid identities unfolding in a society, it is clear that not all of them can be taken into account in the same way, as Tully continues. But each, he says, has to be equally recognised. Which kind of recognition can that be?

Skip to 3 minutes and 23 seconds Tully is convinced that citizens, those who govern a country, and theorists will never be able to agree on a catalogue of rights and duties that account for all. And thus, recognition cannot be claimed on that level but in a more fundamental way, by allowing for participation in the discussion and negotiation process, and thus by being able to contribute to a self-defined form of politics. To claim now that people of a certain religion do not fit to a given social or political entity, for example the state, goes against this model.

Skip to 4 minutes and 3 seconds What has to be negotiated then is, for example, what has been a topic for public debate as well as for courts, whether, for example, it is in line with a constitution to slaughter animals according to certain religious customs, to wear a headscarf as a school teacher, to place a Christian cross in the wards of public schools. Making these questions subject of political debate in court procedures means to recognise these claims, although they are not or granted to fit the constitution as the basis for social and political cooperation.

Religion and citizenship

In this video, Dr Lars Klein looks at the role of religion in contemporary discussions on citizenship.

Citizenship can be defined in two ways:

  1. narrowly, denoting formal membership of a community: this comes with certain rights (such as voting or visa-free travel with certain countries) and duties (such as paying taxes, or maybe military service);
  2. broadly, denoting belonging and informal membership of a community: this has to do more with feeling connected and accepted.

The phrase ‘I am a Finnish citizen’ would be characteristic of a more narrow conception of citizenship, while ‘I am a citizen of the world’ expresses the second sentiment.

Quite a number of European countries have citizenship tests, which measure if and to what extent (former) immigrants know their new country of residence. Dr Klein discusses whether or not religion can be one of the criteria of membership.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

European Culture and Politics

University of Groningen

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: