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Peterhouse Theory Group’s series on The Idea of Europe

Ed Kessler spoke on The Changing Religious Landscape: Implications for European Foreign Affairs

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As part of the Peterhouse Theory Group’s series of talks on The Idea of Europe, Ed Kessler presented his paper The Changing Religious Landscape: Implications for European Foreign Affairs. The Theory Group is an interdisciplinary forum based at Cambridge’s oldest College, bringing together undergraduate students, graduates, and academics for stimulating debates on important contemporary questions.

Kessler outlined the growing importance of religious identities around the world, describing faith as a factor European diplomats had to consider in their attempts to understand different cultures and countries. He talked about the work in which he has been involved with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), briefing Britain’s diplomats about particular challenges resulting from the ubiquitous spread of religious identities.

Interestingly, Kessler highlighted that the European trajectory of modernity – which saw the decline of religious affiliation (or disenchantment, as Max Weber called it) – has been particular, rather than universal. Countries around the world have been modernising differently, retaining the importance of faith, rather than replacing it with scientific and detached rationality.

For Kessler, the centrality of faith-based social affiliations is connected with atomisation processes in the wake of globalisation, necessitating new ways of creating and maintaining meaningful identities. Thus, Kessler concluded, if Europeans seek to understand world affairs, they must pay attention to how religious beliefs continue to influence how people think about themselves, group belonging, and the production of meaningful lives.

The talk was followed by a lively Question and Answer session, and many members of the audience still stayed for a glass of wine or two, discussing the many implications of Kessler’s fascinating presentation.

This article was written by Dr Jan-Jonathan Bock, Junior Research Fellow at the Woolf Institute and Visiting Fellow at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge.

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