Integrating Poland Into Europe: Will it Lead to Polish Secularization or a Spiritual Revival in Europe?

José Casanova

The Polish Episcopate, nevertheless, has enthusiastically accepted the papal apostolic assignment and repeatedly stressed that one of its goals upon Poland’s rejoining Europe is “to restore Europe for Christianity.” While this may sound preposterous to Western European ears, such a message has found resonance in the tradition of Polish messianism. Barring a radical change in the European secular Zeitgeist, however, such an evangelistic effort has little chance of success. Given the loss of demand for religion in Western Europe, the supply of surplus Polish pastoral resources for a European-wide evangelizing effort is unlikely to prove effective. The at-best lukewarm, if not outright hostile, European response to John Paul’s II’s renewed calls for a European Christian revival point to the difficulties of the assignment.

Disproving the Secularization Thesis

A less ambitious, though no less arduous, apostolic assignment could perhaps have equally remarkable effects. Let Poland itself prove the secularization thesis wrong. Let it keep faith with its Catholic identity and tradition while succeeding in its integration into Europe, thus becoming a “normal” European country. Such an outcome, if feasible, could suggest that the decline of religion in Europe might not be a process necessarily linked with modernization, but rather a historical choice Europeans have made. A modern religious Poland could perhaps force secular Europeans to rethink their secularist assumptions and realize that it is not so much Poland that is out of sync with modern trends, but rather secular Europe that is out of sync with the rest of the world. Granted, such a provocative scenario is merely meant to break the spell secularism holds over the European mind and the social sciences. 

Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from José Casanova, “Religion, European Secular Identities and European Integration” in Religion in the New Europe, ed. by Krzysztof Michalski (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2006), 24-26.

José Casanova is professor of sociology at New School University, New York, New York. His work focuses on religion, democratization, and social change in Southern and Eastern Europe