Christianity, citizenship and identity
Identity and religion are controversial and contested themes in relation to an academic consideration of citizenship, but they are both unavoidable in any serious-minded account of the origins and operation of citizenship in the West. Indeed, religion and, in a certain sense of the term, identity can be interpreted as negative words in discussions of democratic citizenship as they are often associated in the media with intolerance, prejudice and even violence against those who are different. Identity is normally viewed as a set of behavioural or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognisable as a member of a group. Religion is a system of thoughts, feelings and actions that are shared by a group and provide the individual with a frame of reference for understanding the world and their place within it. Against this backdrop it is constitutionally acknowledged in most European states that legal citizenship is not dependent on adherence to any religious beliefs, and therefore religion is not, it would seem, a constitutive element of citizenship. A sense of identity can provide the very reasons for being citizens in a democracy, by linking us with others in such a way that life is given greater meaning and purpose. Moreover, identity can take the ‘us’ beyond ourselves by providing an individual with a life of commitment which helps fulfil the basic human need to become part of something greater than oneself. Those educationalists who are reluctant to entertain the idea of a single substantive identity, as opposed to only multiple identities, in discussions of citizenship often make the mistake of failing to acknowledge the power of religion in people’s lives. People develop a sense of commitment and way of life when they share a religious faith, and like identity, faith often manifests itself in strong links to others, links that have implications for the exercise of citizenship and education. Identity is something that encompasses the totality
of social experience and is not always easy to determine or define given all the differences in the way individuals are socialized during the course of their lives. It has been widely considered from a variety of perspectives in the social sciences and history, but these have been chiefly political and cultural perspectives (Checkel and Kazenst 2009). Christian religious identification has been largely neglected in the social science literature; though more recently it has begun to be recognized as an important dimension of culture and civil society (Casanova 2004).