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Defining Religion: New patterns of political governance in Catalonia and Spain [1]

  • Maria M. Griera

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  • Maria M. Griera
    Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

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“In certain circumstances, definitions have a broadly political significance in relation to struggles for power. (…) definitions can have serious practical consequences: they can make a difference to people’s individual lives and to their collective interests.”

Beckford 1999: 23

1 Introduction

Historically, in Spain policies to govern religion have been undertaken and totally controlled by the central state. In addition, from the time of the democratic transition to the early nineties, state religious management was almost completely focused on shaping the relationship between the Catholic Church and political institutions. However, since the early nineties there have been significant changes in this area. In 1992 political agreements between the central state and the Jewish, Protestant, and Muslim communities were reached. These agreements ushered in a new legal and political context to deal with religious minority issues. Soon afterwards, in the late nineties, religious diversity issues began to gain a notable influence at low political levels (local and regional) while at the same time new actors (governmental and non-governmental) began to play an increasingly crucial role in the definition and implementation of public policies on religious issues.

There are three factors that may explain the context that gave rise to these new political ways of dealing with religion. First of all, the increase in immigration flows into Spain has accentuated and rapidly accelerated the process of religious diversification. Religious diversification has led to the emergence of new challenges related to the accommodation of ethnic and religious diversity in the country and has brought religious issues into the public sphere. Simultaneously, and linked to this process, new discourses that emphasize the crucial relevance of cultural and religious governance have spread. These new discourses go beyond the ancient dichotomy between the ideologies of clericalism and anticlericalism. They are supported by a wide variety of social actors, among whom it is important to highlight the increasing relevance of interfaith groups in bringing new issues into the public arena and in the promotion of new ways of framing the governance of religious diversity. Finally, what is happening in both the international and the European context also has consequences on the emergence of new ways of regulating religion. In this sense,

“both the increasing mobility of labour and the even more rapid exchange of information have profoundly altered the situation within which debates about religion take place. It is simply not possible for European societies and the Muslim communities within them to live in isolation from events that are taking place in other parts of the world.” (Davie 2005)

On the one hand, the controversies that have occurred in Europe relating to religious issues have had a broad impact on the media’s construction of religion as a public problem that needs to be tackled by political action. On the other hand, political conflicts such as the 9/11 bombings, the war in Iraq, and the Danish cartoon affair have altered the relationships between domestic actors and have facilitated that “secular elites” become aware of the relevance of religion in the present world. Incidentally, the attack in Madrid as by March 11, 2004 has obviously had great consequences on the public’s perception of Islam and has intensified the public agencies’ desire to control and regulate the Muslim presence.

To some extent due to the above mentioned factors, in recent years religion has become incorporated in the public sphere and a new model of accommodation of religious minorities has emerged in Spain. However, such an emerging model of accommodation cannot be characterized by a single, unified, and coherent political program. On the contrary, public policies on religious minorities in Spain are complex, contradictory [2] and have become a field of political and ideological struggles [3].

The role of religious minorities is politically defined and regulated at different governmental levels (central, regional and local). In addition, “state policies do not only regulate religion in the ‘religious field’ but also in many other fields (e.g. education, employment, enterprise, health)” (Bader 2003: p. 64, quoted by Maussen 2007: p. 5). Moreover the relative novelty of this field (religious diversity governance) accentuates even further the struggles and contradictions embedded in it. From a new-institutionalism point of view it could be said that there is not yet a clear and consensual “road map” among different public actors involved in it (Goldstein 1993).

This article seeks to examine the ways in which political agencies define and regulate the role of religious minorities. However, in order to show the complexities within the field I will not only analyse the policies of the central state on these issues but also regional and local policies on it. I will argue that, at present, we can mainly distinguish between two different patterns of governance of religious diversity in Spain. Each is characterized by a particular conception of what religion is, what its role in the wider society should be, and how public agencies should regulate it. The first of these patterns can be described as a top-down political program of government and the second one can be understood as a bottom-up policy process of governing religious diversity. The first is mainly based on the application of the “church-state” model to the regulation and control of religious minorities. The second is a new pattern which promotes a different way of dealing with religious minorities. This pattern is greatly influenced by the proposals of interfaith groups and multicultural theories and initially appeared in Catalonia. However both patterns are not completely independent, current developments in both are rather influenced by one another.

My argument is based on an analysis of governmental data (parliamentary debates, commission reports, etc.) and fieldwork carried out with policy-makers, religious minorities and interfaith groups. This fieldwork has been mostly carried out in Catalonia and therefore most of the examples will be related to the Catalan context.

2 Some theoretical concerns

The analysis of public policies on religious minorities is an emerging field of analysis within sociology and political science. In recent years there has been a relatively increasing amount of research aimed at dealing with these questions. The analysis has mainly been focused on the state-church relationship, on the governance of Islam on the European Societies and on the anti-cult public policies. Some of them have used the theoretical background provided by public policy analysis to frame this most recent area (Côté 2003, 2006; Mancilla 2006; Gurau 2006.).

In this paper I would like to apply some of the theoretical tools provided by public policy analysis in the examination of the Spanish scenario. I will mainly use Muller and Jobert’s theoretical proposals in order to analyse public policies on religious issues in Spain. Muller and Jobert’s approach allows us to analyse the struggles among different actors within the field as well as to show the relevance of definitions and interpretations of reality in the design of public policies. Specifically I will argue that an area of public policy on religious minorities has emerged in Spain (logics of sectorialization) [4], although there is no consensus on the construction of a common normative framework (référentiel) that would guide policies carried out in such a sector.

As Muller points out the departure point of a cognitive analysis of public policies is the ascertainment that public policies cannot be understood as a mechanism to solve problems (or not only) and that the relation between public policies and social problems is more complex than a one-way mechanical relationship between problems and public policies (Muller 2000: p. 194). According to Jobert,

« les variations de l’environnement ne deviennent des faits significatifs que dans la mesure où elles peuvent être nommées et interprétées. Toute action sociale implique donc une opération de définition sociale de la réalité, qui est à la fois constitutive de l’acteur social et prédétermine largement sa ligne de conduite ».

Jobert 1992: p. 220

That is to say, what is labelled as a « public problem » has been previously constructed by specific social actors as such a problem. In addition, this construction – definition and selection of an interpretation scheme – “dépend donc largement de la position des groupes sociaux dans la structure sociale » as well as « la constitution des acteurs sociaux dépend aussi de ces schémas d’interprétation » (Jobert 1992: p. 220). That is to say, the definition of religious minorities as a public problem that needs to be approached politically has emerged within a specific interpretation scheme and the derived political agenda is closely connected to the social actors’ position in the social structure. In our case-study I argue that there are two simultaneous interpretation schemes that lead to the settlement of two different “référentiels” and governmental agendas on these issues. Each of these is supported by different social actors which occupy different positions in the social structure.

The concept of the « référentiel » has a central position in Muller and Jobert’s approach. A « référentiel » is defined as an « ensemble des normes ou images de référence en fonction desquelles sont définis les critères d’intervention de l’État ainsi que les objectifs de la politique publique considérée » (Pollet 1995: p. 44, quoted by Mancilla 2006). In addition, following Jobert (1992), a référentiel is composed by three different dimensions which are the following ones: first of all, there is the « cognitive dimension » which offers a causal interpretation of what has been defined as a public problem. Secondly, “[t]his causal scheme always includes assumptions about the relations between the polity instruments and a highly simplified model of social reality” (Jobert 1989: p. 378). That is the instrumental dimension of the “référentiel” which could also be understood as a “set of recipes”. Finally, there is the normative dimension. This dimension defines the values that should be respected in the political actions. These values are linked to wider societal values or to political cultures among others.

Another central concept is that of mediation

“which explains how the system-of-reference emerges in practical terms. Mediators are fundamental actors who perceive or construct a problem (cognitive function), while delineating and proposing solutions (normative function). In general, they are individuals belonging to a small group of political or professional elites (or even experts) working in administrative agencies, interest groups and/or professional societies”.

Draelants and Maroy, 2007: p. 15

Consequently the role of the mediators is a key factor in understanding the emergence of a new pattern for dealing politically with religious minorities.

Finally, I will take into account what Muller and Jobert point out in relation to the change in public policies. Muller states that

“on considérera donc qu’il y aura changement de politique publique lorsque l’on pourra constater les trois changements suivants: un changement des objectives des politiques et, plus généralement, des cadres normatifs qui orientent l’action publique; un changement des instruments (…) et un changement des cadres institutionnels qui structurent l’action publique dans le domaine concerné ».

Muller 2005: pp. 156-157

I will now analyse the two different patterns of political governance of religious issues and the changes within these different dimensions. In the following sections I will describe each of these patters in more detail. As I mentioned in the introduction there are two patterns of governance of religious minorities in Spain. Each of these is characterized by a particular conception of what religion is, what its role in the wider society should be, and how public agencies should regulate it.

3 Religion as an “institutionalized and historically rooted organization”

The first pattern starts from a conception of religion as an institutionalized and historically rooted organization. This conception of religion is the result of a mixture of historical paths, actors’ interests and a reinterpretation of political legacies. To some extent, public policies undertaken under this conception of religion are the extension of the church-state model to a new context of religious diversification. In this sense, Soper and Fetzer (2007) argue that the public incorporation of Muslims in European countries can be interpreted in the light of the country-specific arrangements that have been worked out over the time between Church and the State.

In the following paragraphs I will outline how the “référentiel” that guides these public policies has been constructed and what its cognitive, normative and instrumental dimensions are. However, first, I will briefly examine the historical antecedents of the current “référentiel”.

Historical background

The Catholic Church has played a key role in the political and social history of Spain. However, the coexistence of the Church with its detractors was not easy and the struggles related to the definition of the Church’s role in the political system generated a great many disputes between confessionalists and secularists throughout the 19th and 20th century.

One of the most decisive moments in this confrontation came in the Second Republic (1931-36) when the secularist left-wing sectors came to power and decided to restructure the situation of the Catholic Church, taking drastic measures that were detrimental to the Church’s interests. Plans were made to prohibit the educational activity of religious congregations in Spain, to expel the Society of Jesus and to strictly control church activities, among other measures. In addition, the Second Republic awarded religious minorities new rights and stated that there was no official religion in Spain and declared freedom of religion [5]. The controversy that followed was intense. However, the change of political forces following the 1933 elections put an end to the governmental offensive against the Catholic Church. All the same, the conflicts between conservative sectors (with the Catholic Church at the head) and progressive sectors would reach their height with the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). The end of the War and the start of the Franco Dictatorship returned the Catholic Church to its preponderant role in society and abolished freedom of religion. Catholicism was declared the “religion of the state” and minority religions were obliged to survive clandestinely and their activities were banned.

The first recent attempt to protect the rights of religious minorities was undertaken at the end of the Dictatorship. It was at this time that the role of religious minorities in Spanish society began to change due to two simultaneous factors. First, the influence of Vatican II obliged Catholic institutions in Spain to rethink their situation and generated the need to adopt more conciliatory positions (Seglers 2004). Meanwhile, under the dictatorship, the requirement to be legitimate in the eyes of other western countries forced it to reconsider the legal status of religious minorities. Therefore, in 1967, the “Freedom of Religion Act” was passed. The Act declared Catholicism as the religion of the state but permitted public manifestations of minority religions.

Franco’s death in 1975 completely changed the scenario. However, the role of the Catholic Church in the new democratic regime was one of the most hotly discussed issues in the elaboration of the new constitution. In the end, the various different ideological sectors reached an agreement and decided to declare Spain to be a non-confessional state, rejecting the idea of a State religion but giving a “special status” to the Catholic Church. Article 16.3 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution goes on to say: “Public authorities will take into consideration the religious beliefs of Spanish society and will maintain consequent relations with the Catholic Church as well as the other faiths”. In this way, the role of the Catholic Church in Spanish society is specifically regulated by a bilateral agreement between the Vatican and Spain. This agreement (concordat), of international rank, was signed in 1979 and protects the special status of the Catholic Church by giving it numerous privileges. The agreement “guaranteed the legal status of the church, the right of parents to choose religious education for their children, the provision of chaplains in the armed forces (and in hospitals), and some degree of state financial support for the church in the short term” [6] (Anderson, 2003: p. 141) among other privileges. In addition, an Act on “Religious Freedom” was passed in 1980.

The “référentiel” that guided the state-church relationship in Spain was constructed using the following algorithms [7]: The Catholic Church has played an important role in Spanish society. Thus, as a part of our historical heritage it has the right to be treated as a special institution. However, bearing in mind that the former century was greatly marked by the confrontation between clericalist and anticlericalist movements, the State has to act as an arbitrator between such sectors and has to “control” the church and legally regulate its activities. These statements were the basis of the Catholic Church-State agreement reached in 1979.

The discussion of the state-church relationship almost completely focussed on the constitutional dimension of the role of religion in Spanish society. Issues concerning religious minorities were not crucial to the political agenda, nor was there any room for regional or local policies on religious issues. Nevertheless the existence of other religious organizations in the country challenged the model of religious regulation and put the right of other religious minorities to be also treated as special institutions on the table.

The adaptation of the Church-State model to a new scenario

The coming to power of a left-wing party in 1982 “accelerated the normalization of the relationship between the state and religious minorities” (Rozenberg 1996: p. 253). In 1992, a year before the “Dirección General de Asuntos Religiosos” had been created and ten years after the left-wing success, the first legal agreements between the state and Jewish, Muslim and Protestant communities were signed.

There were three contextual factors that had a great impact on promoting the inclusion of religious minority issues on the political agenda. First of all, as Rozenberg (1996) points out, the left-wing desire to laicize Spanish institutions and to seek a wider democratic consensus among social and public actors pushed for the recognition of religious plurality. Secondly, the rapid secularization of the population – which came about mainly during the eighties – (Pérez-Agote 2006) and the Catholic Church’s acceptance of its new situation along with the need for a dialogue with religious minorities facilitated the emergence of new ways to deal with religious minorities. Last but not least, the claims for recognition made by religious minorities gained new legitimacy in the light of the 1992 commemoration of the centenary of the Jews’ and Muslims’ expulsion from the country (Proeschel 2003; Rozenberg 1994).

These issues have resulted in what Jobert and Muller would call a “dissonance” between the sector “référentiel” and the global “référentiel” [8]. Thus, an adaptation of this “référentiel” has arisen in order to fit with the governance of religious minorities. The “référentiel” has not changed completely but rather the same “causal algorithms” are used to legitimize the inclusion of religious minorities in this public area. Hence the “référentiel” was reconstructed as follows: these religious minorities are also historically rooted and they have also played a relevant role in Spanish history. Therefore they also have the right to be treated as special institutions and to have some privileges (like the Catholic Church does). As in the church-State agreement, the central state will act as an arbitrator and will regulate which privileges can be offered and who can receive them. However, these minority religions are not as “institutionalized and historically rooted” as the Catholic Church, and so minority religions would not have the same rights as the Catholic Church.

The construction of such a cognitive framework for dealing with the governance of religious minorities has led to the construction of a specific set of recipes. In a way, the instruments [9] used to politically regulate the Catholic Church’s role in Spanish Society were adapted to be applied in public policies on religious minorities. In this sense the state-church agreement was taken as a “model” in the design of the specific instruments in this area of public policy. There are four points that are important to bear in mind in order to understand policy actions on religious minorities:

In the first place, the Spanish government has induced minority religious groups to be organized in a “catholic” model – that is to say, in a hierarchical model - in order to negotiate a political agreement. Many authors have argued that this imposition of building a “fictitious” hierarchical organization has created future problems related to the application of these agreements (Motilla 2003; Moreras 2002) [10].

In the second place, the agreement followed a top-down model like the Catholic Church one. That is to say, the “negotiators” of the agreements were the Spanish central state – through the “Dirección General de Asuntos Religiosos” which belongs to the Ministry of Justice - and the leaders of the three religious organisations (Muslims, Jews and Protestants). Neither regional religious leaders nor regional and local governments have intervened in the negotiations in spite of the fact that they would have to implement the agreements afterwards.

In the third place, the discussion between religious minorities and the Spanish government took the Catholic Church-State agreement as a point of reference. Therefore the discussion was about the rights that the Catholic Church has and the minority religious groups do not have. The line of reasoning was that if the Catholic Church has the right to teach confessional religion in school, minority religions should have the same right too; if the Catholic Church has tax exemptions, minority religions should also have this benefit, etc. Then similar sorts of solution-sets were implemented.

In the fourth place, the role of minority religions in Spain was mainly regulated by legal instruments. As I have said, a legal agreement was signed between the central state and religious minority organizations and changes in it were brought about through legislation. However, not only does the agreement not have a similar rank to those with the Catholic Church, but also the specific ways in which the agreements should be implemented have not been determined. That is to say, in spite of the fact that the “cooperation agreements” have been considered “more advanced than others” (Moreras 2002), not enough funding has been provided to implement them and there are no political measures to control and assure their development. Fifteen years after the signing of the agreement the main points have to a large extent not been applied (Motilla 2003; Jordan Villacampa 2004).

In the end, only Jews, Protestants and Muslims were chosen by the state as candidates to sign a “cooperation agreement”. The Freedom of Religion Act (7/1980) stated that religious communities can sign “cooperation agreements” with the government if they have been previously registered on the “Spanish Religious Register” and have obtained recognition as an “institutionalized and historically rooted religious organization” (notorio arraigo) from the “Advisory Commission on Religious Freedom” (see Contreras 1987). Thus only Jews, Protestants and Muslims were recognized by the “Advisory Commission on Religious Freedom” as an “institutionalized and historically rooted religious organization”. In order to be recognized in such a category religious communities need to fulfil the following criteria: to be historically rooted, to have centres distributed all over the country and to have a significant number of followers. However, as many authors have pointed out, the criteria are qualitative and therefore it is not easy to know how to measure them [11].

The normative dimensions of such a “référentiel” have been built appealing to the rights of religious minorities to be recognized and to Spain’s historical debts regarding these minorities. It is important to bear in mind that the key moment in the construction of such a “référentiel” took place in 1992 as has been mentioned. In this year, due to the commemoration of the fifth centenary of the expulsion of the Jews and Muslims, the historical offences to Muslims, Jews and, to a lesser degree, to Protestants were widely publicized. The signing of these agreements was publicly justified as an act of historical reconciliation between Spanish society and these religious groups.

However, the signing of the agreements cannot hide the fact that religious minorities have fewer rights and privileges than the Catholic Church [12]. In a way, the normative dimension has been constructed through the elaboration of a categorization of religious groups from the most to the less “institutionalized and historically rooted religious organization”. The Spanish government has legitimated politically unequal treatment of religions by pointing to the less historically rooted character of these religious minorities. To a certain degree it is this same definition of religious minorities as “institutionalized and historically rooted” religions which legitimatizes giving them fewer rights compared to those of the Catholics.

The Spanish State, through the “Advisory Commission on Religious Freedom”, has the right to decide who can be labelled as an “institutionalized and historically rooted religious organization”. New religious organizations have been incorporated into this category. For instance, the Jehovah Witnesses were recognized as an “institutionalized and historically rooted” religious organization last year. As a member of Spanish Advisory Commission on Religious Freedom told me, “they fit completely in the definition. They are in the country since one century ago. They have a hierarchical structure. They have a homogenous presence in the country. It was impossible, legally speaking, to forbid them the access to this category. However, the discussion took more than a year and the last decision was widely questioned by many actors”. [13] The Mormons (2004) have also been awarded recognition as a “rooted religious organization” by the central government, as have Buddhists (2007).

Before concluding this section, it is important to underline that this “référentiel”, regulating religions by virtue of a scheme of interpretation awarding religious rights according to the criterion of the religions’ being more or less institutionalized and historically rooted, is not static. There is a constant “reinterpretation” of what the definition of religion is, what their role in society is and what their rights should be. It is mainly because religious minorities do not docilely accept the state’s point of view in this matter [14]. On the one hand, religious minorities have sued the government several times in relation to the interpretation of the “Freedom of Religion Act” from 1980. For instance, the registration of the Unification Church, the Church of Scientology and the Unitarian Society were finally decided in the courts (Rodríguez Blanco 2003). In other words, Spanish government had not allowed these associations to register as “religious organizations” but a judicial ruling finally forced the government to register them. Each case has been slightly different but what was at stake was the question whether the government has the competence to define which organisations are religious and which are not. On the other hand, changes in the model of regulation have also been caused by the fact that religious minority organizations have repeatedly called for a more egalitarian system between religions and made public complaints about the need to properly apply the “cooperation agreements”. The inauguration of a Foundation called “Pluralismo y Convivencia “ (Pluralism and peaceful coexistence) by the Government has been recognized as an important step to reach a more egalitarian system. This foundation, which belongs to the Ministry of Justice and was created in 2004, provides public funding for the activities of religious minorities; it doesn’t fund confessional activities but rather activities related to the promotion of peaceful coexistence, charity, etc. It is this last change that brings the policies of the central state closer to regional and local public policies. To some extent, the inauguration of this foundation may mark a turning point in state public policies on religious minorities.

4 Religion as cultural wealth

In recent years a new pattern of governance of religious minorities has arisen in Spain. The responses of this pattern to what religion is, what its role in the wider society should be and how public agencies should regulate it are different to those offered by the first pattern. In addition, the institutional location of this more recent pattern belongs to the regional and local level rather than to the level of the central state. Moreover, the religious actors involved are regional and local leaders rather than being religious leaders from the hierarchical organizations.

This pattern takes a bottom up perspective in both senses. First it is a process that goes from lower levels of government to higher ones and at the same times it is a “process that goes from informal actors in civil society to public formal arenas” (Zincone / Caponio 2006). Due to the bottom-up characteristics of this pattern and in order to avoid inappropriate generalizations it is pertinent to analyse such a pattern in a specific territory. Hence, the analysis will focus on the case of Catalonia. However, it is not by chance that we take the Catalan case as an example. It is in Catalonia where this new pattern of governance has arisen and there are some historical and social factors that make the Catalan case exceptional in the Spanish context. Although I will not go into detail I would like to mention two things. On the one hand, surveys highlight that Catalonia is much more secular than the Spanish average. For instance, data related to Church identification shows that there is a 20-point difference between the Spanish average and the Catalan one [15]. On the other hand, Catalonia is the only “Autonomous Community” which has its own governmental office on religious issues (Direcció General d’Assumptes Religiosos) and is the only “Autonomous Community” that has explicitly claimed to have full political competencies in this issue.

This new pattern of governance starts from a conception of religion as “cultural wealth”. It links this definition of religion with cultural diversity, social cohesion or promotion of peace and democratic values. The cognitive framework of the public policies carried out under this conception of religion is based on the following algorithms. Religion, rather than being a threat to democratic societies or something that has to be “controlled”, can become a useful tool for the building of an environment of mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence. There are some people who use religion for some “obscure purposes” and the best way to stop them is to bring together different religious groups working towards and promoting an environment of respect and dialogue between different religions as well as between religious people and the wider society.

The spread of such a discourse was initially promoted by interfaith groups. Since 9/11, 2001 interfaith groups have been increasing rapidly in Catalonia. They initially appeared as a place of dialogue between faiths, but they have quickly become a platform for claiming minority religions rights as well as a new way to deal with religious issues in the country. From their point of view, trying to have a public voice on this issue is a kind of social duty. In their own words “we can’t allow the diffusion of a clash of civilizations theory. We have to do something against it. We want to show that religions can promote peace” [16].

The position of interfaith groups was initially weak. Apparently they did not have enough capital to impose their point of view. They were actors from civil society, the Catholic hierarchies were not engaged and their proposals neither fitted the conception of religion as an institutionalized and historically rooted religious organization nor the conception of religion as a security threat. However, surprisingly, they have gained much recognition in only a few years as well as achieved the setting up of a new agenda on religious issues by converting their “alternative” discourse into an “official” one.

The public policies that I would include here deal with religious questions by putting an emphasis on the capacity of religions to be agents for the building of peaceful coexistence. Some examples: the creation of “interreligious assemblies” in the local councils, the stimulation of interfaith groups by the government, the promotion of religious subjects in school in a lay manner and including all religions, the funding of projects for religious organizations based on the promotion of what has been called “positive laicité”, the development of “good practice” guides in relation to the respect for religious diversity for hospitals, the police, and prisons, the inclusion of religious minority leaders in a country’s symbolic celebrations and so on. The list of practices and policies is too long to be explained in depth; however, what all these public actions have in common is their definition of religion as cultural wealth.

Explaining success: why has a new pattern of political governance on religious issues emerged?

In a certain way, Weber’s concept of elective affinity helps us to explain their success. An elective affinity has been produced by the interrelation of the following three factors:

The first factor is the ability of interfaith groups to use their symbolic capital. They have done so by using different strategies. On the one hand, interfaith groups have linked their discourse to other more recognized discourses such as multiculturalism or human rights [17]. In the words of social movement theory, they have engaged in “frame-bridging” (Snow and Benford 1988). In this way their discourse has been amplified and legitimated by the connexion with other discourses. On the other hand, interfaith groups have used the “frame-extension” strategy in order to attract well-known people and legitimate organizations to their cause. Thus they have improved their access to the sphere of politics and the media. Then they have organized large popular events that have been widely covered by the media [18]. Finally they have managed to bring together religious minority groups and unified the main demands in one voice. It is worth noting that many Catholics are also involved in interfaith groups, in spite of the fact that many of their proposals call into question the role of the Catholic Church in the Spanish legal system. To some extent interfaith actors have acted as “mediators” in the establishment of a new “référentiel” for public policies on religious minorities.

The second factor is interfaith groups’ promotion of a “solutions-set” for local and regional governments to deal with religious problems. The diversification of the Spanish religious field is a recent phenomenon and there is no consolidated background experience on dealing with religious questions. In a certain way the increase of religious problems has been an unexpected phenomenon and political agencies do not know how to deal with it. In many cases the disorientation of policy-makers has been solved by proposals put forward by interfaith groups. Thus, especially in Catalonia, interfaith groups have provided political agencies with some tools to deal with religious questions. In some cases local religious policies have been totally externalised to the Catalan UNESCO Association of Interreligious Dialogue (AUDI) as is the case of Barcelona’s city council. In other cases the role of interfaith groups has been only punctual and in others policy-makers have applied “interfaith proposals” without the help of interfaith groups [19]. Their success in mediating in some key religious issues (especially related with the Muslim population) has given them more legitimacy. For example, they managed to call off a demonstration programmed by Muslim groups in Barcelona related to the Danish cartoon affair and to substitute it by an interfaith prayer. Similarly they have mediated in many cases of neighbourhood complaints against the location of Muslims places of prayer. Thus interfaith groups have become key actors in the definition and implementation of local and regional policies in faith issues [20].

The third factor is related to multilevel governance tensions. The fact that the federal agenda is almost totally monopolized by the Spanish government has created the need to seek another way of dealing with religious questions on the part of regional and local governments. The Catalan government created a political department for religious questions in 1999. However, political competencies in this issue have not been formally attributed to the Catalan Government. So the only way in which the Catalan government can take part in the shaping of religious regulation is by non-legislative polices on religious issues. The Catalan Government needs to acquire legitimacy in order to be perceived by religious minorities as a politically legitimate actor. It has used mainly three strategies to acquire this legitimacy. First, the political mechanisms that the Catalan government has developed to deal with religious questions have been meaning-framed by what they call “positive laicité” – which is a sort of mix between interfaith narrative and a respect for the principles of laicité and to some extent corresponds to what I have called “religion as cultural wealth”. Thus their meaning-frame is close to interfaith platforms and the discourse of minority religions. Second, Catalan Government has undertaken a policy of proximity politics with religious minorities [21] and has helped them to solve everyday problems related with hospitals, schools, legal situation [22], etc. Third, Catalan government has undertaken a wide policy of recognition of religious minorities. For instance, it has invited religious leaders to every public celebration, has promoted their inclusion in the Catalan media, has signed public agreements between almost all their Catalan counterparts, etc. In addition, it has signed agreements with religious groups that are not recognized as “historically rooted religious organizations” such as the Bahá’í Community, Orthodox Churches or even with the “Lliga per la Laicitat” (Network for laicity). These agreements are not legally binding; in some cases there is a funding provision for the minority groups but in most cases not. They are “goodwill agreements”. As a result Catalan government has to some extent been recognized as a “legitimate” political actor by religious minorities and other social actors in spite of its lack of “real power” to change the “institutional and political constraints” set by the central state.

Furthermore it is important to underline that one of the main problems of the sub-federal governments is their inability to implement the agreements reached between the state and the Jewish, Muslim and Protestant communities at regional and local levels – above all due to a lack of financial resources and to the lack of a clear definition of how the implementation procedures should look like. As I said, currently most of the legally agreed “privileges” have still not been awarded to religious minorities. Some of these issues are still pending as for example the competencies belonging to local and regional councils, such as burial issues, the health sector, education, etc. However, the central state has neither provided funds for the implementation of such public policies nor informed or promoted the inclusion of these issues on governmental and local agendas. For instance, as Moreras (2002) points out, there are many local governments that have no idea what these agreements entail. Thus regional and local governments have dealt with these issues in their own way.

The definition of religion as cultural wealth helps to explain the interaction of different actors (religious and political) who felt excluded from the political agenda. Their convergence explains the success of this pattern of political governance of religious diversity. The initial success of this agenda was localized in Catalonia. However, currently a process of policy-learning has begun between Catalan local and regional governments and other Spanish local and regional public agencies. Indeed, the Spanish central government has begun to implement just such an agenda through the creation of the “Pluralismo y convivencia” foundation. The following table summarizes the main issues of both patterns described above in the article.

-> See the list of tables

5 Final notes

This paper has aimed at showing the need to analyse public policies on religious minorities from a broad perspective. If we only look at the “church-state model” we will only see one side of the bigger picture. The day to day life of religious minorities is not only conditioned by state policies but also by regional and local policies. In addition it is important to bear in mind that this is a relatively new area of public policy in Spain, the challenges of religious diversity are becoming stronger and more unpredictable from day to day and there is no clearly established “road map” or common vision about the best way to deal with these issues. In a situation characterized by uncertainty public actors become more permeable to ideas coming from civil society actors and policy-makers are more receptive to new proposals. Furthermore, due to their lesser dependence on certain historical paths, regional and local actors are more able to quickly adapt their governmental agendas to the changes in the religious diversity scenario than the central government is.

However, both patterns of political governance of religious diversity are not completely contradictory. First of all these policies can be complementary in some issues. For instance, the Catalan Government has approved an act on “prayer buildings” (2007) that will help to implement what the “cooperation agreements” established. The Catalan Government however goes further than what has been explicitly defined in the “cooperation agreement” by including minority religions as well as the Catholic Church. Secondly, a policy learning process is running from the central government to regional and local ones. As I mentioned, the policy actions promoted by the Foundation “Pluralismo y Convivencia” (which belongs to the central state) are quite similar to those implemented by the Catalan Government years before [23]. Thirdly, regional and local governments are supposed to respect the constraints imposed by the policy of the central state. In a way the public policies of regional and local governments are limited by the legal framework set by the Spanish central state. This is why the Catalan Government had to halt some public policy proposals due to limits imposed by the state. For instance, the Catalan Government tried to reach an agreement on religious education in school. Following a proposal made by the Catalan Unesco Interfaith Network the Catalan Government tried to reach an agreement with religious and educational actors in order to substitute the current school subject of confessional religion by a subject on “religious culture” approached from a perspective of religious diversity. They also gained the support of many Catholic actors (especially religious orders) as well as that of religious minority groups. However, when the Catalan Government introduced the proposal in the Spanish Parliament it was rapidly blocked. The block was mainly due to the fact that the proposal contradicts the current agreement (concordat) between the state and the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church-State agreement is an international treaty which cannot be easily repealed (Griera 2007). Thus the limits of the public policies carried out by regional and local governments are clearly defined by the legal framework, above all by the concordat.

In order to tackle public policies on religious diversity issues in depth it would also be necessary to take into account how the Europeanization of religious governance affects domestic public policies (Koenig 2007). Likewise, it would also be necessary to examine public policies carried out in other political sectors. Hence, for instance, it would be very helpful to look at the security agenda in order to see what effects the March 11 bombing attack has had on the definition of the role of religious minorities in Spanish society. To some extent the security sector works with a conception of religion as a “security threat” which fits neither the first pattern described nor the second one (Griera 2008).

Future research should also deeply explore the role played by the Catalan national identity in the definition of a specific pattern for political governance of religious diversity. Comparing the Catalan case with other Spanish “autonomous communities” may provide deeper knowledge and understanding of the variables that can explain the specificities of the Catalan case. To compare the Catalan case with similar international situations (e.g. Quebec, Scotland) should provide significant clues to respond to this question [24].

Parties annexes