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Understanding the New Visibility of Religion

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Religion as Problem and Utility

image of Journal of Religion in Europe

This article examines recent debates about the ‘return of religion’ to the European public sphere. It argues that there is widespread confusion between religion being more visible and religion having more impact on contemporary societies. The article asks what the 'new visibility of religion' means, how religion is contested and renegotiated in the public arena—or rather, in different publics—and what the effects of these struggles are on society, state and religion itself. It does so by providing an analytical overview five distinct approaches to the new visibility of religion: desecularization, de-privatization and post-secularity; the effects of ‘welfare utopianism’ on public religion; religion as a social problem; religion as expedient; and the mediatization or publicization of religion. The article concludes that what we are witnessing is a ‘secular return’ of religion, where religion is relevant for public discourse only by virtue of being either problematic or useful.

Affiliations: 1: University College London,


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