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Collective Identity and Christianity: Europe between Nationalism and an Open Patriotism

Department of Systematic Theology, University of Innsbruck, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria
Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS), Wallenberg Research Centre at Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch 7600, South Africa
Religions 2021, 12(5), 339;
Received: 17 February 2021 / Revised: 10 April 2021 / Accepted: 8 May 2021 / Published: 12 May 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion, Nationalism and Populism across the North/South Divide)


Times of crisis push human beings, a clannish creature, to retreat into closed societies. Anthropologically, this can be explained with concepts such as pseudospeciation, group narcissism, or parochial altruism. Politically, the preference for closed societies results in our modern world in nationalism or imperialism. Henri Bergson’s distinction between static and dynamic religion shows which type of religion promotes such tendencies of closure and which type can facilitate the path toward open society. Bergson rejected nationalism and imperialism and opted for an open patriotism with its special relation to dynamic religion. Dynamic religion relativizes political institutions such as the state and results today in an option for civil society as the proper space where religions can and must contribute to its ethical development. It aligns more easily with a counter-state nationhood than with a state-framed nationalism. Whereas Bergson saw in Christianity the culmination of dynamic religion, a closer look shows that it can be found in all post-Axial religions. Martin Buber, Mohandas Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy, Abul Kalam Azad, and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan exemplify this claim. After World War II, Catholic thinkers such as Jacques Maritain or Robert Schuman by partly following Bergson chose patriotism over nationalism and helped to create the European Union. Today, however, a growing nationalism in Europe forces religious communities to strengthen dynamic religion in their own traditions to contribute to a social culture that helps to overcome nationalist closures. The final part provides a positive example by referring to the fraternal Catholic modernity as it culminates today in Pope Francis’ call for fraternity and his polyhedric model of globalization that connects local identity with universal concerns.

1. Introduction

The years after the Second World War were marked by serious attempts to overcome nationalism and longing for a universalist attitude. This led, for instance, to the creation of the European Union in the western part of Europe. This cosmopolitan attitude became, however, more questionable exactly at the time when a broader union was attainable after the end of the Cold War. A world that had hoped to “move irrevocably beyond nationalism” was suddenly confronted with the return of the repressed and had to face “ethnic nationalism” (Ignatieff 1993, p. 5). Similarly, Rogers Brubaker also stated that at the end of the twentieth century Europe was “entering not a post-national but a post-multinational era” (Brubaker 1996, pp. 2–3). Growing resentments against each other in the East and West and a migrant crisis in the early 1990s of the last century caused the Romanian French politologist Pierre Hassner to recommend to cosmopolitan opponents of nationalism to undergo a conversion by taking the “search for community and identity” seriously and claiming at the same time that “no state […] can close itself off from the modern world without ultimate failure and collapse” (Hassner 1991, pp. 152–53). The Canadian author Michael Ignatieff, too, recognized at that time that despite all his cosmopolitan longings the nation-state will remain the basis of democratic societies (Ignatieff 1993, p. 13). To avoid, however, the nationalist trap, he clearly distinguished between a “civic nationalism” that includes all who subscribe to the nation’s political creed—“regardless of race, color, creed, gender, language, or ethnicity”—and an “ethnic nationalism” that claims that “an individual’s deepest attachments are inherited and, not chosen” (Ignatieff 1993, pp. 5–9). Only a civic nationalism is democratic whereas an ethnic nationalism tends toward authoritarianism. Ignatieff opted for a civic nationalism that understands that nations are necessary to enable people to live a cosmopolitan life (Ignatieff 1993, p. 13). In these years, the communitarian critique of liberalism, too, began to question cosmopolitanism by recommending patriotism as a virtue like Alasdair MacIntyre (MacIntyre 1984; cf. Primoratz 2020, p. 1). Thirty years later, the crisis of cosmopolitanism has deepened, and nationalism is on the rise in Europe as well as in many other parts of the world. “The worldwide resurgence of nationalist ideas is one of the most striking features of the last five years” is the opening sentence of Vittorio Hösle’s introduction to the documentation of the plenary session of the “Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences” that met in May 2019 to discuss the relation between nation, state, and nation-state (Hösle 2020, p. 28).
Terrorist attacks such as 9/11 in the US or others later in different European countries, the financial crisis of 2008, the European refugee crisis in 2015, or the Corona pandemic that threatens life all over the world since the beginning of 2020 have been questioning open borders and a cosmopolitan attitude. It seems that Hassner’s appeal from 1991 has been overheard. The British historian Timothy Garton Ash refers to Hassner in a recent essay and equally recommends a reorientation of liberalism that does not overlook the search for community and identity (Ash 2021). Against the “cosmo-libertarian fantasy of disembedded citizens” he calls for a “liberal patriotism” as an “essential ingredient of a renewed liberalism”. Ash’s endorsement of patriotism is not a call for nationalism. Although the COVID-19 pandemic proves the importance of the nation for him, he does not want to draw nationalist conclusions from it: “As overnight frontier closures and national government responses to the Covid pandemic have again demonstrated, the nation is just too important, and too strong in its emotional appeal, to be left to the nationalists.” To protect local people and local societies makes sense in times of crisis, but there is also the danger to overlook the fact that a global crisis finally also needs a global response to provide this local protection. Russell Berman overlooks this side of the problem when he celebrates “the end of globalization” and “the reassertion of the state” as the consequence of “the virus from Wuhan” (Berman 2020). He calls such a “commitment to the state […] patriotism” and sees in the European Union nothing but an example for the “illusions of post-nationalism”. A narrow or nationalist patriotism, however, cannot respond adequately to the current pandemic. This can be illustrated by the current tendency toward a “vaccine nationalism”, against which leaders of the United Nations, the World Health Organization, or the European Union justly utter sharp warnings. If poor countries are left out from vaccinating their people, the global pandemic cannot be stopped (Nhamo et al. 2020). It will even increase the crises because the longer certain populations are left out from vaccinations the more likely it will become that more dangerous versions of the virus will spread. Whoever thinks that the current pandemic can be solved with the help of a nationalist patriotism has to listen to experts such as Andrea Taylor, the assistant director at Duke Global Health Innovation Center, who justly claims that only an inclusive global response will provide safety: “This idea that no one is safe until everyone is safe is not just an adage, it is really true.” (Chutel and Santora 2021).
In the following, I will take Hassner’s and Ash’s plea for an open patriotism seriously without giving in to its nationalist distortion. Cosmopolitism, too, is not without its own dangers as Rousseau already observed when he criticized cosmopolitans who recommend duties in their books that they did not observe in their own vicinity: “A philosopher loves the Tartars so as to be spared having to love his neighbors.” (Rousseau 1979, p. 39). John Lennon’s dream of a borderless world as he praised it in his famous song “Imagine”—“there’s no countries”—is today rightly criticized as a “banal universalism” that overlooks the political need of particular communities with its borders (Gay 2013, p. 3; cf. Tamir 2019b, pp. 33–35). Today, however, the political dangers are mainly coming along with patriotic or nationalist rejections of cosmopolitism. Patriotism is often invoked and practiced in a narrow sense. A clear example for this danger is a right-wing populist movement, such as PEGIDA in Germany (Strømmen and Schmiedel 2020, pp. 66–78). Its name is an acronym meaning “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident” showing that the main aim of this movement is to fight against Islam as the primary enemy of European societies. This fight is accompanied by a peculiar strengthening of Christian identity. Through the new German party “Alternative für Deutschland” (Alternative for Germany), this patriotic siding with Christianity against Islam was able to win seats in the German parliament. Hungary and Poland are two countries in which a similar attitude characterizes even the policy of the governing parties. Religious support of such narrow nationalisms may justify Lennon’s claim that his dream not only asks for the raising of borders but for “no religion” too. The relationship between nationalism and religion is complicated because there is certainly an affinity between religion and closed societies from the very beginning of human civilization onwards. Modern nationalism in Europe led to an even closer relationship with religion because nation states in central Europe strived for a homogenous religious culture in their territory by applying the formula cuius regio eius religio, institutionalizing a “religious monism […] within each territorial unit” (Brubaker 1996, p. 39). This, however, is only one side of how nationalism and religion relate to each other. As the following article tries to prove, there is also a religious way to open narrow belongings and closed societies. If leading representatives of right-wing movements today claim to defend Christianity, one can legitimately question such statements by referring to those Christian thinkers and politicians who became founders of the European Union after the Second World War by their religiously motivated overcoming of nationalism. In the following, I will first address anthropologically why human beings long for a group identity that often distances itself from other groups. A second step will reflect on the relation of religion to this clannish tendency of human beings by distinguishing between two different types of religion. I will especially emphasize that a dynamic type of religion with its support of an open society distances itself significantly from the nation state with its coercive means. Due to the focus of this article on Europe, these two types of religion will be applied to Christianity and especially to Catholicism. In a third step I will show how a fraternal line in Catholic thinking by preferring civil society to the nation state has been able to develop an open patriotism that clearly differs from a narrow nationalism.
Today, authors often distinguish between a virtuous patriotism on the one hand and an ethically questionable nationalism on the other. Maurizio Viroli’s plea for a “patriotism without nationalism” exemplifies such a position (Viroli 1995, pp. 161–87). The use of these two terms, however, differs among the authors that are discussed in this article so much that it is not possible to follow this usage without further qualifications. What some authors call patriotism others call nationalism and vice versa. Viroli himself shows, for example, how “MacIntyre’s interpretation of patriotism turns out to be nationalism” (Viroli 1995, p. 177). Zygmunt Bauman’s objection that despite some rhetorical differences patriotism and nationalism seldom differ in practice has some validity, too (Bauman 2006, pp. 174–77). A similar problem accompanies the distinction—introduced by Hans Kohn—between a civic nationalism that is used positively and an ethnic nationalism that is used as a negative label (Kohn 1944, pp. 329–31, 574). Different authors have shown the weakness of this distinction (Brubaker 1999; Tamir 2019a). Empirical studies reveal that countries have vacillated in recent decades between civic and ethnic nationalism depending on social and political circumstances. According to Yael Tamir, it is not the distinction between civic and ethnic nationalism that remains a real option for modern states but only a differentiation “between a more or less liberal nationalism” (Tamir 2019a, p. 431). By recommending an open patriotism, I argue the case for a nationalism that is more liberal, and I am focusing on the role religions can play to support a higher degree of openness. In this regard, I will also follow Roger Brubaker’s proposal for a modest alternative to the distinction between a civic and an ethnic nationalism recommending to distinguish between “state-framed and counter-state understandings of nationhood and forms of nationalism” (Brubaker 1999, p. 67). Religions contribute to an open patriotism insofar as they are not identified with the state but remain distant to the temporal power of the state. It is mainly in the realm of civil society that religions can contribute to a culture that allows an opening-up of national closures. This article pleads for an open patriotism against all exclusive and closed types of nationalism. The ethical criterion is an openness toward the plurality inside a society on the one hand and an openness toward humanity with its own plurality on the other.

2. Temptations of a Clannish Species: Pseudospeciation, Group Narcissism, or Parochial Altruism

Human beings are social creatures and therefore seek to belong to a specific and often even superior group. Kwame Anthony Appiah, a philosopher with a clear cosmopolitan orientation does not overlook these clannish tendencies when he summarizes the wide-spread longing for group identity: “We’re clannish creatures. We don’t just belong to human kinds; we prefer our own kind and we’re easily persuaded to take against outsiders.” (Appiah 2018, p. 31). Already, Charles Darwin observed that groups whose members are more likely to sacrifice themselves in fighting against other groups have a selection advantage:
“A tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to give aid to each other and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.”
This phenomenon was discussed with the help of different anthropological concepts. The German American developmental psychologist Erik Erikson coined the term “pseudospeciation” in 1966 to describe how human groups relate to each other against all biological evidence as if they were different species indirectly rejecting a universal concept of humanity:
“The term denotes the fact that while man is obviously one species, he appears and continues on earth split up into groups (from tribes to nations, from castes to classes, from religions to ideologies) which provide their members with a firm sense of God-given identity—and a sense of immortality.”
Hannah Arendt illustrated the phenomenon of pseudospeciation without yet using this term in her description of tribal nationalism where she refers to the transformation of people into “animal species so that a Russian appears as different from a German as a wolf is from a fox” (Arendt 1985, p. 234). The German social psychologist Erich Fromm used the term “group narcissism” to name a phenomenon that often comes along with claims of patriotism and its support of defensive aggression (Fromm 1973, pp. 203–5). Recent scientific studies, too, confirm a strong correlation between internal peace inside a group and its enmity toward other groups. Against claims that human relations are primarily governed by competition, these studies show that cooperation is much more important. Cooperation inside a group, however, benefits from an enmity to the outside. A common enemy outside strengthens the internal solidarity. The American economist Samuel Bowles describes this strange interaction between inner solidarity and quarreling relation to the outside as “parochial altruism” (Bowles 2008; Bowles and Gintis 2011, pp. 133–47). According to Bowles, “this potent combination of group and individual attributes is as characteristic of the contemporary welfare state in a system of heavily armed and competing nations—in short, modern nationalism—as it was among our ancestors” (Bowles 2008, p. 327). Computer simulations proved that this attitude is a highly likely but not necessary pattern of human coexistence. The concept of parochial altruism strongly resembles pseudospeciation and group narcissism.
If one wants to dig deeper, one would certainly discover that human mortality is one of the deeper reasons why belonging to a group is the first protection against our fear of death. Ernest Becker’s cultural anthropology and terror management theory that builds on his insights confirm that belonging to a superior religious group has been the primary response to human being’s mortality for a very long time (Becker 1997; Solomon et al. 2015).

3. Two Types of Religion: Static Versus Dynamic Religion

Relating religion to these clannish temptations shows that at the beginning of human civilization religion was part of them and not their counterweight. Religion was a central element of early human cultures that strengthened internal solidarity by unifying human groups against external enemies. The French philosopher Henri Bergson described in his book The Two Sources of Morality and Religion from 1932 how closed societies at the dawn of human culture went along with a static type of religion. Early human societies were, according to Bergson, organized in a way “that the group be closely united, but that between group and group there should be virtual hostility” (Bergson 1977, p. 57). Every closed society claimed its own superiority against all others and emphasized the need to defend itself preemptively: “What binds together the members of a given society is tradition, the need and the determination to defend the group against other groups and to set it above everything.” (Bergson 1977, p. 206). What Bergson observed in regard to the religious nature of early societies comes very close to Emile Durkheim’s identification of religion and society in his seminal book The Elementary Forms of Religious Life and to René Girard’s later description of the sacred as an offspring of collective violence that characterized early human groups in his book Violence and the Sacred (Durkheim 1995; Girard 1977).
For this article, however, it is important to note that static religion is only one type of religion that Bergson discussed in his book. In contrast to Durkheim who knew only one kind of religion, Bergson distinguished two different types. Distinguished from static religion that encompasses Durkheim’s understanding of religion, Bergson also observed a dynamic religion that does not support closed societies but leads to an open society. These two types of religion are connected to two quite different moralities. Closed societies rely on social pressure of “pure obligation” whereas an “absolute morality” characterizes the open society (Bergson 1977, pp. 33–34). This morality entered the world through “exceptional men“—such as heroes and saints. Bergson mentions among others the “sages of Greece“, the “prophets of Israel, the Arahants of Buddhism”, or the “saints of Christianity” (Bergson 1977, p. 34). In these human beings, a creative élan breaks through that Bergson identifies with God enabling human beings to love not only their family, their group, their tribe, or possibly a great nation but the whole of humanity and even nature in its entirety. “Religion expresses this truth in its own way by saying that it is in God that we love all other men. And all great mystics declare that they have the impression of a current passing from their soul to God, and flowing back again from God to mankind.” (Bergson 1977, p. 53; Kolakowski 2001, pp. 73–78). Whereas static religion is closely interwoven with the collective, dynamic religion roots in an individual mystic experience. It is important to note in this regard that Bergson had a very special understanding of mysticism. He did not mean a contemplative turning away from the world but was endorsing an active mysticism as he recognized it in the Jewish prophets and their fight for justice. According to Bergson, “complete mysticism is action“ and stems as “active mysticism” from the “Jewish prophets” (Bergson 1977, pp. 226, 240). Bergson claimed that dynamic religion culminated in Christ of the gospels and he especially underlined the Sermon on the Mount with its call to love one’s enemies (Matthew 5: 43–45) (Bergson 1977, pp. 59, 239–40). To go beyond the usual friendship with one’s own group and enmity to the outside marks a decisive step towards an open society. In Bergson’s eyes, the “passage from the closed to the open, is due to Christianity“ (Bergson 1977, p. 77). Bergson’s distinction between static and dynamic religion comes close to Girard’s insight that we have to distinguish between a “religion that comes from man” and a “religion that comes from God” that he later developed into a systematic differentiation between the “sacred” and the “holy” (Girard 1987, p. 166; 2010; cf. Palaver 2020).
To recognize with Bergson and Girard that there are two very different types of religion regarding social life is of key importance. Both of these thinkers, however, remained too close to a Christian supersessionism that overlooks the fact that the difference between static and dynamic religion roots in the Axial revolution that comprises religious and philosophical developments beyond the Abrahamic traditions (Bellah and Joas 2012). Karl Jaspers coined the term “axial age“, which lasted from 500 BC until the rise of Islam about one thousand years later, including ancient Greek philosophy, religious developments in India, Iran, China, and the Jewish prophets, with its influence on Christianity and Islam. The main features that characterize post-Axial religions as distinct from pre-Axial religions are close to the difference between dynamic and static religion. No longer are religion and human power closely interwoven but the emergence of transcendence allows their distinction. Moreover, the identification of religion with the collectivity of one group gives way to a universal perspective. With the emergence of transcendence
“a chink appears in the selfsacralization of the collectivity since the ethnic collectivity and the religious collectivity are no longer necessarily identical. Blood brotherhood vis-à-vis enemies can now be superseded by the idea of humanity, a universalism that transcends every ethnic particularity.”
With its critical religious perspective, the Axial revolution opens the possibility to relativize political institutions such as the state. It tends towards a counter-state understanding of nationhood. One can see this in Bergson’s juxtaposition of the collective character of static religion and the importance of the exceptional individual from which the dynamic religion emanates. Bergson referred to the Jewish prophets and their struggle for justice as the first examples of such exceptional human beings. According to Hans Kohn, Judaism has been one of the important roots of nationalism and he refers especially to the idea of the chosen people and the covenant between God and his people. These concepts could, of course, easily lead to a fierce nationalism, but in the case of the Jewish tradition it was tempered by ethical considerations and a universalistic orientation. Kohn refers especially to the prophets and how they contributed to a “profound moral transformation of […] nationalism” (Kohn 1944, p. 38). Their “quest for justice” contributed to a “continuous examination and evaluation of the existing order measured by the divine standard” (Kohn 1944, p. 39). Regarding its universalist orientation, Kohn quotes the prophet Amos who claimed in Amos 9:7 that God was not only a “God of Israel” but the “God of all peoples and of all history” (Kohn 1944, p. 41).1 Moreover, the idea of the chosen people was ethically qualified and “did not mean greater protection or privilege, but heavier obligation and harder punishment” (Kohn 1944, p. 41).
Jewish universalism, however, can go in two directions. It is therefore important to distinguish with Michael Walzer between a “covering-law universalism” and a “reiterative universalism” (Walzer 2007, pp. 183–218). The first type of universalism knows only one way for all because there is “one law, one justice, one correct understanding of the good life or the good society or the good regime, one salvation, one messiah, one millennium for all humanity”. In contrast to it, a “reiterative universalism” expresses that God has not only liberated Israel from Egypt but also other people from their tyrants as Walzer underlines by quoting Am 9:7 like Kohn. This reiterative universalism understands that God undertook a plurality of liberations with particular people and not just one. The first type easily leads to imperialism, one of the dangerous temptations coming along with universalism. It is also an expression of pride hampering a peaceful relation with others. The reiterative type, on the contrary, can support a plural and liberal nationalism. It builds a basis for a patriotism that allows respect for other countries, too. One of Walzer’s examples for an understanding of nationalism in line with reiterative universalism is Martin Buber (Walzer 2002, pp. 64–79). As a Zionist, Buber was in favor of nationalism without neglecting its egoistic distortions. He therefore set a “Hebrew humanism” against “Jewish nationalism” to opt for a “national humanism” that has a “true supernational task” and that “will have something to say and bring to humankind” (Buber 2002, pp. 162–63). Israel’s human mission does not set it above other nations. Buber, too, refers to Am 9:7 to explain that the election of Israel does not result in a “precedence over the others” (Buber 2002, p. 23). If this prophetic legacy, however, is forgotten, Jewish nationalism makes “an idol of the people” (Buber 2002, p. 274). A nationalism that is separated from the “category of faith” loses its ability to “point to a supernational sphere” (Buber 2002, pp. 273–74). Again, Buber’s nationalism is close to a counter-state type of nationhood. This becomes clear in his debate with Hermann Cohen when he insisted that ethics must follow religion and should not be imposed by the state (Meir 2021, pp. 122–29). He refers to the Jewish prophets to underline this claim: “The feelings of those men were concentrated upon their consciousness of God, and not upon the State. If the State fell away from God, then they fought God’s cause against the state.” (Buber 1980, p. 91). It is this religious relativization of the state that led to Buber’s resistance against the erection of a Jewish state. For the same reason, he later opted for a binational state in which Jews and Arabs could live together.
Judaism exemplifies in an especially telling way how the Axial revolution enabled a universalist religious perspective leading to a critic of narrow group mentalities. Closed societies gradually lost their religious basis and justification. A few examples from different religious traditions can illustrate the consequences of this tremendous shift of perspective. Mahatma Gandhi was fighting to free India from British colonialism (Panter-Brick 2012). Despite his emphasis on liberating the Indian nation, however, he did not succumb to a narrow nationalism identifying the nation with a particular ethnic or religious group as it would follow from the model of closed societies. His deep universalism, his belief in the equality of all religions supported his “plural and civic nationalism“ that differed from types of nationalism that are based on a single religion or ethnicity (Jahanbegloo 2021, p. 46). Anthony Parel, an expert of Gandhi’s political philosophy, summarizes Gandhi’s view in the following way: “The new culture of India that Gandhi is building is not based on sectarian doctrines, but on the deep ethic common to all religions practiced in India, combined with the politics of civic nationalism.” (Parel 2016, pp. 39, cf. pp. 58–60, 100–3). Parel also refers to Gandhi’s metaphor of the “oceanic circle” that starts with the individuum and widens its outreach over the village, the province, the nation to the whole of humanity (Gandhi 1982, p. 33; cf. Parel 2016, p. 60). Like Rousseau who criticized those who preferred distant people to their immediate neighbors, Gandhi also stated that one “must not serve distant neighbour at the expense of the nearest” (Gandhi 1967, p. 278). He makes this remark in an article on the relationship between swadeshi—“love of one’s country”—and nationalism (Jahanbegloo 2005, p. 1053). A nationalism that is in accordance with his understanding of swadeshi does not imply national selfishness and the exclusion of the “other”. It is closely linked to Gandhi’s endorsement of nonviolence, his openness to pluralism, and to the universality of humanity. “My nationalism is as broad as my swadeshi. I want India’s rise so that the whole world may benefit.” (Gandhi 1967, p. 279). Whereas Rousseau criticized Christianity of the Gospel that he called “religion of man” because its spirit of universal fraternity does not strengthen the state like his construction of a “civil religion” (Rousseau 2002, pp. 245–53), Gandhi’s spirituality was in support of the local community and committed to the whole world, too. His understanding of nationalism is subordinate to a dynamic religion leading to an open, inclusive, and fraternal patriotism:
“My patriotism is not an exclusive thing. It is all-embracing and I should reject that patriotism which sought to mount upon the distress or the exploitation of other nationalities. The conception of my patriotism is nothing if it is not always in every case, without exception, consistent with the broadest good of humanity at large. Not only that but my religion and my patriotism derived from my religion embrace all life. I want to realize brotherhood or identity not merely with the beings called human, but I want to realize identity with all life.”
When Gandhi addressed the San Francisco conference preparing the Charta of the United Nations in 1945, he defended his fight for India’s independence as being in no way “selfish” because India’s “nationalism spells internationalism” (Gandhi 1980, p. 391). It is important to note—and here he differs again from a thinker such as Rousseau—that Gandhi was very suspicious of an all too powerful state (Parekh 1989, pp. 110–41). Only a minimal state was acceptable in his eyes, and his patriotism is rooted in a morally and spiritually oriented civil society that is organized as a community of communities. He opposed a nation state that is aligned with a particular religion in favor of a secular state. Spirituality must orient society on the pre-political level. This counter-state type of nationalism can prevent its illiberal distortion and allows an opening towards internationalism. “Gandhi believed that it was vital to nurture a dynamic political space that was separate from state power and which could act as a constant check on that power.” (Hardiman 2003, p. 18).
With Leo Tolstoy—an important mentor of Gandhi—we have a Christian example for the rejection of patriotism that he identifies with warmongering and a betrayal of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Peace and patriotism are, according to the Russian writer, opposites forcing us to choose between them (Tolstoy 1968, pp. 51–123, 37–47; cf. Christoyannopoulos 2020, pp. 77–80; Primoratz 2020, pp. 5–7).
“If patriotism be good, then Christianity, as giving peace, is an idle dream, and the sooner we root it out, the better. But if Christianity really gives peace, and if we really want peace, then patriotism is a survival of barbarism, and it is not only wrong to excite and develop it, as we do now, but it ought to be rooted out by every means, by preaching, persuasion, contempt, ridicule. If Christianity be truth, and we wish to live in peace, then must we more than cease to take pleasure in the power of our country; we must rejoice in the weakening of that power, and help thereto.”
Tolstoy represents dynamic religion, as it becomes clear if one recognizes that he distinguishes between different religions regarding their external forms and a true religion that is universal. He also clearly rejects an identification with Christianity in opposition to Eastern religions, as it was illustrated in a sketch by the German emperor Wilhelm II in which the European nations represented with drawn swords and led by the Archangel Michael are opposing Buddha and Confucius to prevent the Yellow Peril (Tolstoy 1968, pp. 145–47). Such an understanding of Christianity remains within the limits of closed religion. Tolstoy, of course, was also very critical of the state with its coercive means and rejected an alliance between Christianity and the state as sheer blasphemy (Tolstoy 1968, pp. 269–83). Regarding the relationship between religion and the state, Tolstoy and Rousseau occupy opposite positions (Kohn 1944, p. 259).
Finally, in Islam, we also find representatives of dynamic religion. We can just look at some of those Muslim thinkers and activists who were related to Gandhi. Even though Muhammad Iqbal became the spiritual father of a separate Muslim state in opposition to Gandhi’s idea of a unified Indian nation, he was a representative of dynamic religion. He was not only in direct contact with Bergson but also favored an understanding of Islam that favored a union of nations contributing to the unity of humanity (Diagne 2020, pp. 57–76). There were, however, also Muslims who directly shared Gandhi’s concept of a plural and civic nationalism. Anthony Parel mentions especially Abul Kalam Azad and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Parel 2016, p. 145). Ghaffar Khan—also called the Frontier Gandhi—supported Gandhi’s hope for a unified plural India until it finally failed in 1947 with the separation of India and Pakistan (Banerjee 2000, pp. 167–91; Panter-Brick 2012, p. 186). To understand the deeper religious justification for a Muslim support of a plural and civic nationalism, the Indian and Islamic theologian Abul Kalam or Maulana Azad is even more interesting (Parel 2016, pp. 147–50; Jahanbegloo 2013, pp. 109–19). For him, all religions are converging in their fundamentals, and he supported a secular India that provides space for the togetherness of different religions.
All the above-mentioned examples show how an emphasis on dynamic religion in different religious traditions can help to overcome a narrow and closed nationalism toward a plural and civic nationalism. Dynamic religions mean an openness toward universal love and provide an antidote against all nationalisms that are “hell […] without love” (Panter-Brick 2012, p. 195). It also insists on a separation between religion and the state and is closer to a counter-state nationhood than to a state-framed nationalism.
There is, however, not a linear success story regarding nationalism that runs from closed societies supported by static religions in pre-Axial times toward an open society based on dynamic religion in the modern world. All the above-mentioned religious traditions are not without dangerous descendants in today’s world. Gandhi was killed in 1948 by a Hindutva nationalist whose ideology dominates India’s politics of today (Mishra 2017, pp. 160–63; Gopal Jayal 2020). Moreover, Buber’s Zionism is far away from its currently dominating political version. Today, Christian nationalists in many parts of the world support a closed patriotism that would have shocked Christians such as Leo Tolstoy. A narrow version of nationalism is currently also on the rise in many Muslim countries. Often, these dangerous religious variants align uncritically with the state and forget to remain its critical counterpart. Bergson himself was confronted with the fact that although many European countries seemed to follow with Christianity dynamic religion that should make wars between them impossible, the First World War and first signs of a further outbreak of a global war convinced him that the spirit of closed societies was still alive. He coined the term “mixed religion” to describe this state of the world and observed that the
“nations at war each declare that they have God on their side, the deity in question thus becoming the national god of paganism, whereas the God they imagine they are evoking is a God common to all mankind, the mere vision of Whom, could all men but attain it, would mean the immediate abolition of war.”
Hans Joas, too, remarks that the post-Axial religions are not free from temptations to amalgamate religion with power as it was typical for pre-Axial religions. The Axial revolution opened the possibility to detach religion from worldly power but it cannot guarantee a relapse into old patterns: “The appropriation of religion by the state or the ‘nationalization’ of religion remain an ever-present temptation even for post-Axial religions.” (Joas 2016, p. 34). Elements that belong to dynamic religion can easily be so distorted to turn into an instrument for the opposite attitude. In Hannah Arendt’s description of tribal nationalism, she shows how the Jewish concept of chosenness—as we discussed it with Kohn and Buber—was completely perverted by nationalist movements. No longer the overcoming of pride and superiority remained at the center but the mission to “dominate all other peoples on the earth”. Chosenness “was no longer the myth for an ultimate realization of the ideal of a common humanity—but for its final destruction” (Arendt 1985, pp. 240, 243).

4. Bergson’s Open Patriotism and the Fraternal Catholic Modernity

The long-term influence of dynamic religion—particularly Christianity—has moved our world closer to an open society. Globalization is part of this dynamic development. It would, however, be quite naïve to overlook the fact that this progression is not without its own dangers. Closed societies successfully curbed internal competition by emphasizing solidarity against outside groups. The weakening of traditional forms of sociability, however, increased the competition between human beings in general. Islands of cooperation disappeared increasingly and turned the modern world into a dog-eat-dog society (Thureau-Dangin 1998). This expansion of competition stokes status anxieties and resentment. The Indian essayist Pankaj Mishra describes our current world by following Girard’s anthropology as an Age of Anger (Mishra 2017). Globalization paradoxically strengthens desperate attempts to recreate solidary communities by increasing hostilities against the outside. Girard describes in his reading of Marcel Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time how the increase in competition and an accompanying uprooting turns a mild form of patriotism into an aggressive chauvinism. For this purpose, he compares the traditional rural idyll of Combray with the resentful atmosphere in the salons of Paris:
“When Proust evokes the loyalist sentiments inspired by Combray, he speaks of patriotism; when he turns to the Verdurin salon he speaks of chauvinism. The distinction between patriotism and chauvinism is an accurate expression of the subtle yet radical difference between Combray and the salons. Patriotism is the result of external mediation while chauvinism is rooted in internal mediation. Patriotism already contains elements of self-love and therefore self-contempt but it is still a sincere cult of heroes and saints. Its fervor is not dependent upon rivalry with other countries. Chauvinism, on the contrary, is the fruit of such rivalry. It is a negative sentiment based on hatred, that is to say, on the secret adoration of the Other.”
Girard’s distinction between external and internal mediation illustrates the increase in competition between traditional societies in which hierarchical structures limit the outbreak of mimetic rivalries and the age of equality in which imitative desires become unleashed. A competitive and resentful world desperately longs for those closed societies that were protected by static religion. Nationalisms accompanied by certain types of religion are easily gaining the upper hand. History is full of examples of how nationalist myths sidelined struggles calling for social justice. The infamous German law scholar Carl Schmitt underlined this fact during the Weimar Republic (Schmitt 1988). A century later, nationalism still seems more attractive for many people than a world dedicated to social justice.
If it is true that the globalizing world dissolves traditional societies and that it thereby increases longings for nationalist closures, the question arises how the clannish nature of humans can relate to Christianity if we focus now in this last part on Europe and Catholicism in particular. The prevalence of static religion in Christianity has frequently led to nationalist hardenings often resulting in violence and wars. An uprooting globalism, however, cannot provide an alternative for the needs of our clannish nature. To answer this problem, it is helpful to draw on current discussions of cosmopolitism. Authors who recognize our clannish nature emphasize at the same time the importance of a cosmopolitan orientation. Appiah, for instance, observes not only human clannishness but claims, too, that inclinations toward closure and self-exaltation need a cosmopolitan correction: “The cosmopolitan impulse that draws on our common humanity is no longer a luxury; it has become a necessity.” (Appiah 2018, p. 219). A cosmopolitan orientation, however, cannot just be set against national identities but must contribute to an open society in connection with them. Authors such as Martha Nussbaum or Seyla Benhabib advocate a cosmopolitanism that works in cooperation with national political units (Nussbaum 2008; Benhabib 2011). A cosmopolitism without illusions allows one to revisit patriotism, which is still a contested concept. Nussbaum distanced herself from her earlier endorsement of cosmopolitanism by pleading for a globally sensitive patriotism. In this regard, she comes close to Bergson’s open patriotism that is important for my following reflection on its connection with religion.
Bergson’s book The Two Sources of Morality and Religion is a hidden critique of Durkheim’s thesis that the conflict between patriotism and cosmopolitism can easily be resolved toward a cosmopolitan patriotism (Durkheim 1992, pp. 65–75; cf. Lefebvre 2012, pp. 32–48). Bergson criticized Durkheim’s neglect of the biological basis of morality and religion and claims that a gradual expansion from a particular group identity toward the level of humanity is impossible (Bergson 1977, pp. 32–33, 100–1). “Exceptional men” such as active mystics are necessary to open the door toward humanity by inviting others to imitate their wider perspective (Bergson 1977, p. 34). Biologically, there is a strong tendency toward a closed society but also these exceptional human beings are not outside creaturely reality. They can connect to a creative dynamic that allows them to open solidified groups toward humanity:
“In passing from social solidarity to the brotherhood of man, we break with one particular nature, but not with all nature. It might be said, by slightly distorting the terms of Spinoza, that it is to get back to natura naturans that we break away from natura naturata.”
Bergson’s insight into the biological inclination toward closed societies did not turn him into a fanatical defender of a narrow nationalism. He rejected nationalism with its inherent warmongering. Especially sharp was his critique of imperialism that he saw as “a counterfeit of true mysticism” insofar as it “instinctively decks itself out” by endowing “the God of the modern mystic with the nationalism of the ancient gods” (Bergson 1977, pp. 310–11). According to Bergson, imperialism is “incompatible” with true mysticism that is due to a “God who loves all men with an equal love, and who bids them to love each other” (Bergson 1977, p. 311). In contrast to imperialism and its counterfeiting imitation of true mysticism, Bergson admits that patriotism “may be tinged with mysticism” so that it differs from a warmongering nationalism by being “as much a pacific as a warlike virtue” (Bergson 1977, p. 277). By “imitating the mystic state” it can “overcome so deep-seated a sentiment as the selfishness of the tribe” (Bergson 1977, p. 277). Although the love of the fatherland differs from the “love of humanity”, its being tinged by mysticism allows an opening beyond a narrow nationalism (Bergson 1977, pp. 32, 38, 234).
Bergson’s reflections on an open patriotism remain somewhat vague. With the help of the French mystic and philosopher Simone Weil, we can arrive at an even deeper understanding. She seriously discussed the dangers of uprootedness without, however, pleading for a closed nationalism. In her book The Need for Roots, she advocates a “patriotism of compassion” that she clearly distinguished from a “patriotism of greatness” (Viroli 1995, p. 164). Both can express a love for France: “One can either love France for the glory which would seem to ensure for her a prolonged existence in time and space; or else one can love her as something which, being earthly, can be destroyed, and is all the more precious on that account.” (Weil 2002, p. 168). According to Weil, only the patriotism of compassion is “legitimate for a Christian, for it alone wears the Christian badge of humility. It alone belongs to that species of love which can be given the name of charity.” The patriotism of greatness, on the contrary, is prone to war, goes back to the Romans, and is rejected by Weil. Patriotism must remain “subordinated to the cause of justice”, too (Weil 2002, p. 148, cf. p. 30). Where this subordination is lacking patriotism turns into a closed nationalism or an imperialism as France’s colonial past shows. The temptation consists in a
“patriotism that tends to prefer its own country to justice, or to admit that there is never in any circumstances the need to choose between one and the other. If there is anything sacred in the fatherland, we must recognize that there exist peoples whom we have deprived of their fatherland. If this is not the case, we must not be biased toward our own country when there is a problem of justice.”
Albert Camus, the editor of Weil’s writings, had a similar view of the relationship between patriotism and justice. In a letter to a German friend in 1943 he wrote “I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice” (Camus 1961, p. 12). Much later in his life we find a related attitude in his view of Europe. He was in favor of a unified Europe without giving up the love of his fatherland: “It is because I love my country that I feel European” (Camus 1961, p. 228). He pleaded for a Europe of “unity and diversity” that is neither “unified under the weight of an ideology or of a technocracy” nor “left to an anarchy of enemy nationalisms”. It is no surprise that Michael Walzer sees Camus as another representative of a reiterative universalism (Walzer 2002, pp. 136–52). Camus represented a “nationalism of the sun” as he called his Mediterranean endorsement of measurement that comes close to a plural nationalism as it was mentioned above. This “nationalism of light and measuredness is that of a culture of dialogue against falsehood, injustice and violence” (Jahanbegloo 2020, p. 21). His rejection of violence comes close to Gandhi’s nonviolence without fully endorsing it because he thought that “only a philosophy of eternity […] could justify non-violence” and he lacked that faith (Camus 1971, p. 251; cf. Merton 1985, p. 248). Camus exemplifies that an open patriotism is possible without an explicit religious conviction. His modest proposal that he made in a lecture in New York in 1946 can help us to understand in what way humanists and religious people can work together to overcome the dangers of nationalism. He did not believe that states or governments are the solution but emphasized the importance of civil society: “We must create communities and think outside parties and governments in order to foster dialogue across national borders. The members of these communities will affirm, by their lives and their words, that this world must cease to be the world of police, soldiers and money, and become the world of men and women, of fruitful work and thoughtful leisure.” (Camus 1946). The realm of civil society is also the public space in which religions can and I think must contribute to the taming of nationalism.
The subordination of patriotism to justice remains important for our world of today. Not only civil society has to play a role. Moreover, the constitutions of state can contribute to it. Domestically, it results in a constitutional patriotism as it was developed by Dolf Sternberger, Jürgen Habermas, and Jan-Werner Müller (Habermas 1996, pp. 465–66, 91–515; Müller 2009; cf. Viroli 1995, pp. 169–77; Primoratz 2020, pp. 27–28). Constitutional patriotism provides the protection of law to all citizens independent of their ethnic or religious origin and does not endorse a Christian leading culture that discriminates Muslims, people from other faiths, or those without confession. Such an open patriotism neither excludes social pluralism nor presupposes an ethnic or religious homogeneity. Internationally, the subordination of patriotism to justice means to cooperate inside the international community of states. Moreover, the observance and active support of the universal human rights distinguishes an open patriotism from an exclusionary nationalism. The globally needed protection of refugees, for instance, relies on a cosmopolitan universalism that relativizes the narrow perspective of nation states (Hollenbach 2016). Religions contribute to this universalism where they fight for human rights and engage in global cooperation. Cross-border religious associations can strengthen tolerance and world peace as Benjamin Barber claimed by referring to the American Friends Service Committee and the interfaith Catholic association Focolare (Barber 2014, p. 296).
Following Bergson’s distinction between static and dynamic religion as it was taken up by Jacques Maritain’s integral humanism and other Catholic thinkers, a fraternal type of modernity has developed inside Catholicism that remained in the minority compared to its paternal variant but has influenced the Catholic Church’s option for an open patriotism against all hostile nationalisms (Chappel 2018). The fraternal type differs from the paternal by preferring civil society to the state: “Instead of looking to a sacral state, as their forebears might have done, they looked to a robust civil society” (Chappel 2018, p. 15). They also emphasized the religious dimension of it as Maritain’s “commitment to the saints” exemplifies, “who played a central role for him in fomenting moral transformation amongst the laity” (Chappel 2018, p. 134). Maritain claimed that the common task is the “realization of a fraternal community” and not the “medieval idea of God’s empire to be built on earth, and still less would it be the myth of Class or Race, Nation or State” (Maritain 2017, p. 280). Pope Paul VI based his encyclical Populorum progressio from 1967 on Maritain’s integral humanism and emphasized in it not only the integral development of every human individual but also the development of “humanity as a whole” (Paul VI 1967, p. #14; cf. Llywelyn 2010, pp. 157–58). To foster world solidarity, he addressed nationalism and racism as the main obstacles:
“It is quite natural that nations recently arrived at political independence should be quite jealous of their new-found but fragile unity and make every effort to preserve it. It is also quite natural for nations with a long-standing cultural tradition to be proud of their traditional heritage. But this commendable attitude should be further ennobled by love, a love for the whole family of man. Haughty pride in one’s own nation disunites nations and poses obstacles to their true welfare.”
Robert Schuman, one of the founding fathers of the European Union and deeply influenced by the work of Maritain also belongs to the fraternal Catholic modernity. In his book For Europe, he emphasized the difference between nationalism and patriotism and recommended to educate young people toward a “true patriotism” separated from nationalist distortions:
“We must prepare people to accept European solutions by fighting against claims to hegemony and superiority, but we must also counter the narrow-mindedness of political nationalism, autarkic protectionism and of cultural isolationism. We shall have to replace all the tendencies inherited from the past with the notion of solidarity, that is to say the conviction that the real interest of all lies in acknowledging and accepting the interdependency of all. Egoism does not pay any more.”
Schuman’s understanding of Europe can be summarized with the formula unity in diversity. He did not want to erase the differences between the countries because “their diversity is a good thing and we do not intend to level them down or equalize them” (Schuman 2010, p. 16). Protecting the diversity, however, does not mean to overlook the need to cooperate in solidarity for a common good that goes far beyond the individual nation state:
“Beyond each country, we increasingly and clearly acknowledge the existence of a common good, superior to national interest. [… ] The law of solidarity between the peoples is a must for the modern conscience. We feel solidarity with one another to maintain peace, to fight poverty, in the respect of treaties, in safeguarding justice and human dignity, or protecting ourselves from aggression.”
Schuman and other founders of the European Union such as Konrad Adenauer and Alcide De Gasperi shared an understanding of Christianity as a dynamic religion leading them to a fraternal overcoming of narrow and war-prone nationalisms.
It remains an open question if Pope John Paul II belongs more to the paternal or to the fraternal Catholic modernity. Regarding his preference of civil society to the state and his distinction between patriotism and nationalism, he was clearly closer to the fraternal side. In view of Polish history, he endorsed the concept of the nation that was distinguished from the state. Family, nation, and native land are for him “permanent realities” (John Paul II 2005, p. 73; cf. Llywelyn 2010, pp. 159–66). At the same time, however, he also addressed the dangers of nationalism:
“The twentieth century has supplied some all too eloquent examples, with disastrous consequences. How can we be delivered from such a danger? I think the right way is through patriotism. Whereas nationalism involves recognizing and pursuing the good of one’s own nation alone, without regard for the rights of others, patriotism, on the other hand, is a love of one’s native land that accords rights to all other nations equal to those claimed for one’s own. Patriotism, in other words, leads to a properly ordered social love.”
This view differs pleasantly from a current nationalist and religiously endorsed populism in Poland with its negative view of pluralism and its refusal to admit refugees, especially if they are Muslims (Stanley 2016; Krastev 2017, p. 45; Applebaum 2020, pp. 6, 46). Piotr Mazurkiewicz’s claim that his concept of a nation based on cultural homogeneity concurs with John Paul II’s understanding of patriotism is questionable and too skeptical of pluralism. One also wonders why he carefully reconstructs the extraordinary tolerance between different religions that characterized Polish history without any critical remark about the current situation. He is, however, right to underline that from the perspective of the Catholic Church patriotism has to be relativized in a twofold way: “On the one hand, it reminds us again that the homeland is not an absolute value. On the other hand, it opens patriotism to the world, as the Church is a universal community.” (Mazurkiewicz 2020, p. 361). Christians are supposed to be pilgrims in this world, longing for their heavenly home. Here, we see an impact of dynamic religion with its relativization of immanent institutions such as the state. This is also emphasized by John Paul II, who ends the chapter on the concept of the nation in his book Memory and identity with a reference to the Church relativizing through its universality all belongings to a nation or a state: “The Church, the People of God founded on the New Covenant, is the new and universal Israel: here every nation has equal rights of citizenship.” (John Paul II 2005, p. 82).
A final example of how universality and particularity can go together can be found in the writings and speeches of Pope Francis who belongs without doubt to the tradition of fraternal Catholic modernity. Although the term patriotism is not mentioned in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium of 2013, its considerations are an example for a universally open patriotism (McCormick 2020). Pope Francis rejects all nationalist narrowness by calling to transcend local and limited perspectives: “We constantly have to broaden our horizons and see the greater good which will benefit us all.” (Francis 2013, p. #235). He thereby neither endorses, however, “an abstract, globalized universe” nor an “uprooting” but recommends the “polyhedron” as a model that “reflects the convergence of all its parts, each of which preserves its distinctiveness” (Francis 2013, pp. #234–36). Concretely he pleads for
“the convergence of peoples who, within the universal order, maintain their own individuality; it is the sum total of persons within a society which pursues the common good, which truly has a place for everyone.”
Later speeches and writings underline this model and unfold it even more. In his “Address to Participants in the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences in 2019”, Francis clearly distances himself from a “wall-building nationalism” and the “re-emergence […] of aggressive tendencies toward foreigners, types of migrants, as well as that growing nationalism that disregards the common good” (Francis 2020b, p. 13). Because the common good has become global, the states are obliged to cooperate and fail in their mission if they arouse “in its people nationalistic sentiments against other nations or groups of people” (Francis 2020b, p. 14). The Pope refers to the European past to underline the dangers that come along with nationalism and expresses his hope that the benefits of a united Europe do not get lost. The necessity to overcome nationalism, however, does not mean “to level differences and suffocate localization”, because such a ‘spherical’ understanding of globalization leads to the re-emergence of nationalism. A “polyhedrical” form or globalization is therefore needed that connects “the collective identity of each people and nation” with the “awareness of belonging to the same humanity in the common home” (Francis 2020b, pp. 14–15). Pope Francis’ latest encyclical Fratelli tutti of 2020 is not only an important emphasis on fraternity, it also underlines again the importance of the polyhedron to balance the demands of the local units with the needs of a global perspective. The polyhedron must prevent a “false openness to the universal, born of the shallowness of those lacking insight into the genius of their native land or harbouring unresolved resentment towards their own people” (Francis 2020a, p. #145). This points toward an open patriotism on the international level. Francis’ model also has implications on the local level where it embraces the plurality that characterizes all modern societies: “The image of a polyhedron can represent a society where differences coexist, complementing, enriching and reciprocally illuminating one another, even amid disagreements and reservations.” (Francis 2020a, p. #215). It is dynamic religion that is at the core of Pope Francis’ emphasis on fraternity. It is not by chance that he refers to Mahatma Gandhi as another supporter of “universal fraternity” (Francis 2020a, p. #286). In line with his plea for global cooperation and observing a dangerous vaccine nationalism, he has frequently called for universal vaccine access in recent months.

5. Conclusions

Pope Francis’ model of the polyhedron provides the necessary connection between local belonging and global cooperation. It is close to Timothy Garton Ash’s “liberal patriotism” and the “open patriotism” that Bergson recommended, influencing a fraternal Catholic modernity that contributed to the emergence of the European Union after the Second World War and the development of Catholic social teaching in recent decades. A broader view showed that this perspective is part of a dynamic religion that characterizes all post-Axial religions. Bergson emphasized an active mysticism with its emphasis on social justice as at the core of dynamic religion. For him, dynamic religion culminated in Christianity. By engaging with representatives in different world religions it was possible to show that dynamic religion fostering an open patriotism is not only a Christian option. To broaden the perspective is also important for Europe because its future will demand the cooperation of Christians with communities of different faiths as well as with people without religious convictions. We also saw that dynamic religion relativizes political institutions resulting in the modern world in a preference of civil society to the state. Civil society is the proper space where religions can and must contribute to its ethical orientation that will influence the nation state in its ability to increase the openness of its nationalism. The current rise of nationalism demands that religious communities as an important part of civil society strengthen dynamic religion in their own traditions to bridge the local and the global in ways that overcome enmities and support fraternal relations. Dynamic spiritualities and mystic saintliness allow local communities to open themselves for interreligious dialogue and for a universal fraternity. Wherever such communities are alive, an open patriotism can emerge replacing longings for national closures with its violent dangers. What does that concretely mean for Christian churches in Europe? Hannah Strømmen and Ulrich Schmiedel explain what the current challenge of the far right means for Christianity. They conclude that it demands a reconceptualization of Christianity identity that moves from “identity as a possession (something we can own) to identity as a project (something we can’t own)” (Strømmen and Schmiedel 2020, p. 156). These different types of identity have an affinity with closed religion on the one hand and dynamic religion on the other. The two authors explicitly recommend the dialogue with Muslims as part of this Christian project. Moreover, the dialogue with secular people is also necessary because Muslims and secular people are the neighbors with which Christians will primarily live together in the future Europe. As an example, for a secular approach I referred above to Albert Camus’ open patriotism. Fraternal neighborliness will strengthen dynamic religion and with it also an open society on the local and global level.


This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

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Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


Amos 9:7: “Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel? says the LORD. Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?”


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Palaver, W. Collective Identity and Christianity: Europe between Nationalism and an Open Patriotism. Religions 2021, 12, 339.

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Palaver, Wolfgang. 2021. "Collective Identity and Christianity: Europe between Nationalism and an Open Patriotism" Religions 12, no. 5: 339.

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