Secular Christianity as National Identity: Religion, Nationality and Attitudes to Immigration in Western Europe

  • Ingrid Storm

Student thesis: Phd


In political and popular discourse about immigration and integration, Europe is referred to as both fundamentally secular and fundamentally Christian depending on the context. Even if only a minority of the population in many Western European countries actually practise their religion, many continue to identify with Christianity as cultural tradition, without the beliefs and practice one would normally associate with a religious identity. Few empirical studies have analysed the relationship between religious and national identities in modern Europe. Using a combination of qualitative interviews and quantitative survey research with data from the International Social Survey Programme 2008 in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland, this thesis explores how religious affiliation, belief and practice are associated with anti-immigration attitudes and regarding Christianity as important for nationality. Factor analysis is used to explore different dimensions of national identity and how they relate to religious conceptions of the nation, and multivariate regression models address how experiencing immigration as a threat to national identity is associated with Christian affiliation and practice. The main finding is that Christian identification is positively associated with seeing immigration as a threat to national identity, whereas churchgoing is negatively associated with anti-immigration attitudes. There are two identifiable mechanisms that explain this finding. Firstly, 'Christian' can signify national cultural heritage or white ethnicity rather than faith. Hence those who identify as Christian, however loosely, are on average more likely to be nationalist or xenophobic. Secondly, since churchgoers will be more sympathetic to religion in general they also tend to be less negative towards Muslims and other religious minorities. The findings are contextualised through the use of qualitative interviews and comparative analysis of countries, addressing both the external influences and internal experiences that contribute to specific associations.
Date of Award31 Dec 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDavid Voas (Supervisor) & James Nazroo (Supervisor)


  • Anti-Immigration
  • Islamophobia
  • Europe
  • National identity
  • Christianity
  • Religion

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